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The Last of the Strainmakers

The English have a better name for the title of this article than the Dutch could ever have. The deeper reason might be that the English have made more different kinds of strains in the history of animal breeding. With us it almost stops right after our black and white cows from Friesland. Are we really interested in the building and maintaining of our own strain? At the end of my last article I asked you for reactions. And sorry to say, but I didn’t get one so far in my mailbox. A clear sign on the wall?


All of us are really more or less occupied with the breeding. Most fanciers are focused short term on racing. Only a few look further over the horizon toward the breeding. When I go into my youngbird loft and handle them, I’m always looking if I can use them for breeding or not. Birds breeding good racers are much more valuable for me than birds only good for racing. In the racing season I’m careful with my future breeding material. In my eyes, a good racing loft stands or falls with the quality of the breeders. In this the strainmaker is different than all other fanciers: he recognizes in time those birds he needs most in his breeding loft to maintain the strain. And those birds he will put without thinking too long straight in the breeding loft. And often his decision was right. And he will keep on racing well.


In the previous issue I have explained which characteristics are the most important. While selecting I always follow the same procedure. And the bird I’m looking for excels in this. This I consider special for breeding. With the “leftovers” I’m going into the races. Do you dare to do the same?


The love for breeding should come in right in the beginning with the porridge when one is young. My dad had chickens and when they entered the place to lay eggs a door closed behind them so it was easy to see which hen laid what egg. In the hatching process the young chicks were kept apart till they could be ringed to make their pedigree known. From the first moment I kept pigeons it was more or less normal to write everything down. Matings were done on paper and pedigrees were important. When you are busy that way, automatically one is looking for people doing things the same way. Sometimes one is lucky to get a valuable contact in this.


In this I was very, very lucky to have Prof. Alfons Anker as my personal advisor. He told and showed me in detail what to do and what not to do. By listening well I was able to breed the blood pure of a super breeder. Out of the lot an inbred one put his wings out in the races in a special way and became suspect number 1 to breed off. That cock, “De Bels”, happened to be a very good breeder too and after many years I must say he is the real basic foundation breeder of my loft. Off him descend in a straight line two of my three basic lines and he played an important role in the third line as well.


According to Prof. Anker an inbred bird that was racing well could be put on inbreeding once more. So I did and his first partner became “De Rode duivin”. Both of them were very concentrated in their genes to “De Oude Klaren of ‘46” of Valere Desmet-Matthijs of Nokere. Their offspring races well. Inside the loft nothing special could be noticed on them. Until the moment late in the year of 1979 a young red cock was born. He caught my eye in such a way I decided to keep him for breeding from almost the first moment I set eyes on him. He was named “Het Boerke” and became responsible for a line on my loft. You guessed it probably: the Boerke-line.


His first partner was “De 150 Duif” an inbred hen, bred halfbrother x halfsister, on “De 08 Duif” out of the Janssen family of the late Jan van Erp from Hilversum. That hen proved to match successfully on “De Oude Kapoen of “67” so I decided to inbred her offspring in order to try the same trick once more. And with success. “Het Boerke” x “De 150 Duif” bred exceptionally well and when “De 150 Duif” wasn’t there anymore “Het Boerke” bred until old age well with other hens also.


The second line is the one of “De Goede Jaarling”. When “De Rode duivin” stopped laying eggs, “De Bels” was put like his son on an inbred hen out of the 08-line. The mating of “De Bels” x “De 646 Duif” delivered offspring that did wonders in the racing as well in the breeding loft.


Line number 3, you have guessed it again probably, became the one of “De 08 Duif” and her offspring, descending out off the lines of “De Bange” and “De Geeloger”. She was brought into the family to be the partner of “De Oude Kapoen ‘67” and their offspring devastated the area on the races for years. And if you intend keep on doing the same you need to concentrate the gene material by inbreeding. So I did and formed the pair “De 411” x “De 309 Duif” both direct from “De 08 Duif”. After 20 and more years this pair still plays an important role in my strain. In nearly all the pedigrees of my birds this pair is present a couple of times. In fact it clearly tells the followed breeding method.


The offspring of the lines of “Het Boerke” and “De Goede Jaarling” is crossed and mated back into the original line if the crossing turned out to be successful. These are put on the descendants out of “De 08 Duif”. This last line is kept as pure as possible. That is in simple words the followed breeding method that has brought big successes for 25 years now.


Don’t think it is that simple. You have to work hard to be successful. And be lucky here and there. But when you are trying hard ,every now and then something clicks and works out well. You can write nice stories and talk about successes. And then everyone thinks it is that simple. Well, I tell you it isn’t.


For me it all starts in the youngbird loft. The young hens I like most, and sometimes even a young cock, are moved straight away into the breeding loft. When I run out of space I keep them in the racing loft as “spares”. With this I mean I race them very carefully or not at all.


When they are okayed for the breeding loft, then the fitting-in starts. At first I look at the pedigree because that is important in the whole. The selection was done on the important characteristics. Every bird in my breeding loft is more or less the same. So no need to look at it anymore. From the first moment on a bird is put in the breeding loft I can concentrate on it’s pedigree as a most important aid.


I look if the pedigree shows inbreeding or the opposite: crossbreeding. If the last is the matter the bird is put on inbreeding. If it is inbred it’s the other way around: 50% old - 50% new blood. Or once more back into the family: 75% old and 25% new; the so called ¾ mating. Or sometimes even closer into the family. I stick to this method and all matings are planned this way. No exceptions. The system is important.


Important is to get real soon a clear family picture of a certain bird. What line she resembles most; and which bird in particular. How was she bred. Then you are getting closer to the kind of partner she might need. In most cases the first year on the breeding loft is a try out year. Mostly I breed 8-10 youngsters (you keep some and you sell some) and then you know a lot more. Looking at the types and colors that were bred you can search on, but more clearly. And all the time with the pedigree in hand in order not to run out of the good blood. Strainmaking comes first. Until you have found it. And then it is never change a winning team.


Breeding is a kind of strategy. Sometimes you are putting a pair together with the kind of offspring already before your eyes. At the same time you are trying to form a pair of which the youngsters could match in the next generation with the offspring of the other pair. The very same for the birds you buy. The characteristics according to what I have told you before. Strain doesn’t matter that much to me. I like them to have a little Janssen blood. And inbred. And fitting a little into my family. In other words: the new bird mustn’t take care for a lot of changes. Or the old family must stay on top.


As a strainmaker you stick to your principles and you don’t walk any side paths giving you problems later on. Is being a strainmaker something for you? Think about it. Many among you do have good material. A whole lot is possible. And next to taking part in the races it is an interesting aspect of our hobby. Without that aspect I would never have had the success I have had.

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Steven van Breemen