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In gesprek met Steven van Breemen

Piet Grasmaijer in gesprek met Steven van Breemen

STEVEN VAN BREEMEN, HILVERSUM

An Interview with One of the Angry Young Men in the Dutch Pigeon Sport. A not Everey Day Report of Different Thinking, Renewed Methods, and Undiscovered Frontiers
by Piet Grasmaijer of IJsselstein (Holland)


The times we live in now of high technological achievements go together with a search for new ways of living together and making decisions. There are now new life styles and structures. In our time often great differences meet and, because of that disorientation of any kind can happen.

While society is constantly on the move, hardly anything happens in the pigeon sport with all the fanciers at a standstill. Only a few dare to stick their necks out to look over their own fences. Most of the time these brave people are just left alone. Because they believe in themselves, they are considered arrogant and they don't fit into the pattern we pigeon fanciers expect each other to fit into. One of these people who is constantly trying to find new frontiers and to bring the sport to higher levels, is Steven Van Breemen from Hilversum, Holland.

In the early 1970's, Steven travelled to Hungary for lectures on pigeon genetics by Professor Alfons Anker. He wrote about what he had just learned from the professor and predicted to breed a National Ace Pigeon. To predict is one thing, but to do it is really something else. Steven did just that: l st National Ace 1980 and 2nd National Ace 1981 Short Distance (H 77- 990312); 2nd National Ace Yearling 1983 (H 82-448368); I st national Ace Youngbird 1987 (H 87-1725207). Individual wins of: Ist Semi-National Dourdan 330 Miles 1983 (H 82- 448312) and Ist Semi-National Chateauroux 460 Miles 1985 (H 82- 448368) ahead by 10 minutes.

Steven translated and renewed Professor Anker's book A Repl Keresztrejtveny and put it on the market under the name "The Art of Breeding". All 3,000 printed copies were sold out in six months time. The book is a standard work for every fancier interested in various aspects of breeding and is useful for tbc smau size operation.

In 1982, Steven introduced to pigeon society a revolutionary ventilation system. He does not own a big garden loft to keep lots of birds; however, this system makes it possible to keep 3 or 4 times the number of pigeons that should be housed in a loft normally. The condition, health and race resuits, especially of bis youngbird team, made fanciers all over the world adopt this system as the standard in mechanical ventilation for pigeon  lofts. Many pigeon transporters in Holland have had it installed in their carriers. The Number 1 and 2 Best Lofts in Holland for 1985 ("The Golden Pigeon Award") had this system installed in their lofts.

At the moment, Steven is very busy developing a fully automatic and integrated software program to do everything to be desired on pigeon administration. lt will take a couple of years for this program to be fully operational.

Steven has tumed into a real globetrotter. He loves to explore different cultures and is not one to hide his knowledge of pigeons. His farne is known all over the world. Through many personal invitations he bas been able to combine both these great loves.

A NEW MARKET

Our society develops very fast, influenced by newer and faster computers and programs that can do more and more. The Pigeon Sport also asks possibilities to gather information. When personal computers were introduced more and more into the home, a new market was discovered for the pigeon sport.

On the last Dutch National Pigeon Weekend in Rosmalen you could see several companies with stands promoting software, especially created for the pigeon sport and its fanciers. Most programs normally stop at the point of printing nice looking pedigrees and race results.

A computer appeared in Steven's house in the early eighties for the use of pigeonadministration. One of his first programs came from the U.S. and Steven saved in it the pedigrees of over 1 500 of his pigeons. Steven is a man who practices pigeons a little bit differently from most other fanciers. Where most fanciers try to breed good pigeons in order to become champion, Steven becomes champion because he tries to breed better pigeons. That is why his first pigeon software program needed to be updated right away. A computer can do much more than only print pedigrees. Steven's way of breeding is a well thought out plan to breed better racing pigeons. The only program that could meet his needs was one that was made for his standards only.

Together with his friend, Hans Van Grieken (the one half of the very successful loft combination of Van Leeuwen - Van Grieken from Aalsmeer, the overall Amsterdam Provincial Charnpion of 1990 and 1991), Steven developed a program that comes up to their individual desires. The analyzing is Steven's part and Hans takes care of putting everything together in a really workable program.

Their program still takes care of printing pedigrees, saving race results, and handling all kinds of normal questions. lt also can do much more than that. Part of the program is  the individual secreening of the pigeons. Every pigeon is carefully graded on a number of qualities that Steven thinks to be the most important ones for breeding. ProfessorAnker taught him the value of the various breeding qualities and he admits to having learned from the grand old master, Piet De Weerd, the fine art of handling when it cornes to placing order of values. Steven himself discovered several qualities that should be met in a mating in order to have the biggest chance of success.

TO OBSERVE

Apart from the fact that all man's observations are not scientifically proven, the limit of man's observation has its boundaries and can be easily influenced.

As an example in the following figure, the two horizontal lines appear to he of different lengths, when in fact they are identical in length. Our eyes are fooled by this optical illusion. This is just a simple two dimensional figure, imagine how easily we can be fooled with the three dimensional body of a pigeon. That is why most pigeon fanciers grade all various qualities of a pigeon differently.

Although Steven knows something about pigeons, his results on the short and middle distances in the seventies and early eighties are worldfamous. Nowadays Steven's pigeons still could perform great on that level. However, he likes to play the racing game more on the safe side. He used to race his pigeons on the fine edge, but noticed that when weather circumstances were bad he always lost his best pigeons, if he lost one. When bad weather is expected he calls his wife on basketing day to feed some more peanuts to the birds. He accepts the fact his pigeons will trap poorly when his forecast of the weather is wrong. At this time everyone knows Steven as a youngbird specialist, however on the long distances his performances are also great. In 1990 he scored in the Grand Dutch National St. Vincent Race (almost 700 miles), shipping 6 birds, the following prizes: 176th, 1075th, 1493rd, 1766th, and 3459th against 19,353 birds.

But back to the problem of observation. Because of this problem Steven never grades his pigeons as youngsters. First consideration is primarily race results. Next consideration is given to the family of the bird. In the first year of a pigeon's life it is very difficult to grade all the different qualities. The grading and selection at Steven's loft happens in the winter when the birds are at rest, have molted out, and have developed into older pigeons.

He cleans his lofts only once a week, on Saturday mornings. When other fanciers stop by for a visit and some pigeon talk, it happens the lofts don't get cleaned  for another week. In the winter time he keeps the pigeons the easy way: once a day food and once each two days clean fresh water. By treating his pigeons this way he saves time for other important things, but this also tests the natural strength of bis pigeons and he speculates on extra motivation and condition to come in when he puts the birds on the first spring test.

Because the pigeons in winter all have the same condition by simple treatment, it is possible to grade each pigeon as objectively as possible. To be objective is hardly possible when you grade older birds. You know their race results as well as their breeding performances. A really good pigeon always gets a hetter grade result.

To make an individual pigeon grade results more objective, Steven needed a computer program that offered what the stan- dard program did and also what his old administration by hand system did as well. Steven and Hans Van Grieken were able develop a program where the individual bird's race results transferred this value to the parents and grandparents. In this way each pigeon gets graded results on individual qualities, its race results, and breeding value. On the point of individual qualities there are two groups: physical and mental qualities. With this system it is possible to sort out the best breeders of a given population.

Does this system really work?

Well, I asked Steven which bird he considered his best breeder. Without hesitation he responded with "The Good Yearling" (NL 82-448368). This cock in 1985 won the Semi-National Race from Chateauroux. He won three times the first position in the greater region and if it wasn't for him being such a bad trapper he would have won at least two more handfuls of firsts. This cock is, according to Steven, for an important part, the basic bird in his loft today. He has already bred winners in the greater region up to flve generations. Knowing this I asked Steven to tum on his computer and ask it the same question. The box said "The Good Yearling"is a fine breeder. However, the computer found a better bird: the "646 hen", the mother of "The Good Yearling"! The fact that this hen was never tested, did not dispute the fact that she produced no less than 10 great racers & breeders. Her full sister the "150 hen" did almost the same thing.

STRAIN

The grading results per pigeon makes it possible for Steven to mate his pigeons with the help of the computer. Within the pro- gram there is a separate section, where the computer locates with the help of a lot of data and the programmed software the suitable mate or mates for an individual pigeon. The question arises whether this is a little too clinical. It doesn't appear so. In the end it makes no difference whether you enjoy writing on lots of paper full of pigeons looking for the golden match or if you do the same pioneering through a computer.

Let's not forget the computer is not led by its feelings, predictions, and emotions. A computer just works with facts you have entered into it. It is possible that a pigeon direct from world famous parents produces youngsters that just do not possess the right qualities, while a pigeon of  simple origin is able to produce the qualities a pigeon needs! Fame and honor disappear as snow in the sun when time tells the truth. A fancier with a straight way of thinking must realize that a computer is an excellent tool for making decisions on the matter of breeding pairs together.

There is a safeguard built into the mating section of the computer program that allows choices. Steven can ask the computer to put two birds together for a certain ability. On this same way he can put pairs together of strains that proved to be a great cross with the Van Breemen Loft birds.

The base of Steven's Loft is found with the world famous "Oude Klaren of 46" of Desmet- Matthijs. A long time ago Steven managed to buy a great number of grandchildren off of this cock. He tried to improve the population he bred from those birds with birds of several other strains. The best combination was with birds from the Janssen brothers, which he bought not directly but from different families of Janssens.

The computer also uses the expression "strain". Because in his opinion strain stands for something pure, this is hardly possible in the modern pigeon sport. Steven does not give a damn about fancy names or created fashion in the sport because the owner is wealthy and can spend a lot of money on public relations. Especially while the lofts that beat the wealthy loft every week cannot or will not pay to have their fantastic results published in the pigeon papers. When a loft is often and well enougb introduced in the pigeon papers, it is quickly considered by pigeon fanciers to be a strain.

Beautiful pictures of pigeons in large expensive looking lofts do not necessarily stand for high quality. Mostly they stand for heavy production. Pigeons produce pigeons and a lot of them produce junk. Steven admits he made the same mistake most fanciers make. After being greatly disappointed, he decided to study pigeons first for a couple of years. His first advice for novices is : study first and buy the pigeon of your choice later!!

We use the word "strain" because we needed a name for the computer, but we mean lines, families. Years ago Steven went to a loft "of great expectations" and bought expensive birds hoping to increase his chances for better performances. Because he has learned over the years how to better grade pigeons the word "strain" holds little importance

He will buy a bird because he is convinced of its qualities. For that point of view Steven gives the following example: A couple of years ago Steven bought at the sale of an unknown fancier, Van Riessen from Lippenhuizen, seven pigeons. One he gave away to a friend. Of the remaining six he put three breeding pairs together. They gave him fantastic results. The reason for buying those birds was due to a visit he made, to the Willequet Brothers of Belgium, years ago. Mere he had found the Stichelbout birds that had impressed him so much. When he saw the pictures in the papers of the Van Riessen birds he re- membered the Willequet birds of years before. He bought the birds and got them at a good price because in the eyes of the other fanciers they were not advertised well enough to he good pigeons. They brought Steve great success: e.g. they raised him the Provincial Ace Pigeon for 1989. Norrnally other fanciers watch Steven grading birds at sales which makes it hardly possible for him to buy pigeons cheaply.

GATHERING INFORMATION

Steven Van Breemen is convinced the computerprogram will help him breed each year better pigeons than he already has bred. The computer can only do a better job when you put into it as much data on the breeding pairs from the year before. Because of this he has 50 pairs of breeders, he breeds a lot of youngsters, and selects and tests the young very hard. Because of the large number of youngsters bred, he developed into a youngbird specialist in order to select quickly and properly.

Steven breeds about 200 youngbirds each year for his own use. From the moment of weaning until one week before the first serious race he keeps them in a darkened loft. He invented this system of racing youngbirds and several videos were brought out on the subject. By following this system his youngbirds raced in the first try-outs without any serious competition because all the other fanciers' birds were in full molt. Now, almost all Dutch 'fanciers follow Steven's system.

Who wants to be beaten every week when you know why your not winning.

The best youngsters at Steven's loft are usually bis best old birds too. Steven believes that these pigeons will only fly competi- tively until three years of age due to all the hard testing they received as youngsters.

Steven's system of flying youngbirds has brought race results that are hard to believe. A favorite race for the Dutch is the Dutch Derby from Orleans. A tough race for youngbirds because it comes at the end of a ten race series, the birds spend several days in the basket, it's 375 miles, most of the time the birds are flying into a headwind, and each year there are around 200,000 birds entered in the race. The race is flown in ten sections due to the high number of birds in the race. Steven's birds have to fly up to 100 miles more than the shortest national flyer and up to 40 miles further than the shortest flyer in his section. His results have been as follows:

1987 - 26,984 birds = 27, 54, 59, 86, etc.

1988 - 28,542 birds = 2, 12, 23, 61, 111, 114, 134, 141, etc.

1989 - 23,546 birds = 5, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16, 17, 18, 22, 24, 38, 79, 82, 84, 86, 102, 106, 114, 126, 130, etc.

When you look at the above results you must remember his birds are bad trappers. He has recently taken up poling the birds in with a bamboo pole so he has more recently improved this situation.

Every non-believer will question the computer system and its validity. Steven believes when the program is fully operational and enough data is collected it will lead to better racing pigeons. lt is important, however, that the fanciers using the system must study hard the various qualities that are needed to become a champion racing pigeon or key breeder. They must also keep sharpening the qualities to be observed to keep up with the forward progress. All this work Steven has performed obviously has certain basic value and the further in-depth study it receives the more value it will attain.

DNA FINGERPRINTS

Scientific research has proven that samples taken from pigeons to study their DNA make-up presently determines what bird was from which breeding pair. This would make the use of pedigrees in the near future obsolete in selecting pairings. The pairings will be based on the selection of which genes to with to obtain a better individual. The DNA fingerprint is the gene pattere carried by each pigeon. Researchers will know through continued research which pattern of genes gives the best racing performance by deterinining the gene location for all the desired qualities. This of course wffl take a lot of time and cost a lot of money.

Until that time it could be very interesting to develop Steven's ideas. He believes in his system and it adds an extra dimension to the joy he finds in the hobby. Most important of all: Steven believes in himself.

In history there have been a lot of great scientists and discoveries of which people had their doubts untill the importance of the discovery was acknowledged. The world around us is evolving fast and for the pigeon sport to attract people it will also have to evolve. Personalities like Steven Van Breemen can play an important part in that. If, in the future, Stevens ideas are not exactly what we are looking for, they will still be a part of the Introducing of a better racing pigeon.


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Steven van Breemen