In 1986 a new King was crowned in the Antwerpen Union, by many reporters also called the ‘high society of pigeon racing’. Until than his name was quite unknown … Serge van Elsacker (now aged 46) became the youngest fancier ever to win the prestigious title in the Union, also known as the toughest competition in the world.
Van Elsacker, assisted in pigeon sport by his wife Kristen Jepsen, specialised himself in middle distance racing a few years earlier and he did very well out of it. At first the renowned names thought Serge might just be a one day fly and they considered him as no steady opponent … But their laughs were silenced very soon. Many of the established names sunk into oblivion but the champion from Smilde did not only keep his head up high, his performances kept on improving and improving …
The last three seasons he won no less then 126 first prizes and 10 provincial victories, of which four in 2004. Time has come for a new introduction of this phenomenon.
The advance of the main character started in the early eighties, after a golden purchase of a late youngster at René Michielsen. The pigeon "De Wezel" (B81-6603197) Serge took home, a Meulemans pigeon that developed as a true champion breeder. Almost every son he bred was a first prize winner but one of them was even a better breeder than al his brothers and his very own sire. Paired to "Blauwke Stoces" (B78-6226371) in 1984, “De Wezel” produced "Den 23" (B84-6336723), the absolute number 1 father of the loft of the Van Elsacker-colony. Amongst his direct children were a/o six (!) Ace Pigeons in the Antwerpen Union, two Olympiad pigeons and the 1st National acebird BDS in 1988. Especially paired to "Het Bourgeske"(B84-6336708), a Meulemans pigeon too, “Den 23" bred excellent offspring.
But not only "Den 23" was pure gold bred from "De Wezel", also "De Derby" was a bull’s eye hit. He won himself a/o 2nd provincial Orleans, 13th National Bourges 13,154 birds, 26th National Bourges 10,163 birds, etc. He became sire to "Montauban", who proved that Serge’s pigeons were also capable of racing supreme in long distance. He became 1st Acebird overnight racing in the Antwerpen Union!
Bringing in pigeons of Willy van Berendonck and fellow village man William Geerts the Meulemans pigeons kept on playing a very important role in building up his own stock … the Meulemans pigeons together with the Stoces pigeons through Maurits Bonte.
Successful cross material Van Elsacker found in pigeons of the late Jos Leuris from the Dutch village Ulicoten. This man had mostly Klak pigeons and with them he made a great name for himself in the province Middle Brabant. His performances drove all competitors to despair. Serge would do the very same with these pigeons in the Antwerpen Union …
The champion from Schilde found even more successful crossing products of Janssen origin at his neighbour country up north. When his American friend Rick Mardis purchased some pigeons at the Simons breeding centre from Ransdaal, Jos Simons gave him two pigeons for free … two nine year old cockbirds. These old-timers were grandchildren to the so famous “019” and Mardis gave Serge some more pigeons as he feared they would not fill the eggs anymore after a trip to America including a long period in quarantine. From one of the two Janssen cocks Van Elsacker directly bred his “Lucky Lady”. This hen ended within the top 10 Acebirds of all Belgium and she won 3x 1st prize!!
In 1993 "Castor" was born. His sire won 1st provincial Brive (713 km) and was paired at the time to a daughter of "Den 23". “Castor” was crowned 1st Acebird middle distance in the Antwerpen Union and he became one of the very best breeders. Probably his best son was "De Extra", winner of 7x 1st with amongst that 1st provincial and Interprovincial Vierzon. But just like all his family, "De Extra" proved not only to be a top gun in the air, but also a topper in breeding. He sired a/o "Indiana Jones" (B99-6252266), 1st acebird Antwerpen Union, 3rd National Acebird "De Reisduif" and 8th National Acebird KBDB!
In 1995 Serge Van Van Elsacker went to the entire clearance sale of Alfons Nijs from Arendonk. He took home two top pigeons, "De Jonge Witstaartstier" and "Geschifte Hofkens". Both cockbirds were paired to daughters of the Olympiad pigeon (so again descendants of "Den 23") and they became father and grandfather to a/o the 1st acebird in Southern Antwerpen Combine 1997, 2nd acebird Antwerpen Union yearlings 1998, 3rd acebird Hoogstraten 2000, 1st acebird Hoogstraten 2001, 4th acebird Southern Antwerpen Combine 1997, 1st National Bourges Zone, 2nd National Bourges 11,689 b., 5th acebird Union west 2004, etc.
Another topper is "De Geschifte" (NL97-6515179), he won many different 1st prizes and at an extra distance of almost 100 km he won 3rd National at an extreme heavy Bourges against 15,300 b. As a breeder too he was of seldom class. At least fifteen 1st prizes were won by children and grandchildren to him, the 4th National Bourges winner from 14,207 b. in 2004 is a descendant to this topper.
"De Hermelijn" (NL98-6156071), again a grandson to the legendary B84-6336723, is a topper. In 2001 he became 8th National Acebird middle distance KBDB and sire to a/o the 1st Acebird middle distance in Southern Antwerpen Combine ad 4th acebird middle distance 2001 HAFO Hoogstraten.
Of Heinz Brune & Son from Germany Serge became some Louis Deleus-pigeons. These pigeons were extremely well aware of their task (winning top positions) and that is why Serge himself went to Boortmeerbeek to purchase twenty direct ones at Deleus. Descendants of these pigeons have now won 1st provincial Chateauroux 2002 and 1st provincial Chateauroux 2003 (7 minutes lead!).
But to say that every pigeon that came to Schilde turned into gold, would not be just .. in the contrary! He bought whole rounds from the best breeders of the biggest champions of the world, still they brought him no success. According to Serge this does not automatically mean the pigeons were no good .. they must fit in the system of the fancier. Sometimes a pigeon is successful, even though it is unexpected … and sometimes pigeons of great champions are disappointing.
From a man like Serge everyone can learn something … we popped him some questions.
How do you race your pigeons?
"For 26 years I raced the classic widowhood system with only cockbirds. Until about ten years ago, when I sad down at one table with the Dutch dentist Willem de Bruijn from Reeuwijk. He talked me into racing on total widowhood system, just like he does. This choice I did not regret for one moment in my life so far, you have a double efficiency with just as many pigeons and besides you maintain the level of the hens, a factor for a successful pigeon career that is neglected far too often. My hens live on the backside of the loft in aviaries that I can screen with Plexiglas totally. I call them in at the front side of the loft and they are transported towards their section through a tunnel.’’
When are the racers paired up, separated and when do you put them on the widowhood system?
"About December 10th I pair them up, the breeders as well as the racers. When the youngsters are ready to be weaned, the hens move to the aviary. About March 20th, all pigeons are paired up again and after 8 days of breeding they go on widowhood. October 1st the birds are separated again. During this period the cocks stay in the widowhood section, the hens go to the youngbirds loft."
Is total widowhood system at your place the same as anywhere?
"I do not think so. When the weather is good, I start training my pigeons on distance when they are paired up for the second time and on eggs. Before basketing my pigeons get to spend about thirty to forty minutes together and when they return this is until the evening. After a few races I keep home about 15% of the pigeons that perform below average. My experience is you never get them into a good rhythm. These are the pigeons that I use as ‘partner’. When for example a cockbird returns home earlier than a hen, he gets the temporary partner. I do not believe widowhood has much to do with one steady partner, the attachment to an own territory is much more important, just as quality and health.’’
Is it only about the super pigeon than?
"I never mentioned the word super pigeon, of them there are so incredibly few and by far most of the pigeon fanciers never had one. Me neither, but I did have very good ones. Several good ones, I never depended on just one or two pigeons!"
Whereto goes your attention when you are looking for reinforcements?
"At first the pigeons must be qualified to excel on the distance I prefer. They must be top from about 200 km distance and also a race of 700 km must be flown without any problem. Furthermore there must be a click between me and the pigeons. They must not be too big, well build and with a soft plume. I must also like the fancier. Someone can race superb, when I don’t like him I want no pigeons of him. It is also a matter of trust …
Every year again I purchase new pigeons. But you know what my biggest problem is? Many times I think other fanciers have better pigeons than me. When I purchase a round of youngsters at such a super champion then, most of the time the contrary is a fact … But when I succeed once every five years, it is sufficient for me to keep the present strain at a top level."
What does your feeding system look like?
"My breeding pigeons get an ordinary ‘breeding mixture’ but practically always the racers get the same mixture. In the middle eighties, when I frequently visited the Van Laer brothers from Pulle, I noticed their pigeons always looked so darn good. I asked Louis, the best fancier of the four brothers, how he did that. He told me it was because of their feeding mixture, that contains of about 50 % corn, 10 % green pees, 9 % Tasmanian pees and for the rest dari, cardi, barley, peeled oats, sunflower pits and wheat. In 1986 I also started to give this mixture and directly I became “King” of the Antwerpen Union. Of course I always kept on giving this mixture. The racers always get about the same mixture, only for a special race I feed them up a bit with some extra peeled sunflower pits, grind peanuts and candy seed.’’
What additional products do the pigeons get?
"Less every year. At the moment I give them a mixture of grind, pick stone, vitamineral, sharp stomach gravel and egg-food every week. The day they return from a race the pigeons get Aphifarm and Mumm from Rhonfried, from this the pigeons recover quickly. Occasionally I give them Blitzform from the same firm. During the moulting process I do give a nature product in the drinking water every day, three days of apple vinegar varied with three days Naturaline from Natural."
Do you also have a lot of coli bacteria at the youngsters?
"I used to. At the time I was a real hygiene freak and twice a day I scratched the lofts. I also went through them quite often with a scrubber. I red an article by Ad Schaerlaeckens then in which he said that fanciers who were not so keen on hygiene, had not so many problems with coli … than I stopped this madness. I put bean straw in all lofts which I refresh a few times every year. Ever since the coli problem passes my door, and when I get it, it is lesser serious.’’
Do you train your young or old pigeons on distance during the season?
"I did that but I will not do it again, it is all trouble for nothing. When my American friend Rick Mardis also raced some pigeons on my ground he took his pigeons on distance every day again. In his country – where a lot of money is at stake – everybody did it. I never trained my pigeons on distance and most of the time I had thirty home when Mardis was still waiting for his first one. When he stopped distance-training, his pigeons started to perform better!!"
Serge won about everything there is to win in pigeon racing. Still he is looking for new challenges again and again. For the coming years he again tries his chances on the long distance races. He did that too about ten years ago, and with quite a lot success!!
His motive is passion for pigeon racing, or as he says himself: ,,I love to do the job and than it is simple to do all the trouble.’’ With Serge’s motivation he will again succeed on long distance, that is for sure!
(by Falco Ebben)