ALBERT & FRANCINE DERWA OF HERENT BELGIUM
I first met Albert and his wife Francine in February of 2013. After just a few minutes in their home, they gave you the feeling that you have known them for years. As I mentioned in an earlier article, I was in Belgium with some friends, Bruce Gordon, Rick Mardis, Steve Mardis, Gary Willingford and Mike Ludolf (Big Mike). I really enjoyed sitting around the kitchen table having drinks, chocolates and cookies and listening to the great pigeon stories. We sure had some great laughs.
As we sat there, Albert brought in some of his famous pigeons for us to handle. A few of the birds we handled were “De Zoon” 8X1st in two years, full brother “Primo” 9X1st in three years and their parents (“The Golden Pair”),“Valentino” & the famous “Paulien” who was 10X1st in her flying career. “De Zoon” a 2010 pigeon and his brother “Primo” a 2009 bird have both been stocked. If I’m not mistaken, both birds only flew one race in 2012 and after great performances they were stopped and put into the stock loft.
I asked Albert if he keeps “The Golden Pair” together every year. His answer was absolutely YES. This pair along with other pairs breed excellent birds every year for the Derwa husband and wife team. Oh, by the way, they are still breeding out of “Paulien’s” mother “Valeska” who is a 2004 bird. She also had a fantastic flying record.
Albert was taught how to fly pigeons by his good friend Thomas Paris. He flew his first race at the age of 14. As he got older he met Francine and they have now been married 41 years. Francine said after she met Albert was the first time she was introduced to the pigeons. Albert is semi-retired. He works at a monastery where he started to work in 1977. There are 16 nuns residing there. He takes care of the maintenance, garden and takes the nuns shopping when needed. He said he works only a few hours a day.
Albert said he started to get good results with the pigeons in 1977 and only flew young birds until 1995 because of his work schedule. In 1995 when he retired, he also started to fly the old birds and immediately had good results in old birds as well as the young birds. He only flew the cocks in old birds at this time and then started to also fly the hens in 2007. He has not had a bad season since things turned around for him in 1977.
Albert & Francine said their base family of birds are Pepermans-Vanhee from his good friend Thomas Paris. Later they bought pigeons from Flor Vervoort, Gaby Vandenabeele, Gommaire Verbruggen, Paul Huls, Koen Minderhout and Jan Van De Pasch and they crossed them with their own birds. These are the families that were blended together to create the present day Derwa family of pigeons.
I have been told by some that Albert is considered to be one of the best, if not the best in all of Belgium. This is very easy to believe when you see Albert & Francine’s flying record. Here are just a few of the highlights: In 2012 they were 31 times 1st (with doubles). In 2011 Albert was 1st National Champion Yearlings KBDB, 1st Zone B Argenton 7,608 birds young birds, 1st Zone B La Souterraine 6,055 young birds, 1st International Ace Pigeon Allround Europacup (“De Zoon”), 3rd International Ace Pigeon Allround Europacup (“Primo”).
What really amazed me was that Albert flies very few pigeons. When he asked me if I would like to go out and see his loft, I was very surprised by the size. Very small compared to the other lofts I saw when in Belgium. He has two widowhood sections next to each other with a door dividing the two sections. In each section there are nine widowhood nest boxes. I noticed there were only six cocks in each section. When I mentioned this to Albert, he grinned and said it’s not quantity but quality that you want in the loft.
OLD BIRDS: Albert flies both sexes. He has two teams of cocks, one is for the race hens and the other for the races. The same with the hens, one team is for the race cocks and the other team for the races. The cocks are shown to the hens for only a few seconds before shipping and the race hens see their cocks anywhere from ½ hour to an hour before shipping. When the cocks return from the race, they see the hen for an hour. When the hens return, they are with their cocks for up to two hours. When the hens are shipped to 400 km or further they get to stay with their cocks until the next day. The hens are shipped every week throughout the season and the cocks also go every week until they reach the 400 km station. Then the cocks are shipped every other week. Both cocks and hens are trained before the season starts. The training stops after the first race. I asked Albert what he does if the flying hens start to mate to each other and he said that if that happens, he takes the hens out about 30 km mid-week and their mates are waiting for them when they return and that usually gets them back on track. He also said that once the hens reach 300 km, he does not have a problem with them mating up. All races 300 km and up are shipped on Thursday and the race is flown on Saturday as are all races.
SELECTION: I asked Albert how he picks what birds go on the race team and what birds go on the team that motivates the flying cocks and hens. He said it’s strictly by performance. Birds that did not perform last year are the birds selected for the motivation team. If birds do not perform in the first three weeks into the season, they are taken off the race team and kept for next year’s motivation team.
TRAINING: The cocks and hens get about 10 tosses before the start of the races. They go 3 km, 10 km, 20 km & 50 km. After the birds clear out without circling, they are taken out to the next training spot. Francine does all the training and Albert waits for the birds and makes sure the hens go into their section and the cocks into theirs. Francine said she waits about 10 minutes before releasing the opposite sex. One time it might be the hens that go up first and the next time it might be the cocks. They said it makes no difference at all which sex is released first.
FEED: They use Beyer’s feed. On the return from the race the birds are given “Super Mix” and then it changes to a depurative mix Sunday through Tuesday. Wednesday morning the cocks are given “Premium Widowhood Super and the hens start this mix in the evening feeding. On the short races up to 200 km the birds are only fed the depurative mix
MEDICATION: The birds see a Vet twice a year. Once before the breeding season starts and the next time is before the race season starts. The birds are treated for canker, respiratory and Paratyphoid. Albert says he keeps a very close eye on the birds and if he thinks something is not right he will see the Vet.
SUPPLEMENTS: Albert uses a verity of supplements, minerals and vitamins during the week. He also uses natural products.
YOUNG BIRDS: All birds on the property, breeders, racers & motivation team are put together the last week of November. Albert only keeps the first round for his young bird race team. He said this makes things a lot easier. This way he does not have to keep the first two rounds separated or exercise them separately. He puts the youngsters on the dark system March 1st. The young birds are in the dark for 14 hours from 5:30 PM to 7:30 AM. The birds are on the dark system until the 3rd week of June. What I found of interest, is that everyone I’ve talked to when the birds are taken off the dark, artificial light is added. Albert said he did this in the past, but his results are as good if not better by not adding any daylight hours after they are taken off the dark system. Albert said the only time he gives artificial light to his young birds is if it’s raining and dark and gloomy outside.
FEED, MEDICATION & SUPPLEMENTS: Same as the Old Birds.
TRAINING: Training is similar to the old birds, but Albert and Francine like to get at least 20 tosses on the youngsters before the first race. The young birds are trained throughout the season once or twice a week, until the races reach 350 km. Special note: All birds, young and old are never trained with any other birds. The main reason for this is for the health of the birds.
I would like to thank both Albert and Francine for their hospitality when I was at their home and their willingness to answer all my questions since I’ve been back home. I was very impressed with Francine’s knowledge of all the birds. She knows what birds bred what babies and can recall what order the birds clocked in the races over two years ago. As can Albert. It was very easy to see why Albert does so well year after year. He has a very special relationship with the birds and has a special sense to see ahead of time, if the birds might have a problem coming up. It’s something hard to put into words. I believe the husband and wife team of the Derwa family will be talked about for years to come because of their great pigeons and continued success.
A special thank you goes out to Rik Hermans of www.deduif.be for giving me permission to use the photo of Albert and Francine together.