RIK COOLS                                                                                                       RUISELEDE, BELGIUM

By Ski Grababski

I met Rik in February of 2014 and what a treat that was. I asked him if it would be okay if I wrote an article on him for our American Racing Pigeon magazine (Racing Pigeon Digest) and he agreed. I know there was a brief article on him in the Digest a few months ago, but in this article you will get to know him a little better and I will go into his flying methods a little more in depth.

Rik is a teacher of Mechatronics and his been married to wife Mieke for 27 years. I was surprised when I asked Rik how he got started in the race birds? I really expected an answer like most of the Belgium flyers, that it was something he was brought up with (father, grandfather, etc). To my surprise, he said he got interested in the birds in 1992 at the age of 25. As he was growing up he said his neighbors had pigeons and when he moved to his present location, his neighbor also had pigeons. He received his first birds from his neighbor, Paul Ally. His first year (1992) flying young birds he won 1st Provincial  La Souterraine 550 Km. He also started to fly partners with Piet Blancke during this time. Piet had very little time to spare from his veterinary business nor the space for a loft on his property.  So the partnership was a plus for both of them.

2014 race results:                                                                                                                                                     OLD BIRDS                                                                                                                                                        Fontenay 325 Km (202 miles), 1st, 7th & 29th vs. 509 & 2nd, 20th, 22nd & 25th vs. 520 yearlings.         Tours 450 Km, 9th, 16th, 26th, 64th vs. 241 & 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th vs. 136 yearlings. Bourges 440 Km, 1st, 7th, 10th, 46th vs. 215 & 3rd, 4th, 12th, 13th, 18th vs. 267 yearlings.    Chateauroux 485 Km, 2nd, 4th, 18th, 47th vs. 223 & 2nd, 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th vs. 277 yearlings.          Poitiers 544 Km, 1st, 3rd, 6th, 7th, 10th vs. 228 yearlings.                                                                            Bourges 440 Km, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 10th vs. 85 yearlings.                                                                       Chateauroux 485 Km, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th vs. 105 yearlings.                                                         Chateauroux National Zone A-1 485 Km, 1st, 15th, 19th, 42nd, 62nd, etc. vs. 661 yearlings.                                                                       Argenton 513 Km, 1st. 9th, 34th vs. 343.                                                                                                    Argenton 513 Km, 2nd, 26th, 58th, 84th vs. 413 yearlings.                                                                        

YOUNG BIRDS                                                                                                                                                         Arras 100 Km, 1st, 2nd 3rd, 4th, 7th, 8th vs. 309.                                                                                                Arras 100 Km, 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th vs. 526.                                                                             Fontenay 325 Km, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 9th, 12th vs. 454.                                                                             Bourges 440 Km, 1st, 21st, 23rd, 24th vs. 469.                                                                                            Chateauroux 485 Km, 6th, 8th, 21st, 31st vs. 331.                                                                                    Argenton 512 Km 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 10th, 11th vs. 480                                                                                    Argenton National Zone A 1  513 Km, 1st, 9th, 11th, 56th, 78th, etc. vs. 4,348.                                                                   Tours  450 Km, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 8th, 12th vs. 418.



Now let's take a closer look at Rik's family of birds and his flying methods.

BIRDS:                                                                                                                                                             1992 is when he started to fly partners with Piet Blancke,  Piet brought some of his grandfathers (Oscar Decloet) birds over to breed out of.  The birds that Piet brought in, were out of 12 eggs that his grandfather bought from Gaby Vandenabeele. They also bought a hen "Francine" from Frans Vandesteege. So the birds he originally received from Frans, Piet and his neighbor Paul Ally are still in his family of today, that are now 90% Gaby Vandenabeele.

OLD BIRDS:                                                                                                                                                  The partnership of Cools & Blancke ended after 10 years when Piet had more time to devote to the sport and now had room on his new property to build a loft. 

After Rik's first year of flying young birds, Rik had 2 cocks and 8 hens for his old bird team and that is when he decided to fly only the hens. He learned the hen system from his good friend Astere Vergotte. Rik's old bird team consists of 24 hens. He mates them in December and lets them raise 2 youngsters. When the youngsters are 12 to 14 days old, the hens are removed and put into an aviary. Three weeks later they are returned to their loft . They are coupled again on March 15th. When they go down on eggs, a week later (around the 1st of April) they are separated and are put on the widow hen system. He takes them on 3 road tosses 15 to 20 Km and then they have a few tosses with the club birds from 30 to 50 Km. The season usually starts the 1st of April, but these are short races and Rik has no interest in them. When he starts competing (late April), all road training stops. The hens are now let out twice a day for 45 minutes each time. He has learned that the hens have to be shipped every week (15/16 weeks) and let out twice a day or they will start to mate to each other. Any hens that do mate, are immediately  taken off the race team.

The hens are shown the cocks for 30 to 60 minutes before shipping. When the hens return from the race, the cocks are waiting for them and are removed from the hen section the next morning. After the cocks are removed, the nest boxes are closed off and the hens only have access to V-Perches.

When the hens return from the race, they are fed all they want.  The feed mixture is very low in protein. They get the same feed for the next 3 days. Later in the week he adds Hemp, Sunflower seeds and maze (corn) to this mixture.

 He adds 16 yearlings to the race team every year, but always keeps the race team number at 24. I asked how he selects birds to bring in from  his young bird team? He said strictly by their race results. I thought this would be rather difficult to do until he told me the young birds are raced every week, 16 weeks in a row, which is unlike our young bird season that is only 6 to 7 weeks long. Yearlings that are put on the race team, need a minimum of 2 top prizes as a young bird.



In 2005 and 2006 he tried flying the cocks and was very successful. But because of the added time this took along with flying the hens, young birds and his other responsibilities of work and family, his wife asked him if he was crazy because he spent the whole day in the lofts. After very little thought, the cocks were no longer raced. We have all heard the saying "Happy wife, happy life".  

YOUNG BIRDS:                                                                                                                                                        The young birds are flown on the Dark System. They are darkened March 1st from   6:00 PM until 7:30 AM for a total of 13 1/2 hrs. They are put on natural light June 15th and in July he gives them a total of 17 1/2 hrs of light (5:00 AM to 10:30 PM).

He takes the young birds out for 5 or 6 road tosses up to 50 Km. After that they are trained with club birds 3 to 4 times a week 30 to 40 Km. He thinks it's very important for them to get up with other birds from the neighborhood at this time. The young bird races start at the end of May from 100 Km. When the season starts all road training stops and the birds are let out once a day.

 The young cocks and hens are separated  mid May and two weeks later, the hens are mated to old cocks and the young cocks to old hens. This takes a lot of effort, but Rik feels the time spent is well worth the payback in the race results. They are flown on the sliding door system.

The birds are flown up to 500 Km and the following week drop back to 200 Km.  When competing from 500 Km, if the weather is good, they can go to the 500 two weeks in a row. Young birds as the old birds are sent every week.

MEDICATION, VITAMINS & MINERALS:                                                                                        Medication is held to a minimum.  He brings his vet (Vincent Schroeder)in twice a year. Just before the breeding season and again just before the flying season. If anything is found, they will get the required treatment. When the hens are flown 400-500 Km several weeks in a row, he does treat  1 week for Trichomoniasis (Canker), the next week for Respiratory and the next week for Coccidiosis. He treats on Sunday and Monday. He does this 4 times during the race season changing the products on each cycle.

He believes B-12  is a very important product.  When the hens are flying 400/500 Km they are given B-12 capsules twice a week (Sunday & Wednesday). He also likes Brewer's Yeast, also high in B Vitamins and gives this on the feed on Tuesdays.  If the birds aren't flying the 400 and 500 Km, they are given the B-12 capsules once a week.

The young birds are vaccinated for PMV on March 15th. Rik said that when his young birds are put on natural light (June 15th), they usually have a slight respiratory problem, so he treats them for 6 days.  They are medicated the same as the old birds when they compete in the National races from 400/500 Km.

Rik also likes using several of the natural Rohnfried products.

Rik watches the birds very closely and at the first indication that something is not right, he immediately gets in touch with his vet. Never any blind treatments and very rarely will anything pop up during the race season.

I would like to thank Rik for his hospitality and showing us all his lofts and many of his champion flyers and breeders and agreeing to this article. We all had a good time sitting in the kitchen munching on goodies and exchanging pigeon stories and methods. Best wishes Rik from all of us.