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The Zoontjens

Based on the title, you can probably assume that I will be bending your ear about the Zoontjens family of pigeons or at least my Zoontjens family of pigeons. But I guess the only way to find out for sure is to read on. In writing this article, I sat down and thought for a while about all of the pigeons I have owned over the years and which ones I enjoyed the most or flew the best, which I guess pretty much turned out to be the same thing.

Yes, I have been pretty lucky to have three base families, the performance family I built in the late 1980's, the Hofkens I purchased in the late 1990's, and then the Horemans I purchased in the mid '00s and now the current family that I have been building since approximately 2009.

So, in thinking back on it, I have come to the conclusion that my two favorite families were the one from the 1980's and this current family. They have something in common in that both families were started with a number of pretty unrelated pigeons that were blended together over time, whereas the Hofkens and the Horemans were pretty much functioning families from the start. I have written several articles about why I did not stay with either the Horemans or the Hofkens, so I won't go into that again. I will say that it is no mistake that I fashioned this family after the family of the 1980s and, to be honest, in terms of my personal selection and skills as a breeder, I got off track with the Hofkens and the Horemans, although I did learn a great deal about inbreeding while working with them.

As mentioned, my family of the late '80s was pretty much based on performance. I purchased a number of pigeons from different sources and, as they produced winners, they became a bigger part of the program, until the entire program was made up of winning pigeons that were very similar in build and very compatible with each other. However, shortly after my first son was born, I was involved in a mass layoff from a major defense contract and, at the same time, I was also becoming tired of the continual grind of racing, so I decided to leave the sport. Otherwise, I would never have sold the family of the late '80s.

What made the family of the late 1980's so special? Well, there were many reasons. To name a few, they were becoming a very good distance family, they had an excellent feather and eye color balance, and again they were very compatible with each other. As time has gone by, I have come to the conclusion that compatibility between lines or individual pigeons is the most important element to breeding better pigeons. When it comes to compatibility, no family of pigeons was/is more compatible than the Janssens, and as a result all of my lines are now Janssen based. I have written about this belief many times in the past, and have now made it a reality in my breeding program.

About the time that the distance portion of the '80s family was coming together, I happened to purchase four Smeulders, and two of these pigeons, a father and daughter, had an immediate impact on the shorter distances in young bird and old bird racing. However, crossed, these pigeons could win from 100 to 500 miles on any type of day and win they did.

Frankly, besides the magnificent "45" Martin Van Tuyn hen that I owned when I was a kid, I had never owned anything close to as prolific as that original daughter of the Smeulders. Since then, I have owned many great pigeons and while all of them could have held their own, nothing has bred like that daughter. The father bred several super pigeons, but he was 10 years old when I got him, so his chances were limited.

The father was out of Woult Smeulders's "Old Couple", and the mother to the daughter was a direct daughter to Woult Smeulders's famous "02" cock, which was a 5 time winner. I read once that the "02" won something like 65 prizes, and his father was a 15 winner and won 102 prizes in 8 years of racing!

Although I bred 10 winners in two years from the daughter and, although there were a number of these pigeons to choose from, my personal favorite and best racer was 89 TDI 1767. She was a skinny hen that really wasn't very pretty and truthfully, she didn't handle that well, but she was always in the thick of things and she didn't do stupid things and she was a great trapper! She won the 200 and 250 as a young bird, and the 300, 400, 500 mile stations as a yearling. She placed 8th at the 600 and was the last pigeon to ever return from that race which was held on a extremely tough 107 degree day. She was also champion pigeon twice in her two years of racing. Although bred by me, her father was flown by another fancier, and it won at the 250 and 500 mile stations, was championship pigeons twice and was never out of the top 10. His two sisters also flew very well with one winning a 400 miler and the other winning the 600 miler and later becoming the mother to my Hall of Fame hen.

Unfortunately, I never got a chance to breed 1767, as I sold out the next year to my long-time friend and now current partner Harry Van Wingerden. Harry bred a 500 mile winner from 1767, and that hen was later crossed to a Mauricio Jemal cock that had been 10th in the Snowbird race for Ed Lorenz. This cock was quite a story in itself and, I can thank a former competitor, Mark Hernandez, for allowing me to purchase this cock from him after the auction was over.

My partner's 500 mile winner and the Jemal cock bred thee hens that were all extremely nice pigeons, but they had a lot of white splashing on them. Therefore, even though my partner and I both liked them a lot, they never seemed to get bred very much because of the splashing. Finally, I brought all three of them to my loft and, again, in spite of my good intensions, because of the splashing they didn't really get used much. However by this time, 95 SB 4960 BBSpl, was somehow responsible for five win, including a triple winner which Harry bred for a friend just he turned these hens over to me. Because they were just sitting, I sent the other two hens back to my partner, and even knowing that she was a successful breeder, 4960 sat yet another year in my loft.

OK, I realize that I have strayed away from the story about my Zoontjens, so let me get back to that story by telling you yet another offshoot story. As I mentioned earlier, in approximately 2009, I made the decision to sell the Horemans in what can only be described as the most risky move I have ever made in my time in pigeon racing. My goal was basically to build another family similar to the one I built in the late 1980's (in other words, from a group of pretty much unrelated pigeons). As a result, my partner and I brought in a lot of pigeons from a number of different sources. Using some techniques I have learned over the years, I was able to more quickly developa compatibility between these different lines. Ultimately, the group narrowed to two base bloodlines, the Vic Miller pigeons (Freek Romein/Van Der Flaes) and the Van Loons. These are very strong steady pigeons that are very difficult to lose, which is a very important trait to me.

For the most part, pigeon racing has been moving from the different towns and cities to the one loft races. I will not comment on whether this is good or bad but, none the less this is the current direction of the sport. If there is one thing I have learned from the one loft races, it is that the ability to live to fight another day is just as important as winning potential. In many ways, a good one loft multi-race series, such as the Plymouth Peak Challenge run by the excellent fancier Brad Hoggan, is one of the most competitive situations out there. I don't know Brad very well, but I have been extremely impressed by the concept of this race and his ability to carry it out. Basically, for a price, he is flying an entire race series for us, which is great because I do not have the time. Unlike local races, there are no bad airlines, no unfair use of medications, no one fancier outworking everyone else, and with the exception of a very few areas left in the country, there is more competition in terms of better fanciers and more pigeons. Plus, unlike the local races, if you want to race against me, you know where to find me, and we can all race together! I am not interested in racing grab bag single races that are very often determine by luck. Instead, I enjoy the seven straight weeks of racing offered by the Plymouth Peak Challenge. Frankly, unlike the single grab bag race I have flown, this series identifies the better pigeons and it is a big help in improving my stock.

I learned something really quick about the Vic Miller and Van Loons pigeons. Man! Are they tough! In the first series I flew in 2012, they got kicked to the curb on a very tough first race, which probably had more to do with missing the mountin pass than anything else, and there were probably a number of good pigeons lost that day. Let's not soften the story though; in my case, the pigeons that got home were late, and they got beat up pretty good. In fact, they struggled to regain themselves for the next several weeks. For us, it was pretty chaotic for most of the rest of the season. However, one thing became clear; they weren't going anywhere no matter how tough it got or how late they came back and the more stupid it got, the more impressed I became.  When pigeons are out overnight, in some cases several times, they are able to recover fast enough to make it home from an even longer race the following week, I can’t help but find that impressive, because these days, most pigeons are incabable of making it home on the second day at all.

At one point, on a tough hot race, my friend, Steve Baldwin, (AKA “Ballllldwin” as Marty Ladin used to say) called to give me a hard time because several mutual friends had clocked well before us and, at the time, I think only one of mine was home. He wanted to point out that with it being hot and only one clocked (late), I was a little short on pigeons and I might have trouble getting the rest home. (This came from his Marty Ladin's, "Kick them when their down" training). Truthfully, had it been any other set of pigeons, I really would have been worried but, in this case, I told him, "Just wait a while, they will be along shortly," and by dark, they were all in. I don't know how many total miles are in this series, but ours must have flown at least twice that, yet, after the first race, we didn't lose another pigeon. On the 300, we were 11th and had four of our five on the first page.

I realize these aren't the results that most people would choose to write about. However, it was an amazingly tough performance, and each time they lived to fight another day. When I purchased the Vic Miller pigeons from Ed Lorenz, he said, "They don't get lost, but don't expect them before 300 miles either." Well, pretty much that is how they performed. The Snowbird races obviously worked out quite well for Vic because both races were 400 miles long at the time and, by then, his pigeons were warmed up and ready to go!

While these pigeons are clearly always around to fight another day, I can't help but think about something the late fancier, Art Hees, once said of his competitor, the late Bob Fleming. After a great deal of prerace bragging, when Bob showed up at the club after clocking an hour late on the second race of the season, Art noted,"Bob doesn't need to spend money on a clock as a sun dial should suffice." In an effort to avoid similar comparisons, I needed something more than a bunch of toughness. From the famous line in the movie, Top Gun, I felt the "need for speed!" However, I did not want to get that speed by watering down the toughness of these pigeons.

Finally the Zoontjens! Where to begin? I guess the best place to start is by saying that I met Wal Zoontjens back in 2005 on my first grading trip to Europe. He attended one of my seminars with his good friend Marcel Gortzen (Marcel and I have since become close friends as well). Unfortunately, I was under quite a bit of pressure the night of that particular seminar and, sadly, I only vaguely remember our meeting.

It really wasn't until later when Marcel and I became better acquainted that I again came in contact with Wal. This actually came about due to a conversation between Wal and Marcel in which Marcel suggested to Wal that I was actually pretty good at selecting pigeons from pictures. Because I judge most physical aspects of the pigeon by feel, grading pigeons in a two dimensional visual format leaves a lot to be desired, but none-the-less I do have something of a feel for it and, under these circumstances, I can still tell many things about a pigeon simply by looking at its picture. Consequently, at Marcel request, I agreed to evaluate a number of Wal's better breeders.

To be very honest, I knew pretty much nothing about Wal or his family of Zoontjens pigeons, other than Wal had a big reputation in the European sport, and he was at his best on the 500 mile one day races. With such recommendations, you can imagine that I was quite curious about what I might see.

Although there were obviously many pigeons to like from such a distinguished loft as Wal's, the two that really caught my eye are shown below in the exact pictures that were sent to me. You have the advantage of seeing their record, which pretty much speaks for itself, where I only had nondescript pictures of a pigeons to evaluate.

Wal's 177 Cock

99 NL 9962177 - De Kampioen 177 -

1st AS Mid-distance in 2000

 

Wal's Teleteks Cock

Teleteks, 4th National 14,898 pigeons, 4th National 4,318 pigeons, 7th National 9,319 pigeons.

Approximately a year after viewing these pictures, Marcel passed on a request from Wal. The message was pretty short, with Marcel only saying, "Wal has asked that you take a look at 09 Easley 1361 on the South African site. It has been flying pretty well so far."

I later learned that Wal had sold a pair of pigeons to and American fancier by the name of Kenny Easley, and a youngster from this pair was flying at the top on every toss/race. Now, I have flown the SA race for several years now and, I have learned that while pigeons sometimes fly well for a period of time, very few continue to do so through the final race, so while it was interesting that the pigeon was doing well, I took a quick look at its results and just as quickly forgot about it until the South African auction came around.

Prior to this auction, I was intent on buying another pigeon, but given that there was going to be some work involved, I though what the heck, if I am going to go to the work of buying one pigeon, I might just as well take a look as several others. After looking though the records of a few pigeons, Wal's recommendation came to mind, so I decided to see how the story on 1361 had turned out. On looking up the results, I was surprised to learn that this pigeon had even flown well in the final race placing approximately 130th on a day with approximately 200 day birds, and its sister placed 210th on the second day. This is not too bad when you consider that approximately 400 pigeons returned in race time.

As you may know, I am sort of lazy and getting lazier all the time. I could look up exactly where these pigeons placed and give you exact information, but then I would risk never finishing this article like so many articles before it. Knowing this about me, you shouldn't be too surprised to learn that it took me a couple of weeks to work up enough energy to look at 1361's race results and then at least another week to get around to its pedigree. In fact, it wasn't until I looked up the pedigree of 1361 that I found out that he even had a sister in the race. To be very honest, I never expected to get these pigeons at auction simply because if I had two pigeons out of a single pair that had flown as well under such circumstances, I would have spent any and all prize money plus whatever else to buy them back, so I expected that Kenny would do the same. Fortunately for me, Kenny still owned the pair so he was more interested in obtaining some new blood from other top lines for his breeding loft and, as a result, I was able to buy them.

When I finally got around to looking at the pedigree, I learned that the grandfather was the De Kampioen 177 (pictured above). This was kind of nice, being that 1361 was an excellent performing pigeon that was actually a grandson to a cock that I already knew I liked. It took me a little while to put together that Wal had probably wanted me to look at 1361 because he knew how much I had liked of 177. However, given that I had not looked at the pedigree at that point, this possibility escaped me.

 

99 Easley 1361 BB C - Super racer throughout the entire South African series. Grandson of De Kampioen 177

 

On that particular year, we got lucky and the South African auction pigeons made it to the United States reasonably quickly and without issue, but when they arrived, the cock, 09 Easley 1361, although not sick, was pretty tired and need to molt badly, and it was actually two years before he was back to normal.

A year or so later, we also bought the remaining two brothers and a sisters (832) to 1361 from Kenny Easley. 832 has since bred a day bird in South Africa and both her and her brothers have bred birds that have finished well at the Plymouth Peak Challenge in Utah. One of her sons has also bred fairly well and he has a son that will go into the breeding loft this year, so as you can see the line carries down.

 

Excellent breeding hen "832". Sister to 1361 the SA cock

Right around the time we purchased the pigeons from Kenny, we experienced some very good fortune! One day when we were least expecting to buy another pigeon, Ed Lorenz mentioned that the Tournament of Champions one loft race was auctioning off a Zoontjens cock as part of their post-race auction package, and he suggested that I should take a look at this pigeon. We really didn't need another pigeon and, because at that point 1361 had not fully recovered, I really wasn't sure how much I wanted to invest in the Zoontjens, especially because they were getting more difficult to obtain. However, out of respect for Ed and Wal, I decided to take a look at the pigeon. Honestly, I was a little surprised when I saw the picture, and I immediately fell in love with the bird. When I opened the pedigree (I did so more quickly this time), I was surprised to see that it was a direct son of the De Kampioen 177, and that it was a full brother to Teleteks (picture above) and an uncle to 1361.

 

Brother to Teleteks (right) and the last remaining Smeulders Hen (left) from my old family of the early 1990's

 

Brother to Teleteks and the Smeulders hen from the old family

The pigeon certainly looked like Teleteks as shown in Marcel's original pictures, but I found all of this a little hard to believe, especially since I knew that pigeons like this could not be that easy to obtain from Wal. Then there was always the question of why someone would be selling a pigeon of this caliber in the first place. In again talking to Ed on the phone a couple of hours later, he mentioned that he knew that a mutual friend, Eddie Tangonan, had been at the race and had handled the auction pigeons, so I gave Eddie a call. Eddie gave the pigeon high praise saying that it was the only pigeon he had been interested in himself and he would have taken a shot at buying the pigeon, but getting it back to Hawaii at that time would have been questionable. With this recommendation in hand, I immediately sent the pedigree to Marcel and asked him to forward it to Wal.

Marcel was also surprised to see such a pigeon up for auction and, in fact, he didn't see how this was possible either. A day later, Wal confirmed that he had sold five of Teleteks's children to Mike Ganus and that the band number of this pigeon matched one of those five, so that only left the question as to why Mike or a second owner was selling the pigeon in the first place. Given that Mike initially had five of them, it probably meant that he had been weeding them down over time based on their production. While this is always a concern, I liked what I saw in the picture, and I had Eddie's opinion that the pigeon at least handled like the real deal, so I felt that I had enough information to go out on a limb.

Keep in mind that many of my best breeders over the years have obtained under just such circumstances! One of my top cocks of the late 1980's had been bred by three different fanciers over five years with absolutely no success. I bought the pigeon for $25 dollars and, a week later the previous owner called me to say that he had just clocked a 500 mile winner out of this very cock. In his first year of breeding for me, this $25 cock bred five winners in the first six youngsters he raised. The sixth youngster hit a wire early on and almost cut its off head. After the vet sowed its head back on, "The Headless Cock", replaced his dad as my foundation cock of that period and went on to breed my Hall of Fame winner, and ultimately this pigeon played a very big part with the Smeulders later on. My point is that the same pigeons in the hands of different fanciers yield different results.

Getting back to brother of Teleteks, he has not been what I would call a super consistent breeder and maybe that is why Mike or a second owner had made him available. However, in three years of breeding he has produced 5 super pigeons, which, when you think about it, would be a career for most pigeons. This year has been his best year, as when mated to 832, he has produced two excellent cocks which will be key going forward!

When we first purchased the brother to Teleteks, I did not have a Zoontjens hen that I thought really fit him. Enter the Smeulders hen 95 SB 4960, mentioned earlier in this article! Man, I did not want to make this mating because of splashing on 4960, but they were a very good match in the body, and although she had a split bull eye, it was a base yellow eye, which complemented his pearl eye. Also, the Jemal, Smeulders and Zoontjens lines were Janssen based, and this was very important from a breeding perspective.

In their single season together, this pair bred two very nice hens. The first one went to South Africa where it was my most consistent pigeon of that year. The second hen, a blue bar, has turned out to be an excellent breeder that I named "Wild Thing" because she is just that! She has proven to be extremely consistent and reminds me of the original daughter of the Old Couple cock and the daughter of the "02" cock (other than that hen was a dark check), and she is the mother to "Wacko," which is one of the top cocks in my loft. Simply put, I made a giant mistake not trying to get her sister, "Eye Witness", back from South Africa, as I always thought this pigeon would eventually be an excellent breeder.

 

Wild Thing - Mother to Wacko, Daughter of Teleteks and 95 SB 4960.

Now that I was in a little deeper with the Zoontjens, I decided to talk to my friend Dave Shewmaker about purchasing a few of his Zoontjens. Dave had been quite lucky a number of years earlier in purchasing a round of youngsters from the very best of Wal's pairs. Although a number of Wal's breeders were getting older at the time, Wal thought they would still be breedable the following year, so he agreed to sell the last round of that year to Dave. As it turned out, Dave proved to be the luckier of the two because many of those older breeders did not breed for Wal the following year.

Ultimately, I settled on a cock and a hen from Dave. Being short on names, I named the cock "The Shewmaker Cock" and, the hen, "The Shewmaker Hen," (go figure) and the hen has already been an excellent breeder for me. The Shewmaker Cock really hadn't been used until late this breeding season when I mated him to 13 Book 3008, which is a daughter of Wacko, granddaughter of Wild Thing, and the great granddaughter of Teleteks.

Eye of The Shewmaker Cock

 

 

Maginifico 4100

This cock is one of my youngest pigeons from this year, so his eye still needs to develop.

Heis a son of the Shewmaker cock and 3008

 

Eye of The Shewmaker Hen

Daughter of the Shewmaker Hen when mated to the brother of Teleteks

While 3008 was 9th at the 200 in the Plymouth Peak Challenge, she actually gained my respect during a smash 300 mile race where close to 300 pigeons were lost. In fact, while we took 3rd place in the race (Daughter of Teleteks, 13 Book 3064) from 103 day birds, things got very tough on the second day, when only 19 of the 300 missing pigeons returned. We had two of those in 13 Book 3014 and 13 Book 3008.  On the third day, we had one of the two that made it home in 13 Book 3009.  It is important to note that even as flown down as they must have been, they were shipped back again four days later and still finished the remaining two races of the series including the final race of 325 miles!  These last two pigeon were out of the great cock “Wacko”, which is a son from the brother to 1361 (now called the SA cock) when mated to Wild Thing.  Both 3014 and 3008 are currently in the breeding loft with 3008 already becoming a key breeder as the mother to "Magnifico" when mated to the Shewmaker cock.   This makes Teleteks the grandfather to Wacko and Wacko the grandfather to Magnifico, which already spans five generations of pigeons. 

 

Eye of 13 Book 3008 BB Hen

9th - 200 miles Plymouth Peak Challenge, Son to Wacko

I would be very remiss if I didn't mention more about the great breeding cock Wacko. While his father (brother to the SA cock) is a nice pigeon, he outdid himself on that particular day! Wacko is far more than just a nice pigeon! He got his name because he is nuts about his nest and he doesn't like an intruding hand even if it happens to be delivering feed to his feed bowl. Wacko will continue to show up over and over again as the Zoontjens story unfolds.

 

Eye of Wacko - Son of Wild Thing

 

Last year at the end of the breeding season, Wacko was mated to his mother, Wild Thing, to produce three super inbred cocks, two of which represented the core of my hybrid program this year. The third wasn't old enough to be included in the early portion of this year's breeding program, but I certainly consider his two later bred children to be at the top of this year's young birds and one of them is likely to be mated to Teleteks this coming year.

Time will tell if all of this was worth writing out, but let me say this. In late 1988, I purchased four Smeulders. When the shipping box came, I had not idea what was even inside the box. When I pulled out the first pigeon, a hen, I knew that my fortunes had changed in that very moment! When I calmed down enough to look at the pedigree, I saw the pigeon was a granddaughter to the "02" cock and to be honest, I had no idea what the even meant at the time. Truthfully, I didn't really care because I had that hen and that was worth more than the paper.

My expectations were quickly verified by the race results of the following year when five of the six children were either first or equal first. Given that to this point, I have been mostly concentrating on increasing the number of Zoontjens and, as a result, not sending them to as many races, I am amazed at how well they have already shown up on the race sheet and, to me, this is a sign of things to come. Certainly, I was expecting a bit slower pigeon given Wal's reputation at the 500's, and maybe I have skewed this to the shorter faster side with the introduction of 4960. However it happened, they have speed, and children from this year's breeding already looks faster! To this point, I have not had the opportunity to fly them straight, but I hope to do so soon. This will help to better distinguish their toughness in comparison with the Van Loons and Vic Millers.

When it is all said and done, I will say that the Zoontjens have proven to be quite fast in both young birds and old birds. Althought they are slower maturing physically, they still perform well as young birds and that would make them one of the very few longer distance families that I can say that about. As you can see with 3008, crossed they still retain their toughness. Whether they will be as tough when they are flown straight remains to be seen.

Ultimately, I have the same feeling about the Zoontjens that I had about that original Smeulders hen when I pulled her out of the shipping box so many years ago, and I have to say that there is added confidence knowing that same Smeulders blood is now a part of my current Zoontjens!

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