Oom Hennie Wardeck started racing pigeons in Krugersdorp in 1958 as a seven-year-old schoolboy. From the start, his dedication to the sport was evident, often landing him in the headmaster’s office for putting pigeons before schoolwork!
From those early days, Oom Hennie was someone to be reckoned with when it came to race day. “Nothing in Hennie’s pigeon management was left to chance,” says his long-time friend Joe van Rensburg.
It would be impossible to accurately determine the number of wins Oom Hennie had during his 54-year career, but he achieved a feat very few pigeon fanciers can rival. He was union champion at least once a decade, for five decades running. This achievement is a clear reflection of the superior pigeons in his loft and his excellent management and training regime.
He truly was a master judge of a pigeon, and could pick out the best pigeons without being told anything about the birds. And he could identify quality others had missed. Although Oom Hennie’s poor health hampered him during the last years of his life (he passed away on March 31st this year of heart and lung disease), he still regularly turned out club and union winners. He also always acknowledged the contribution of his beloved wife, Avril – together they formed one of the most formidable teams in the history of SA pigeon racing.
Among Oom Hennie’s many outstanding performances, the one his club mates will always remember was the 1 050km race from Matjiesfontein in 2002. As most Gauteng-based fanciers know, it’s rare for a bird to be clocked in on the day of liberation. “But that year,” says Joe, ”Hennie didn’t only clock in one pigeon before the day was over, but five of the eight pigeons he’d entered.”
Oom Hennie also still holds the record for the most union wins in one season – a staggering seven. This was achieved in the days when there were only about 20 races a year compared to the current 36 or so.
During the 1960s he established a pigeon family based on the Slimme/Putteries from the pair The Slimme and Boerin the late Sonny Kippen had imported from Louis Vermeiyen in Belgium. The pair’s offspring played a dominant role in the performances of Hennie’s pigeon loft right up to his passing.
He was also a great fan of the Oscar de Vriendt strain, also from Belgium. Any visitor to his loft will know that those blue pied Oscar de Vriendts were among Hennie’s favourites. He also had pigeons from the Catrysse and De Klak strains. With his Slimmes and Oscars these birds gave Hennie the ability to record top scores regardless of weather conditions and race distances.
Oom Hennie used line- and in-breeding to retain the core of his pigeon family, but regularly introduced crosses to improve it. He never over-trained his pigeons. For example, he refused to fly his yearlings further than the Yearling Derby. Because he looked after his younger racers so well, he would often have well-preserved five-year-old or even six-year-old pigeons to enter into the longer races.
Oom Hennie’s loft front faced south-east (not ideal in the opinion of many), but was always clean and neat. It had wooden floors and the fronts were covered with shade netting. Joe says Oom Hennie’s pigeons loved their loft and master. And, like his birds, we will miss him deeply.
Contact Thomas Smit on 011 680 4778 or at [email protected]. with ‘Pigeons’ in the subject line.