Something a little different

Koot van der Walt is a tough East Rand entrepreneur who’s passionate about pigeon racing. Thomas Smit spoke to him.

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Pigeon racing has already benefited from entrepreneur Koot van der Walt’s business skills. The highly efficient Windy Corner Racing Pigeon Club (WCRPC) in Nigel is his brainchild, and adds something a little different to the South African pigeon racing scene. It’s not generally known by the public, but many pigeon races in Europe are hosted at a club that also functions as a restaurant. This is the model the WCRPC has adapted. Its restaurant section has a spacious kitchen and bar area.

The WCRPC is part of the Golden Reef Racing Pigeon Association (GRPA). About nine clubs make up the GRPA. These are located in Pretoria, the West Rand, Joburg’s southern suburbs, Kempton Park, Benoni, Springs and Nigel. Basketing at the WCRPC is done on Friday nights for the sprint and middle distance races and Thursday nights for the long distances.

The pigeons of all nine clubs within the GRPA are placed in the racing panniers under strict supervision using a electronic clocking device which registers the unique code carried in the special ring fitted to each pigeon’s leg. The panniers are then sealed and transported by truck to the liberation point.

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Koot participates as ‘Koot & Margaret & Bonny Lofts’. “In the 2012 season I only participated in the GRPA programme and sprint series, which involved about 120 fanciers,” says Koot. “I was 16 when I started with racing pigeons in the Transvaal Racing Pigeon Federation’s Mayfair Pigeon Racing Club, but my father kept Rollers from 1948, so pigeons were a part of my life from an early age,” he recalls. It was in 1963, at the age of 16, that one of Koot’s favourite pigeons came second in a car race – an early performance highlight he still cherishes.

“My foundation stock consists of mostly imports from the Netherlands and Belgium, such as Gaby Vandenabeele, Jeff Van Winkels and others,” says Koot. “My old and trusted local stock is used for crossing for racing purposes and is mostly from the Tom Locks family. “My breeding methods are simple and in line with those practiced by fanciers worldwide with great success. “Inbreeding is first done for stock purposes and cross-breeding is done for racing purposes to obtain hybrid vigour,” explains Koot.

Home training is done around the loft when the birds are young. During the racing season, 70km roadwork is done twice a day. Koot says the ideal pigeon loft should be about 5m high when measured from the floor to the roof top. There must be a frame roof with an opening at the top running along the length of the loft and mesh ceilings. This will cause an upward flow of fresh air from the bottom vents. Long-wave infra-red heaters to maintain an on-perch heat of a minimum of 15°C will also help avoid extreme fluctuations of temperature within the loft, and help the pigeons stay in form and peak condition.

What advice does Koot have for beginners? “Beginners have my sympathy,” he grins. “The sport isn’t easy, because it’s become very professional and competitive. I’d form a partnership with an experienced fancier and learn, study, surf the internet and pray.” How does he view the future of pigeon racing in SA? “The ‘pigeon politics’ and costs are killing the sport,” says Koot. “Unless we introduce an arbitration forum in the sport, the dictators in control will smother the backbone of the sport – that is, the fancier.”

He also says stricter control should be imposed on the availability of antibiotics and other drugs. According to Koot, the SPCA has said it wants to prevent the growth of the sport and is concerned about the length of pigeon marathon races, which are often accompanied by high losses and the lack of control of pigeon abuse, from overcrowding in the baskets to unfavourable liberations, among other factors.

Koot says he believes many of the SPCA’s complaints are valid and he will assist the organisation in rectifying these, but he does not agree with its ‘no growth policy’.

Contact Thomas Smit on 011 680 4778 or at [email protected]. Please state ‘Pigeons’ in the subject line of your email.