Flying Birmingham rollers is already for many years a popular hobby in Holland. Flying these birds has been for many years the same as in our surrounding countries of Europe, and that is with three birds and from portable loft or backyard. What people were looking for was individual quality of the birds, every bird showing a good roll was one point. Even then the deep, fast rollers were admired more then the average ones, but there was no difference in rewarding the just good roller and the beautiful spinner, both just got one point.
The big change in Holland came in '89, when a few keen roller fanciers realized that the way Birmingham rollers were flown in England was the real and best way to fly Birmingham rollers, so they founded a new club and started organizing 20 bird kit competitions. The new club got a group of enthusiast fanciers and pretty soon we flew nice competitions in Holland.
In the eighties a few different fanciers imported pigeons from various fanciers in England like Bob Brown, Bill Barrett and Ernie Stratford, but these pigeons were flown and selected to perform the way Birmingham rollers were flown on the continent (3 birds and individual). Important qualities like kitting and team performance were not important matters to select for, so the overall quality of the birds changed but not in favor of the 20-bird team performance we were looking for. It took lots of time to breed back the qualities we wanted. In the nineties more birds were imported from new famous names in England, like Shackleton, Lennihan, Besance, Mason, Dexter and Kitson. Now we had lots of different families of birds to work with, but the best way to fly, feed and train these birds is not an easy thing to do. Most fanciers tried hard to find out what family they liked best, outstanding kits and birds were flown in those days, but the management, how to control the birds and make them perform on competition day is and always will be the most difficult thing in this hobby. Quite a few fanciers got frustrated at the end and quit the hobby, sad but it happened. We now have still the same amount of people in Holland enjoying this beautiful hobby, but a lot of the leading names have changed over the years.
I started in this hobby in 1990 when I bought my first BR of a still good friend of me, Epie de Jong. I read an article in a newspaper about him and his strange and rare hobby with Birmingham rollers. Epie was president of our NBRC for many years and was one of the people starting this club.
I bought two pair and it were descendents of the Ernie Stratford imports. I bred myself that summer a little kit and was enthusiast to see my first young birds start to roll. I had no idea about how to train and feed them to perform better, just did what I thought was best. I worked with these birds for two years and they were good kitters and flyers and some nice rollers, but not very active.
Meanwhile my teacher and friend Epie, got rid of all of his Stratfords and had replaced them for Barretts which were easier to manage and were more active, I visited him a lot in those days so I saw the difference too and I also liked the Barretts better.
I must say that we didn't know how to manage the Stratford birds so they might have been much better than we realized, but we didn't know how to handle them, what caused highflying, stiff kits and overflies. Like everywhere in the world we too were impatient, and maybe got rid of the birds too soon because Mr. Stratford did fly great kits in England in those days. We will never know.
Epie helped me to get started with Barretts and I flew a mix kit Stratfords and Barretts, my first year in the club and in competition. I was hooked! The next year I got rid of the remaining Stratfords, they were nice rollers, but seldom in the roll. Just Barretts and most of 'em came from Epie, because he was breeding lots of birds and had every season his ideas of continuing with a few combinations and their offspring and then got rid of all the others. Because I visited him a lot, I knew the quality of the birds Epie didn't want to use anymore, and I could lay my hands on them! Epie was more focused on individual performance then on real teamwork, he bred fantastic rollers, but never really scored high in competitions, he knew why, but didn't care. He bred lots of good Barretts, and quite a few came to me.
Riekus Duiker was another full time pigeon keeper in those days and he flew mainly birds of imports from Dexter, Kitson and Besance, he bred and flew about 100 youngsters a year and was flying and training these birds and some breeds of highflying pigeons as his dailywork. He flew fantastic rollers in those days, but also a lot of problem birds he gave "a second chance" over and over. He flew the best quality pigeons in those days, but often things like a splitting kit, bumping birds or landing early hurt his results. My idea was that he was too soft with his problem birds, he drowned in it trying to learn about the reasons of a bird not kitting, landing early, bumping etc. etc.(cull and move on would be better).
Jan Hatzman was the third fanatic Birmingham roller flyer in those days I visited quite often, he flew birds of a Lennihan/Besance cross and he managed to create a fantastic family of birds, beautiful type and superb quality. The main problem Jan was struggling with was to show what his birds were capable of on competition day, when the yard was filled with critical fanciers. A tough problem!
These three people were my "teachers" in the hobby, they had read a lot about our hobby from England. They also knew everything about pigeons and had a lot of answers on my questions.
In those days I was a service mechanic and traveled all week for my work, and could therefore visit these guys very often and see their pigeons fly and talk about it, I learned and saw a lot.
I didn't read a lot of articles about our hobby, but what I read was about how to train, feed, solve problems, prepare for competition etc. etc. After a few years visiting my friends and listening to their answers and solutions for all kinds of problems you run into in this hobby, and reading some more articles I realized that for every answer or problem in this hobby there are about ten answers! The worst thing about this is that the "people who know" can tell you what to do, or how to solve a problem, but can't show you! So what's the truth! I stopped asking and reading and just flew my birds and did what I thought was the best and I did have good results.
I started to know my own birds! In the air is the best place to learn all about your birds! I flew an average of three kits in those days, breeders included.
During the summer season I don't have real bad hawk or falcon problems so no reason to keep my breeders locked in. I want my breeders to prove to me that I made the right decision to have used them as breeders in the previous year, they had to be good again or otherwise I won't use them again.
I selected them because it were good kitting, flying, performing and stable pigeons, so what's the risk in flying these stable good birds again? I bred them to perform for me and I want to enjoy them again after the breeding season. I bred them to fly and perform for fun for me and I think it's cruel to lock birds in like that because they are too good? Liars, your birds are just not stable enough!!
Breeders have to prove themselves again in the air at least a couple of years after the breeding season, to confirm me that I'm working with the right birds, no lottery, but proven birds.
My opinion is that you should know your birds as good as possible, try 100% and then and only then you can make the right decision about a bird, either get rid of it or fly it or even use it in stock.
I've seen way to many fanciers with far too many pigeons. It's impossible to know that many birds good enough to make the right decisions. They are lying to themselves about the reasons they keep that many birds. Most of them don't know those birds well enough so they hesitate to make the decision "live or die", so what they do is an extra kitbox to avoid the final decision! Meanwhile their breeding loft is filled with "pedigree birds" which might breed them those "champions".
I believe that the average fancier with a normal job can never handle more then at the most about a 100 pigeons including breeders, that's a kit of old hens, a kit of old cocks, a yearling kit and two youngbird kits. I'm sure that if every fancier should force himself to keep this many birds the quality should improve enormous. He would know his birds better and take easier the best decisions.
In '93 Holland joined the WC for the first time. Not the entire club thought we were ready to compete with the rollerworld, including me. It was expensive and I thought we have no chance at all, so I didn't fly in the WC. Two years later in '95 I won the competition again and decided to try my luck in the WC. The results of our fellow fanciers the previous years and meeting Norman Reed at my place made me curious, they finished somewhere in the middle I believe.
Monty Neibel came over to judge my kit in '95; he was enthusiast about my wife and birds. He told me he sure would like to train my kit by his methods for some time and was sure he could do a lot better with these same birds. He was enthusiast about how my birds kitted and worked together as a team, nice breaks with nice style and good depth, but they were soft (slow) in the roll, and I totally agreed with him. I finished 12th what was a never expected success. Monty's enthusiasm was contagious and I became even more fanatic in flying better and faster pigeons. I could lay my hands on a few birds of a mix of Lennihan, Mason, Barrett, and Besance blood and introduced them in my family of Barretts.
I slowly got what I was looking for, more speed and smaller birds, but also what I didn't ask for, a lot of new problems again. Looking back I think I introduced to many different birds in my family at the same time, it caused a lot of questions and took quite some time to get rid of the undesired traits.
The pure Barretts I flew were really good birds, kitting perfect, explosive breaks, and the only thing I wasn't happy about was their size and speed in the roll. I often wonder where I would have been at this moment if I hadn't introduced these outcrosses. I had no patience and that's a mistake that often ruins good families of rollers, I think I'm just lucky it worked well for me.
I'm happy with my birds as they are at the moment, but still try to improve, I know they can be better!
In '96 and '97 I was still struggling with my new blood in the family and didn't qualify for the WC. My fortune came back in '98 when I qualified and Eldon Cheney came to Holland to judge my kit.
In May that year when I qualified I flew a beautiful kit and everybody in the yard was enthusiast about the performance, good teamwork and big breaks. What a beautiful hobby, friends in the yard and a good kit in the air! In July when Eldon judged the kit for the WC the weather wasn't really good, it was too windy. The kit flew too low most of the time and danced up and down around the trees most of the time. They scored pretty good nevertheless and I finished third that year, that was a huge shock for me because the kit didn't perform half as good as when I qualified! So you start dreaming about what could have happened if the weather had been better that day? I realized I was close!
The next year I was ready for it and did qualify again. Monty Neibel who had won the previous year came to Holland again to judge my kit. The second time I met Monty and again he judged my kit.
I had all the luck you need; birds in perfect shape, good weather and the number one rollerman of the world judging my kit! The kit was "awesome" like Monty said; tight kitting and enough big explosive breaks. We all were enthusiast about the kit and I won the WC with a big score!
In 2000 the millenium year the tenth anniversary of the World Cup Rollerfly I was invited to judge. Steve Clayton our General Coordinator organized a perfect trip for me. Everywhere I was I met nice enthusiast people, just fantastic. When I judged the kits in America I was really surprised by the way lots of these kits flew, it was so different than everything I had seen before. Most kits I saw just flew as an unorganized group above the loft and it seemed that no bird knew in what direction they had to fly!
You could see they were selected to kit because the birds wanted to stay together! Lots of the breaks seemed more a coincident of frequent birds rolling together than working together as a team. What you saw after a break was that lots of birds came out of the roll facing all kinds of directions, and then flying back to the rest of the kit coming from all those directions. I think it's not important for these birds in these families because they never know where the rest of the kit might be? There was too often no fly pattern, like the fig. 8 I was used to see. I'm sure you need the fig. 8 fly pattern for the best quality breaks, the birds fly quietly in the same formation for the best set up before a beautiful explosive break. Coming out of the roll the birds know where the rest of the kit is and know how to get out of the roll to face the right direction! Another thing I saw in a lot of these kits was that when the kit broke, and say 5 birds rolled the remaining birds made a fast change of direction, so when the 5 rollers came out of the roll the kit was gone! A terrible habit of the kit, because they should fly slow and wait for the rollers to get back to the kit. What happens when a kit just flies in circles is that the birds are often changing position in the kit, because the birds on the inside fly slower then the birds on the outside so to keep up with the rest lots of birds take a shortcut. You can imagine that this kind of flying is wrong for a good setup and break together. I saw too many kits just flying left, or rightwing circles above the loft. Probably through wrong selection or not paying enough attention to this important part of flying rollers (for team performance), this habit seems to be gone in lots of roller families.
Another amazing thing to see for me was the amount of kitboxes most fanciers had in their yard. I thought how could these people ever fly that many birds. I'm used to watch my birds when I fly 'em, and I need all my spare time to do so for the three kits I fly, besides my work. The best and only right way to fly these BR is to watch them all the time and get them in yourself. (no use of traps!).
If you have no time for that, then fly fewer kits but be there when they're out! You have to see everything they do!
I have to know all the ins and outs of all my birds to take the right decisions. I realized that either these people had a lot of time off or weren't watching their birds all the time they're out, so they don't really know their birds! Some think they do! The old-timers advice always was don't fly them if you don't have time to watch them! You have to watch them to get to know them!
I mentioned to a lot of people that I hate those little closed kit boxes you see all over America, I can't understand why so many people still use those things, it's like pigeonhousing before WW II. The English fanciers have moved on, look at their lofts nowadays! America wakeup it's 2003!
The disadvantages: hot ovens in the sun, you can't see what's going on inside and that's very important! The English style loft and in the back your kitboxes used either dowels or wire, is the best for climate control and observation of your birds. The birds get used to your presence in the loft, and won't really change their behavior when you're there, you can study them. When friends visit you, they can have a look at your birds, no need to stick their heads in a kitbox with the danger of a bird slipping over your head. Feeding your birds when you're gone in kitboxes by relatives or friends is always a risk, of a bird slipping out, most of them hate to do it. After some time you should know that all the birds will have their own perch, when you see a normal top perch bird in a bottom perch you should realize something's wrong. If you see birds mating on the floor you should pay attention! You can see what the strongest birds in the kit are and the weakest! Some kind of fly problem? Try to fly the kit without the strongest (top perch) birds or without the weakest (bottom perch).
Lots of things you can learn from your birds without flying! I've seen fanciers releasing their kit and then they see an egg in the kitbox, on competition day! In an open kitbox they would've noticed that this hen was already fooling around with a cockbird for several days! Can cost you a good hen!
Often one or two birds don't want to fly and the fancier has no clue, he could have noticed something if he knew what's going on in the kitbox! If all this doesn't make sense and you're happy the way it is, you don't have to change anything, this hobby is for your own pleasure. But don't blame your birds, when you don't improve anymore, it's only you who can change that!
Listening to the comments of fanciers when watching a kit together, (not for competition) you very often hear them talking about those beautiful individual performers in the kit, good frequency, style, depth etc. they're beautiful to watch, but are they good team pigeons? I think they're not! The only good individual performer I would like is the one that flies everytime to the front of the kit and then starts performing. In this hobby a kit breaking together a few times and flying flat for the rest of the time, is quality wise a lot better than a kit with beautiful individuals all the time (can't deny that the last kit is more fun watching!). Our hobby is for TEAM performance, so for the best results keep your team together (kitting) and make them work together! (the breaks). These beautiful individual performers ending in the breeding loft (what's happening everywhere too often) will get you more good performers but less and less teamwork, and more kitting problems. These birds have a serious fault! Lots of fanciers just deny that fault and only talk about that beautiful style, depth etc. and put 'em in stock.
I think you can better breed with a less quality performer without faults and try to improve the quality than to use a good spinner with a fault. It's easier to select for better and better quality than to select to get rid of a fault in your family you bred in them yourself! You make 'em sick and then try to heal again!
This is a beautiful but very difficult hobby and everyone working with these fantastic pigeons for several years knows what I'm talking about.
I traveled around with high expectations but was a little disappointed about the quality I saw in kits of people already in the hobby for many many years and still not capable of showing me some good performance in the air. I'm not talking about an outstanding kit in 20 minutes but just a few breaks showing me their real potential in an exhibition kit. Since I met lots of fanciers all over the world I realize more and more how difficult it is what we want to achieve:
A kit of 20 pigeons flying tight together on a nice height, setting up and explode in a full turn with excellent speed, style and depth. I've seen a kit like this a few times (in my dreams).
The most important thing no one should forget is that this is a hobby and a hobby should be for fun!
The pleasure in the hobby and the friends are more important than the quality of your birds.
I wish everybody a beautiful fullturn next season and lots of fun with birds and friends.
Your friend in the hobby, Heine Bijker Holland.