Bad times take toll on ‘fanciers’
Pigeon breeders dwindling but Kitchenbrand brothers thriving
GETTING home to their loved ones, their babies and their very own perches in their own lofts, is what motivates racing pigeons to fly faster.
This multimillion-rand global industry has a home in Ekurhuleni, in the Alberton area.
There are only 3 000 breeders and racers in the country who call themselves “fanciers”.
Mark and Barry Kitchenbrand, are brothers who are breeders and racers.
They recently purchased the most expensive pigeon in the world at about R5.7 million with partner Samuel Mbiza.
Mark says the number of fanciers is dwindling as the economy suffers, and the sport is relatively expensive to get into, but they are trying to introduce the sport to black communities.
“Most people who come from rural areas grow up with pigeons and are familiar with them,” he said.
The Kitchenbrands said they were “born” into a fancier family with their grandparents breeding and racing them about 110 years ago when their grandfather came to the country as a miner.
“My earliest memories are being around pigeons, so they are second nature to us,” said Barry.
He clearly adores the birds, stating how they are loving, caring parents which motivates them to fly faster to get home.
He demonstrates this by picking up two babies from a nest on which the father was sitting.
The father bird becomes agitated and starts flapping his wings when his babies are touched.
As soon as Barry returns them to the nest, that father once again flies to sit protectively next to his babies.
The pigeons are trained by allowing them, as babies, to wander outside their cages, in the nearby yard, for short periods each day with the times gradually extended. They are eventually driven outside their suburb, further and further away each time when they are let loose to fly home.
The pigeons are tagged as babies with an ID ring on one foot containing information such as birth year, the address and contact numbers.
When they race, they get a second ring with their flying times and locations.
Pigeon racing is an Olympic sport and the Kitchenbrands have Springbok blazers awarded for the large number of races their pigeons have won.
There is a club in Ekurhuleni, the only one in the province, to which the birds are taken for races.
They are carried in baskets which are placed in large containers/trucks with flaps which are opened simultaneously to release the birds at the start of the race.
They are then timed through the rings on their feet.
Some of the fastest recorded speeds are about 120km/h, depending on the wind. The birds can fly about 960km in 11 hours if the wind conditions are right, said the brothers.
They don’t stop to eat or feed on their way back home – they only stop for water.
“This is the only sport in which there can be no human intervention,” said Mark.
The world record-breaking pigeon, purchased by the partners, is Golden Prince. It was bought through an on-line auction conducted by Pigeon Paradise (PIPA), a world-renowned pigeon and breeding organisation, based in Belgium.
Every bird auctioned comes with its full history of genetic breeding, blood lines and racing successes.
“Because of the inter-breeding of the fastest birds in the world, the racing times are getting faster and faster,” he said.
Golden Prince has remained in Belgium as PIPA has specialised facilities to look after him and assist him in breeding.
The multi-million-rand pigeon, although now only breeding, was once a racing champion, winning the best long-distance title in Belgium in 2014, beating a 20-year record in that country.
He is expected to produce about 20 babies a year. Some will be returned to South Africa to breed and improve the local genetic pool.
Others will be auctioned off around the world, probably starting at about €20 000 (R338 117), said Mark.
China currently has the largest number of pigeon racers and fanciers in the world.
The pigeons cannot be insured because they are regarded a highrisk, but the Kitchenbrands say they have very seldom lot a bird.
The brothers explain how pigeons have been raced around the world for many, many years and used during many wars to transport information and war tactics to and from officers who feared using traditional transport for the sensitive information.
Pigeons sell in South Africa from R500, depending on the bloodline.
The recent bird flu in the province badly affected the Kitchenbrands as they were unable to export their birds.