Bird in the hand sure can move
Mark and Barry Kitchenbrand own the world’s most expensive pigeon
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 Alberton, Ekurhuleni.
There are only about 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 R 5.7 million (€360 000) 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 it into 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, the 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 of time each day, with the times getting gradually extended.
They are eventually driven outside their suburb, further and further away each time when they are let loose to
‘The only sport in which there can be no human intervention’
The pigeons are tagged as babies with an ID ring on one foot containing information such as birth year, the owner’s 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 Gauteng, 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, the brothers pointed out. 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 called Golden Prince.
It was bought through an online 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, bloodlines and racing successes.
“Because of the inter-breeding of the fastest birds in the world, the racing times are getting faster and faster,” Mark noted.
Golden Prince has remained in Belgium as PIPA has specialised facilities to look after him and to assist him in breeding.
The multimillion-rand pigeon, although now only breeding, was once a racing champion, winning the 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 here and to improve the local genetic pool. Others will be auctioned off around the world, probably starting at around 20 000, said Mark.
China is the country which has the largest number of pigeon racers and fanciers in the world.
The pigeons cannot be insured because they are regarded a high-risk, but the Kitchenbrands say they have very seldom lost a bird.
The brothers explain how pigeons have been raced around the world for many, many years and were, in fact, 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 upwards, depending on the bloodline.
The recent bird flu in the province badly affected the Kitchenbrands as they were unable to export their birds.
RECORD: Pigeon fancier Billy Kitchenbrand breeds pigeons at his loft for racing. Kitchenbrand and his partners earlier this year bought male pigeon Golden Prince in Belgium for a world record of almost R5 million.
KEEPING TRACK: Billy Kitchenbrand shows how he individually identifies his pigeons with leg rings.
CARING: Kitchenbrand examines one of the pigeons at his loft.
LOVE: A cock nurses its squab, or young bird. Kitchenbrand is a devoted and dedicated breeder and fancier.
CUTE: Kitchenbrand shows off a squab at his loft.
FLEDGLING: Squabs are nurtured and trained from a young age in order to become racing pigeons.
EXPERTISE: Kitchenbrand examines one of the pigeons at his loft.