Bird in the hand sure can move

Mark and Barry Kitchen­brand own the world’s most ex­pen­sive pi­geon

The Star Late Edition - - NEWS - ANNA COX anna.cox@inl.co.za

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’

fly home.

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.

@an­na­cox

PIC­TURES: ITUME­LENG ENGLISH / ANA

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.

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