Theo does it in style!   Leave a comment

The Auckland Racing Pigeon Federation (ARPF) Timaru race was flown on the 25th of November 2012. 18 lofts entered 77 birds and the pigeons were transported by road. The liberation was at 6.30am and the mainly light winds enroute were variable with fine weather over the whole of New Zealand.

Theo and Monique van Lier won this our second longest race by a time needed of 63 minutes 19 seconds. An incredible fly by their two year old BCH! Her velocity was 1395.38 m/min. Distance for Theo’s loft being 950km through a lower North Island Foxton trig breaking point. Elley family lofts were 2nd and 3rd (2 together). Theo was also 4th, Kerry Frazer 5th and Forest Hill lofts 6th.

Returns from the race were very good, which was most pleasing to see. With the Invercargill race scheduled for two weeks later, this ‘good pigeon weather race,’ was an opportunity for the birds to get some decent mileage under their belts, enabling some of us to re-enter Timaru birds to the Invercargill and clock them.

All in all a good Timaru result, allowing fliers to build up a team of experienced distance birds for 2013. Congratulations to Theo and Monique again, super bird and super season, winning amongst other things the prestigious Henderson Classic 500 mile race.

Fergus Elley questions Theo van Lier on his racing methods.

Before I begin, let me first introduce Theo van Lier to you. Theo is a successful businessman, really good guy and a top fancier. Theo is the owner of Van Lier Nurseries Ltd, a business started by his father Mr Walter Van Lier after arriving in New Zealand from Holland in 1951. Theo gained a Dip.Hort. from Massey University in 1982 and then became the nursery manager. In 1987 he bought the family business which now covers 2.3 hectares of growing area in Riverhead and Massey, West Auckland. It is a large supplier of cut roses and carnations.

Theo, please tell us how you got started in the sport?

My eldest brother Fred started with pigeons when he was at school and I used to help him with the birds. I enjoyed the birds and started racing when I returned from my OE in 1982.

You served as Federation President for three years until mid 2010 and did a very good job I might say. How do you think the ARPF can grow and keep improving its public image? Do you think we should be promoting the sport in the primary and high schools? What ideas do you have for promoting the sport?

Not an easy question to answer. I believe the clubs have to do most of the work. If the clubs are strong, the Federation can do its work. It’s the members that have to enjoy the sport and make it a friendly and happy environment, then things will improve for everyone. I am all for schools to be involved, but it takes a lot of energy and organisation to do this.

Amongst all of your results over the years what three wins do you rate the most memorable?

The Henderson Classic last year was special, as I have been 2nd in this race so often.

Also the sister of the winning hen I clocked in the Classic won the young bird National (West Section) for me in May last year.

Three years ago I won the Western Union Young bird Derby with my own auction bird.

How many pigeons do you start young bird racing with?

I normally breed 50 to 60 young birds.

How many pigeons do you start old bird racing with?

About 70.

How many stock birds do you usually keep?

10 pairs.

Do you breed some birds for stock from your best breeders and racers? Do these tend to be more closely bred? Are they tried on the road, even if only to 100 miles?

There are quite a lot of things which I look for in a breeding bird, such as racing ability, pedigree; it has to prove its ability in the stock loft. I do line breed and I am always on the lookout for good genetics.

Do you think your horticultural knowledge and profession gives you an edge on a lot of the opposition, especially from the breeding side of things?

No, I don’t think so. You just have to enjoy and study your birds to succeed.

What does a race bird usually have to do to earn its spot in the stock loft?

It has to be consistently handy when racing and win when it’s fit. It has to be better than the rest!

How many squeakers do you normally breed each year?


What are your lofts made of and how big are they?

My loft is wooden with a tiled roof. It is T shaped, being 12 metres along the front and 3 metres deep, with a stock loft out the back, 5 metres long, 2.4 metres deep.

What three features of your loft are stand-out improvements on your previous lofts design?

Tiled roof, good widowhood loft and good ventilation. Plumbed and powered.

You have dominated the West Section of the ARPF for the last decade especially from the middle distance. What three things would you say are the most important factors which have contributed towards this?

Good breeding, health of the birds and preparing the birds well for the big races.

You have recently had a fantastic result from Timaru and won your clubs feature 500 mile Christchurch race. Has this given you a hunger for more? Do you enjoy the short and middle distance programme more than the long distance programme, or is there no difference?

I prefer middle and long distance racing.  Although your long distance team can be destroyed by one bad race. To me, it’s very important that the birds are given the best chance to get home in ultra long distance racing. The weather forecasting is critical!

What families of pigeons do you keep?

My main family is Brasspenning with some Janssen (James Bond) and Linssen. There is also some old Logans/Vandie in the pedigrees.

Are you aiming to breed lines of pigeons that will fly 50 to 800 miles, or are you maintaining separate distance lines or just preparing birds from whatever bloodlines and sending them if they seem up for it to 500, 600 and 800 miles?

I have concentrated on middle distance up to 500 miles and believe they can go to 600 but that’s their limit. For the last 6 or 7 years I have been trying to get birds to do the 800 miles well. It’s a slow process, so we will see in the next couple of years if the breeding programme is working. I’ve brought in a few ultra long distance birds to help in the quest for success.

Would you like to give Stewart Island a go with some well prepared pigeons if the ARPF adopts it as a racepoint?

Yes I would. I’ve thought it would be possible to fly it with the Hamilton boys if we got organised.

You enjoy Out of Area pigeon racing, how many fanciers do you send to and receive squeakers from for competition around New Zealand?

I send to Christchurch, Hastings and Wellington for many years and have enjoyed some great friendships. It has given me a great opportunity to try other fancier’s birds in my loft and see how my birds compete in other lofts.

Do you breed off your race team for the purpose of racing the progeny?

I breed off some of my top widowers.

How many pigeons do you think that you need to breed off any individual stock pair each year (or 2 year period) to see if they are quality producers?

4 youngsters per pair should be enough.

Do you breed late bred youngsters and what success have you had with such youngsters as yearlings or 2 year olds e.t.c.?

Yes I do breed a few late breds off some of the best stock birds or a very good racer. These are raced as yearlings and have always done very well.

What is your basic feeding for short and middle distance racing i.e. mainly North Island? (to around 300 miles)

I feed a high barley diet up to 300 miles.

Are your feeding methods different for old birds than young birds up to 300 miles?

Not really, although if they are moulting I give them extra food.

Do you use any preventative medication?

Yes, but sparingly. I believe natural health and a dry warm loft is very important.

What is your current policy with any treatments of young birds between weaning and racing? Do you prefer the ‘swim or sink’ policy to whittle out the weaker birds with limited intervention and use of drugs?

I do very little treating after weaning. They get wormed and treated for cocci before training starts. They may get a treatment for wet canker if the weather is wet and cold for a long period.

Do you have a microscope to examine droppings and crop samples? If so, do you use it?

No, I don’t have a microscope.

Do you use the vet much with the pigeons?

Not very often.

Do you believe in eyesign?

I do not believe in eyesign.

Who helps you currently with the birds? Do they help you with training, loft duties e.t.c.? How has the sport fitted in with your family life over the years?

I do most of the birds by myself. I do share training with some of the guys in the club.

Do you think we race our Young Bird Season at the wrong time of the year, and would he agree to the same method that Australia race?

This is difficult to answer.  With our weather conditions, it is possible for us to race at any time of the year, although January and February are too hot. I think we should start racing young birds later and have a slightly shorter season.

Finally, tell us a bit about the two year old hen which won the ARPF Timaru race (around 600 miles through a lower North Island Foxton breaking point) last year on the 25th November 2012? What flights of over 100 miles had she had in the preceding 8 weeks? Was she paired and racing to any incentive? Had she flown well for you previously and did you pick her to be first of your eight entries sent?

The hen was flying to the perch and had raced eight times. She was 21st from Ward on the 20th Oct. Then 51st from Christchurch on the 4th Nov. Then on the 16th Nov she was first home from a training toss from 240km. Then the following week on the 25th Nov 2012 she flew Timaru and won.

Thank you Theo for your answers and I look forwards to the next article on you and photographing your key birds and your lovely loft.

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