The Strain Makers - Georges Busschaert
By Alan Wheeldon
There cannot be a fancier in Britain that has never had a Busschaert pigeon in their loft. The strain seems timeless, even now there are many fanciers that still keep and race Busschaert pigeons, and with great success. When you think that George Busschaert first came to this country over thirty years ago, it is a great testament to his pigeons that they are still being raced today.
How did it come about that this strain of pigeons could have such an impact on the racing scene in Britain? It all started over 90 years ago. George Busschaert was born in 1911 in St Lodewijk-Deerlijk in Belgium. His father was a pigeon fancier and inevitably he soon got the bug. His other Brothers Andre and Marcel were also keenly interested as was his sister Alice. George’s first name was really Remi but he preferred to be called George and it soon stuck.
George went into partnership racing with his new brother-in-law Albert Nuttyens who had married George’s sister Alice. They bought several birds at auction, a mealy Commines and a pigeon called Tito from Hector Baele of Scheldewinke. They bought De Plattekop from Vandevelde and sons and daughters out of ‘The Coppi’ and ‘Witterugge’ from Michel Nachtergaele of Zulte. George later borrowed ‘The Coppi’ to pair to the daughters of ‘Tito’. They later also bought the pigeon called ‘De Fijnen’ from Michel Nachetregaele.
The Busschaert family decided to build a textile manufacturing plant in England, in Kent. George was sent over to run it. Being from Belgium it was inevitable that he had a passion for pigeon racing and he subsequently met fanciers from England and soon had his own set up in England.
Pigeons were bred from those now held in Belgium by George’s brother-in-law Albet Nuttyens, and shipped over to England. Birds were also obtained from his brother Albert Busschaert who was in charge of the carpet-weaving factory in Deerlicjk, Belgium.
George struck up a friendship with Gil Duncan of Deal. They went into partnership and George’s pigeons soon set the racing scene alight with their wins. They bred pigeons such as ‘The Crack’, ‘The Coppi cock’, The Great Coppi’, The Bonten’, ‘The Blesse’. Between 1956 and 1962 they won over 150 first prizes often taking the first three in the fed. Soon people started to take notice of these fantastic sprint pigeons and they started to buy them.
One of the first to purchase them was a Mrs Newton from West Durham. She bought a pair for her husband as a silver wedding anniversary present. He put them in the stock loft and they bred birds that took the West Durham amalgamation by storm. He suddenly shot up from being an average fancier to becoming a champion almost overnight. These stock pair were later known as ‘The Newton Pair’, and they went on to breed many champion pigeons. News soon spread and fanciers all over the north wanted them. Another to purchase was JJ Horn. He obtained sons and daughters of the Newton pair and later purchased the Newton pair themselves. He also purchased ‘The Broken Keel Cock’ and a grandson of the Newton pair, the Wilkinson cock. He built a family around these pigeons, which kept him at the top for years to come.
Back in Kent someone else was about to try the Busschaerts, Ron Hallam of Belvedere. He took the first three in the London and South coast Combine from Bergerac with over 4000 birds entered. This is a remarkable performance on its own, but when you realise that there were only 4 birds home on the day it puts it into a new perspective.
By now George had sold the factory and went back to Belgium to see what else he could pick up. He wanted pigeons that were smaller, he wanted pigeons that could not only sprint but sprint the distance. He bought ‘the Klaren’ from Georges Doetreloigne of Waregem, ‘Sooten’ from F. Declerc and the Old Sooten, and 14, and 817, from De Klinge. And boy could they race the distance. In only 3-4 years they bred pigeons to win 1st National Limoges not once, but twice, 1st Perigeux National, 2nd Cahors National, 3rd Brive National, 5th Cahors National, 27th Barcelona International, 33rd San Sebastion International.
Tom Larkins had got in touch with George and was now importing George’s new lines. He wanted to see how these new birds would perform. He was not disappointed, their results exceeded his wildest dreams. In 1972 Tom entered the Wadebridge Open sending only 4 pigeons. The race was from 276 miles. He clocked all 4 together, to win, which again is remarkable in it’s own right but he was 1 hour 10 minutes ahead of the next bird!
George Busschaert hysteria was by now reaching new proportions. George started to hold an annual sale in England. The racing performances of the famous Busscharerts soon started to become legendary. Ken Aldred bought two pigeons, one of them the famous stock bird The Little black. She produced pigeons that were totally unbeatable. George Corbett bought stock from George Busschaert and from Tom Larkins to produce the famous Dark Uns. The most famous bird to come from these pigeons is probably the ‘Coppi cock.’ This pigeon went on to breed hundred of first prize-winners, and they could also fly the distance. One fancier topped the federation from over 500 miles from two different race points on the same day!
Another buyer was Danny Challis. He was an experienced racer who had for years flown the old long distance English strain of Fuller-Issacson. He and a friend decided to try out these new fangled Busschaerts. They purchased 16 youngbirds from Tom Larkins and split them. Danny had amongst his selection a medium to small blue chequer hen. She was a double grand daughter of Little black. When she won the Open Wessex Combine she was put straight into the stock loft and went on to become one of the best breeding hens that this country has ever seen. She bred no less than 5 other Combine winners and 15 fed winners when paired to each of the other cocks that came with her.
Even more amazing was that her offspring not only won races but also went on to breed even more champions. One of her youngbirds called Moneypacker, for good reason, won 4 open first Combines, 1st Federation and 5th Combine and went on to breed Wilbur to win the Rennes central Southern classic, also Blue Steel to win 1st open Parkstone, 1st Dorset fed, Imperial black and Black fire who both went on to take 1st Solent fed. At one time Danny had in his loft 40 fed winners and 5 combine winners. Other famous Busschaerts and Busschaert flyers were the Larkin pair of Mr & Mrs Shuttleworth of Harrogate, W Parkes of Northern Ireland, John Palmers no 1 and no 2 pair. Bill Johnstons with his famous Busschaert ‘Old man’. John Hodgson of Annan. The list went on and on. Johnston Eagleson & sons went on to win over 50 1st open Combines with the Busschaerts.
People who purchased the Busschaerts were ending up with not one but a whole loft full of champion birds. Alf Wright was another example he obtained birds from George Corbett and started to then breed his own champions. Clapper 36 x 1sts, Twirler 30 x 1sts, Slimmen 20 x 1sts.
Other famous Busschaert fliers were Arthur Beardesmore, with his Terror Busschaerts, Little Terror 12 x 1sts , Short terror 12 x 1sts, Flying solo 12 x 1sts. Fred Elliot and his famous Euro Busschaerts. The Highview and Starview Busschaerts. The list goes on and on. The big studs had started to realise the potential of the Busschaerts and soon the pigeons started to command big money. Louella was one of the first to obtain a whole series of Busschaert champions. They started to offer their offspring to the everyday fancier at affordable prices.
In 1982 George Busschaert decide to have an entire clearance sale. It turned out to be three clearance sales on the 9th, 10th and 11th October. 274 birds were entered into the sale, of these 271 were bred by George Busschaert. All birds were sold.
Even today Busschaerts are still creating a stir by winning high birdage prestigious races. Those of Ron Williamson from Ireland are amongst the most recent high fliers. Tom boy 1st 20,367 birds, Ron Ville Del boy 1st 25,243 birds, Lauras boy 1st & 2nd open to 22,337 birds, 191 2nd NIPA 11,860, Ron Ville dark Destroyer 1st 24,108, Flash Gordon 1st 14,600 birds, Ron Ville Superboy 1st 26,770 birds, Millenium Superstar 3 x 1st average 23000 birds, Ron Ville Heartbreaker 1st, 3rd, 4th NIPA, Millenium Superstar 3 x 1st average 23,000 birds, Ron Ville Lee Der & Ranger 1st open winners, Ron Ville Maggie Ann 1st NIPA 7,11 birds.
The questions that have to be answered when writing about George Busschaert, why did his pigeons make such an impact on the racing scene in Britain and why have they stood the test of time and seen many other strains come and go?
Well you have to go back in time to what the racing scene was like in Britain all those years ago. After the war and into the fifties there was not a lot of money about, especially for pigeons. In the sixties times changed, there was a boom and as Prime minister Macmillan said ‘You’ve never had it so good’.
However in spite of this newly found affluence most pigeon fanciers kept small teams of pigeons in back garden lofts. They nearly all raced natural and they raced predominantly traditional families of pigeons that were either handed down from their fathers or bought and swapped locally. Race programs were typically mixed, short races, building up in length throughout the race program to longer ones at the end of the season. Pigeons were thus bred and selected to be good ‘all rounders.’
In Belgium however, at the time things were very different. There were specialised race programs. Races were being separated into short, middle distance and long distance races. Specialised clubs were springing up. Fanciers were also concentrating their selection to pigeons to race predominantly short sprint races. There was a strong gambling culture and good prize money could be won. This drove a desire to obtain the best pigeons for the job, auctions sprang up to fuel this desire for more and faster pigeons. Champion pigeons were soon snapped up by the more wealthy to be put into their lofts.
This is where George Busschaert comes onto the scene. He was effectively a rich man, he had come to England and he had a passion for fast pigeons. On his visits to Belgium to obtain pigeons, he had a very big advantage. He knew the language, he knew the Belgium pigeon-racing scene, and he knew what pigeons were the best at the time, and he bought them. He also had contacts through his brother and brother-in-law. It is rumoured that he would travel to many successful lofts simply to buy their champion pigeon. He would then bring them to England and set them up in his loft. He soon made a big impact. He started to win everything. He had introduced fast sprint pigeons using widowhood methods on pigeons that had been selected from years and years of widowhood racing. At the time the English fancier was using predominantly what effectively were just homers on the natural system, which was simply no match. The old English strains were absolutely slaughtered in all types of races.
These out and out sprint pigeons were unbeatable. For example, Tom Larkins once described how he sent his team of 30 youngbirds to a race with over 2000 pigeons and 21 dropped in the loft all at once. John Palmer had 10 pigeons drop together to win the London and South coast combine 30 minutes ahead of the next bird in the federation.
George Busschaert also had this talent of being able to pick pigeons that would breed together to produce outstanding pigeons. This was not just a case of being rich and simply buying top pigeons from winning lofts and putting them together, although this did help. What also helped was that Georges Busschaert had this great sense of stockmanship. He would chose pigeons of the same shape and form, and he could identify in pigeons, qualities that he knew would blend in, but also be passed down throughout the generations.
In addition to all this, his pigeons were breeding champions through what geneticists call heterosis. This is hybrid vigour.
This usually occurs when highly inbred strains are crossed, but the reason Georges Busschaert could produce it in his pigeons is that there was a massive pool of winning qualities that were all different, in all these interbreeding pigeons. It was these winning genes that would produce excellent racing characteristics that kept reappearing throughout the lines. So for example you would have pigeons that won because they had fantastic cardiovascular systems, some that had perfect wing formation, others with super efficient metabolisms, others with fantastically powerful musculature. It was these individual characteristics that kept emerging and reemerging sometimes one at a time, sometimes two or more qualities together, that kept making champions.
The whole family was not inbred at all it was a family of maximum outcrossing but what made it work was that there were no bad genes to get in the way of producing champions. The chromosomes were packed with genes that could only produce these winning characteristics, different winning characteristics in each subsequent generation. This is why fanciers with distance Busschaerts would suddenly start to throw pigeons that won short sprint races and sprinters that would suddenly breed distance pigeons.
Furthermore this was all fuelled even more when people started to cross them with their own strains, their own old winning lines. You now had these qualities that had been selected and honed by the British fancier being added to the continental Belgium winning characteristics.
That is why they turned out to be so versatile. They would win from 60 miles they would win from 500 miles. They would win in a strong headwind they would win in a blow home. You could race them widowhood you could race them natural. They won as youngbirds and straight away were winning as yearlings and old birds. So fliers even today are winning classic races with them when they are up to 7 years old.
The other element that made the Busschaerts so versatile at all distances was that George Busschaert did not solely select short distance sprint pigeons, his later acquisitions were equally capable of flying the distance. Fanciers were purchasing offspring from these distance lines and crossing them with the original sprint-middle distance Busschaerts.
This diversity of champion blood also explains why the Busschaerts cannot be described as an inbred family of pigeons and why they came in all shapes and sizes and colours. One thing is certain, and that is this diversity of racing qualities is still being discovered today as fanciers cross and recross the Busschaerts and I think that they will remain within the pigeon fancy, especially in Britain, for years to come.
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