April 9, 1984

Hi-Lite of Hackemer

by Roy Dyck
(This article also appeared in the book It's Up to You! And Other Essays on Racing Pigeons)

Horst Hackemer of Kenosha, Wisconsin, a member of the North Valley Combine, flew an almost perfect young bird series in 1982 to place first Middle All American in the awards of 1983. The members of the North Valley Combine are proud that one of our members gained this high honor. But this is not what triggered the Hi-Lite of Hackemer; it was the young bird series of 1983 that did it.

In 1983 Horst flew less than half of the series and yet won the "C" Bird or Championship Loft Award. Let me explain. The North Valley Combine established the "C" Bird Award based on a fancier's ability to select two birds each week that he can clock in race time. The fancier clocking the greatest number of "C" birds is declared the Champion. Horst won this challenging championship hands down! The amazing thing is that he did not ship the first five races because of a trip to Europe. He flew only four of the nine races and yet clocked more "C" birds (7) than anyone else did in nine races! As a "hands-on handler" he is one of the best. Is it any wonder that a fancier of his skill and ability should win top All American honors? How does he do it? How does he pick them?

I arranged a meeting to seek answers to these two simple questions. I received a four-hour barrage of information on how to fly young birds. This was very frustrating to me because I do not fly young birds. However, this is your good fortune because I shall pass all of it on to you. My only problem was to sort it all out, to encapsulate it, so that this wealth of information could be condensed into 10 minutes of reading time. It breaks down into three areas; 1) the birds, 2) management and 3) "hands-on handling" to pick the winners.

The Birds

Horst has three families of birds - Janssens, Imbrechts and his own family of Ghesquieres. These distinct families bring about distinct results. The Janssens excel at speeds of 1300 yards or more, the Ghesquieres at speeds of 1200 yards, and the Imbrechts at speeds of 1000 yards or less. Does this mean that he clocks no Imbrechts at 1300 yards or no Janssens at 1100 yards? Of course not! Pigeon flying is never so clear cut. What it does mean, however, is that each of the three families seems to dominate on its particular type of race. He does believe, however, that his Ghesquieres are the best all-around pigeons.

He calls his Ghesquieres "Hackspans," a contraction of Hackemer and Spannenberg. Horst got his Ghesquieres from his friend George Spannenberg, who got them from his friend, George Zahnen, who got them from his friend, Emie Ghesquiere, who got them... Emie never made a secret of the fact that his birds, mostly blues, came from Corrion of Detroit. Though it is only hearsay, I did hear that the Corrions were Vandeveldes. No matter the color of the blossom, the roots always seem to be Belgian. Emie also obtained a blue check white flight Vermeyen cock from John McNamara. This bird, named "The Johnny Cock," had a great influence on the Ghesquieres. I am sure the many splashes among the "Hackspans" of today go back to the Johnny Cock of yesterday.

Ernie Ghesquiere was a short and middle distance flier who cared not at all for races beyond 300 miles. Many times he told me that 500 miles was a waste of a good bird. And so the Ghesquieres gained the reputation of being short distance pigeons. How wrong that was! But that was almost a half-century ago. Today, Horst, a fearless competitor, does not hesitate to ship his 100- and 200-mile winners out to 500 and 600 miles, and with spectacular success. Whether the roots be Vermeyen, Vandevelde, Corrion or Ghesquiere, the culture is definitely Hackemer.

Wilhelm Wulfmeyer of Rinteln, West Germany, has had a very decided influence on Horst's pigeon fortunes. Although as American as a pigeon flier can be, nonetheless Horst Hackemer is German born and hence has a native's grasp of the German language. As a result, Horst and Wilhelm quickly became very close friends.

Horst visited Wilhelm in Germany in 1977. At that time Wilhelm was mesmerized by the Janssens. It did not take long for this enchantment with the Janssens to rub off on Horst. He began to accumulate Janssen imports, and when he discovered that the Janssens were able to beat his Hackspans on fast days, he increased his imports to 13 pairs.

It was on a visit with Wilhelm in 1979 that Horst was exposed to the Imbrechts. Wilhelm asked Horst if he would like to attend a very good Belgian auction. Horst agreed, and the two of them sped off in Wilhelm's car to a small town in Belgium where Germain Imbrecht was selling a round of late-hatch youngsters. Horst was astonished to see small Belgian fanciers pooling their funds to try to buy one of these latebreds. The average price was $925.00 per bird. Horst was impressed, and shortly thereafter he began to acquire Imbrechts. He now has 31 imports bred from some of Imbrecht's best. These, then, are his birds -- Janssens, Imbrechts and Hackspans. Let us see how he manages them.

Loft and Management

Horst is a keen student of the game. His Hackspans have been top winners for many years, but with the addition of the imports (Janssens and Imbrechts) he made a startling observation: the imports fly more willingly, much more willingly, around the loft. For years it had been 20 minutes for the Hackspans, but, as the Janssens and Imbrechts grew in number, the entire team flew more willingly - an hour or more - morning and evening. This has made a remarkable change in his management technique. He now encourages them to loft fly. He wants his birds to fly willingly, nay, eagerly around the loft. Anything that hinders this is a no-no. He says, "Hungry birds do not fly; tired birds do not fly; sitting birds do not fly." He believes that we Americans with our obsession with heavy road training, have developed a culture of pigeon that is strictly American - a culture that requires a lot of road work!

His loft is a single-story rectangular structure with numerous sections. The young bird section is about in the center of the loft and is divided into two sections. The layout of the young bird loft plays an important part in bringing about his spectacular results.

Section I has deep nest-box-like perches with a divider. Section II has conventional box perches. The two sections are separated by a solid partition with a sliding door which remains open most of the time, allowing the birds to move freely between the two sections.

On race day, however, the birds at home are locked in section II. The race birds return to section I. At exercise time in the evening the birds in section II (the ones not in the race) fly their normal hour to an hour and a half unimpeded by weary racers. While these birds are exercising, the race birds are moved into section II, where they remain for two, or maybe three days, depending on how hard the race was. When they are fully recovered from the ordeal of racing they join the other birds for regular exercise. Under this system the race birds at home continue their free and willing exercise flights. Do not underestimate the importance of this.

Horst has some strong convictions about road training. He starts his young bird team at 5 miles, then 10, 22 and 30 miles. After reaching the 30-mile point, the birds are trained four mornings per week. Tuesday through Friday, weather permitting. He does not go beyond 30 miles except in those instances when he goes out with a friend who likes 50 miles. However, he believes that 30 miles is enough to teach the birds all they need to know. But he does believe in single tossing and followed this exclusively with the Hackspans for many years. With the introduction of the Janssens and Imbrechts, however, his team grew so large as to make single tossing impractical. He therefore double or triple tosses the birds. If, however, he is training a few birds for a special race, he may revert to single up.

Horst likes a heavy bird. He wants a lot of meat on his race entry because he believes this provides the fuel to do the job. Therefore on training tosses the feed troughs are loaded with corn. Hence all birds are fed adequately and equally. This coincides with his program of keeping weight on the birds and having them flying freely around the loft. In fact, he is so concerned that the birds eat enough that often after exercise and feeding he will turn them out for a second exercise, so they will eat more when returning to the loft. Also, if the birds taper off on the daily exercise time, he will cut training tosses back to 20 miles. The large nest boxes play an important part in motivating his young birds. For about the first half of the season the partition is in place. As the season advances and the birds begin to mature, the partition is removed, making a deep box with a bowl. They love it, and he encourages puppy love but discourages egg-laying.

As you can see, the imports have influenced and, in fact, changed his method of handling and conditioning. Before the imports, the four 30-mile tosses per week both educated and conditioned the birds. The Janssens and Imbrechts have changed this and added a new dimension. Their willingness to fly more than an hour around the loft has been a big plus in conditioning.

How does Horst pick his birds? Is it a natural talent or an acquired skill? A little of each, I would say. He does have the "hands-on" gift of knowing when a bird is in condition to fly. And he has learned from experience the accuracy of his judgments. This is important -- recognizing what works, or what doesn't, and then putting this knowledge into practice.

He is a stickler for detail. He has as many as 80 birds on his young bird team and yet ships no more than 12 to 15 pigeons per race. If the moult is not right, they do not go; if the body weight is not right, they stay home; if they are not fully healthy, he will not ship them; He says, "What you keep home is more important than what you ship." He does not want his birds to struggle to get home from a race because of improper selection. If they do have to struggle, this may impair them for a later race. He considers this to be his fault.

As the birds have influenced his methods, so have his methods influenced his manner of selection. Horst is an advocate of the long jump and practices it without hesitation with any bird on the team. If they are on the team, they must be ready to fly any race for which they are selected. He wasn't always that confident; but in 1965, while flying in Chicago, he learned the lesson of the long jump and has never forgotten it. He was preparing to leave Chicago and move to Zion, Illinois. He came to the last young bird race, a 400-miler. He had a very nice young Ghesquiere hen who had not been on a race but was thoroughly trained, single, to 30 miles. He did not need her for breeding. What to do? He shipped her to the 400. She was his second bird home, placing 6th Chicago. Never again did he hesitate to give his young birds a long jump.

This year, for instance, he won the "Dyck Race" (a special race in my honor, flown in conjunction with the regular 300) and placed 2nd Combine with an Imbrecht who was on its first race. He won first and second in the Chicago Concourse open 400-mile young bird band race with two of his Hackspans. His second bird was in the basket for the first time.

Picking the Winners

The final step in preparation for a race is selection of the entry. This is probably the easiest step of all and becomes a process of elimination. He likes to balance his entry between the three families, and, as far as road work is concerned, every bird is a candidate. This also applies to physical preparation. In these two areas all birds are equal. Differences occur in the moult, and here he is very particular, He wants his entry to be full-feathered -- open ears and blood quills are out. Differences may also occur in body weight. He checks the birds daily as he baskets them for training and is alert to any changes. He wants full-bodied and full-feathered birds. As far as motivation is concerned, this is frosting on the cake.

In the foregoing I am sure you have noticed the lengths to which Horst goes to encourage around-the-loft flight and the lengths to which I have gone to describe it. Now the question: "Is it worthwhile?" I will try to show that it is.

As we have seen, the results he obtained in the 1982 young bird races won him first Middle All American honors. In the 1983 young bird series he engaged in only four regular combine races and won a total of 23 diplomas, which included one first combine on a 150-mile race; and one 2nd combine on a 300. In addition, he engaged in four special races: the Walter Keeger Futurity, which he won; the Twentieth Century Club 350-mile auction race, which he won; the Chicago Combine 400-mile open band race, which he won; and the Lake County 300-mile Auction Race, in which he placed 3rd, 4th and 5th.

The trophy room in his home is something to behold. Covering an entire wall are bookcase-type shelves laden with hundreds of trophies, large and small. It is awe-inspiring, overwhelming. I didn't know there were so many trophies.

Pigeon fanciers of America, do you aspire to emulate this man's spectacular results? If so, study carefully the following three questions: (1) Can you face every race, whether it be fast, slow or in between, with full confidence? (2) Are your birds so educated and conditioned physically that you can jump them to 300 or 400 miles? (3) Is your race entry selected so carefully that you can enter them with full confidence of victory? When you can answer, "Yes, yes, yes," you will be a championship loft and a contender for All American honors!

We have considered the birds, the loft, the methods and his spectacular achievements, but no Hi-Lite of Hackemer can be complete without considering the man himself. He is an educated educator, eloquent and articulate, a dignified winner, a gracious loser, benevolent and beneficent, caring and sharing; in short, a gentleman. "Mr. Hackemer, we salute you."