Exhibitors from across the state will bring their finest birds to the a Fancy Pigeon exhibition to compete at the Winneshiek County Fairgrounds October 18. They will have 360 breeds of pigeons exhibiting that day. The event is free to the public and should prove to be a very interesting day. Fancy Pigeon breeding is a popular hobby all over the world.
Among the exhibitors will be Lahor (breed of pigeon) Master Breeder James Brandt from Brandt Hillside Loft Pigeons of Decorah. He is among only six Lahor Master Breeders in the United States!
Jim was just a kid when he became fascinated by fancy pigeons. He and his father were shearing sheep at a farm and the farmer had pigeons. When the farmer noticed James interest, he told him to ask his father for a $1 and James went home a proud owner of six homing pigeons. That was the beginning of lots of research, trial and error on his journey to becoming the expert breeder that he is today.
We took a tour of his pigeons in a historic barn with three floors of pigeons. The ground floor is where he gets the fine feathered friends ready for competition. There, you will also see a shelf filled with trophies. To hold the title of Master Breeder, you need to win three national shows and have earned 1,000 points showing them. Going to shows and winning points was the easy part. There is only one National Show every year, and the competition is tough. James has traveled all over the country to compete, sometimes flying to events. The pigeons fly over on an airplane also, but they fly with the United States Post Office mail. He has also shipped crates of pigeons to Hawaii to a buyer. James said if they are driving out to a competition they ride along with him.
As we climbed straight up a sturdy narrow ladder with long spaces between each step to the second floor to see more varieties of pigeons, James continued to educate us. Later we would climb all the way to the top on another narrow ladder to see the homing pigeons that fly out the very top of the barn and race around the farm and back inside. Dubious at first, it was so worth the climb! James explained that he doesn’t compete with the racing pigeons anymore, but keeps them as a reminder of his roots. These are the breed of pigeons that got him started. These are the only birds that remain free. The rest have a caged deck out each window to soak up the sunshine if they want or can come inside to their large pen with nesting type boxes.
James said they band each pigeon when they are nine days old with his name, registration number and the date as he shows us some babies. James says all the breeds have only three colors: blue, red, and brown (white is not counted). Looking at one that I thought for sure was black was actually considered blue. They have a long life span and James says he is still breeding some that are 13/14 years old. It can take up to five years to breed a certain trait into his prize winning birds. He doesn’t need to heat the barn in the winter since the pigeons do not need it. He does put out heated water dishes in the winter though. He has built some great looking pens with pigeon nest boxes and each pen has a long line of feeders. He puts garlic powder in the feed for their immune system and vaccinates his birds. One of the favorite activities the birds like to do is play or in the bath water. James puts out a pan of water and they pigeons start flying to it. He reminds us of how important carrier pigeons were in history, especially during the wars.
He met his good friend Eugene Sande from Waukon when they were just in their teens in Decorah through a mutual friend and they saw their first pigeon show together. They became fast friends and both became hooked on breeding pigeons ever since that day. Between the two friends, they own 27 different breeds of fancy pigeons. They invite you to come see the pigeon show in Decorah and learn more about it. The friends along with eight others have just started a local pigeon club called the Tri-State Pigeon Club and welcome new members.