WHEN he is not being kept busy in an active political schedule, Raymond Schenk spends a lot of his free time with his hobby of many years – pigeon racing.
A well-known local personality, Schenk is the leader of the Democratic Alliance in Ndlambe.
Born and raised in the Transkei near Umtata, Schenk and his brothers were always interested in pigeons, but it was only after he left school and began working that he started taking a keen interest in this sport.
He spent most of his working career with the SABC in Johannesburg, ending up as head of advertising and production with 32 years’ service. It was during this time that he really became serious about pigeon racing and joined the Horizon Pigeon Club in Roodepoort, eventually serving this as chairman for four years. After building his loft, he obviously needed stock birds.
“Pigeon fanciers are generally generous people and will always help and encourage a beginner with birds. But they don’t let out too many of their trade secrets and competition was tough among the 32 members,” he said.
In 1995, Schenk’s life took a complete turnaround in unusual circumstances. He and his family visited Kleinemonde on holiday when he became aware of a farm in the Shaw Park area that was due to be auctioned. He ended up buying this and farmed successfully with Jersey cows and granadillas. But he was too busy to be able to continue with his hobby and it was only after 10 years when he sold the farm and retired to Kleinemonde that he was able to take up pigeon racing again.
And so the cycle started yet again in 2008 with the building of a new loft and obtaining breeding stock. This time he was fortunate to obtain birds from well-known breeders, Mike Engelbrecht, of East London, and Springbok fancier Gys Louw from Alberton, who had bred the SA champion racing bird. His brother, Dennis, also from East London, also gave him some birds that have done well.
“It’s like breeding any livestock. You look for certain blood lines and for winning genes in a family. These birds have been the nucleus of my 80-odd pigeons and I have enjoyed reasonable success with them,” Schenk said.
Once he had bred up his stock, Schenk joined the Kowie Pigeon Racing Club and has been chairman on and off, the last seven years being his longest stint. Besides club races, they also fly in federation events against Kenton, Bushman’s and Border, which covers a wide area as far afield as Komani. He has won eight of these federation events.
The racing season starts in June and goes through to the beginning of October.
Schenk said: “Racing pigeons are like athletes and successful birds must have the will to win. Some do and some don’t. It also depends a lot on how you prepare them for the season; the more you put into them the more rewarding it becomes.”
He explained that training started in April with the birds flying around the loft twice a day for about 45 minutes. Then they are taken out on the road to enable them to orientate themselves. These distances are gradually increased the fitter they become and he has taken them as far afield as Butterworth in the Transkei as part of the training.
The first race of the season is usually from Kokstad, a distance of some 400km. Depending on the conditions, they cover this in about five hours. The shortest race is 265km from Graaff-Reinet, while the longest is 745km from Vryheid in Natal. Schenk said the average flying speed of pigeons is about 85km/h on a good day, but they can reach speeds of 120km/h when they have a tail wind.
On racing days, each pigeon is fitted with an electronic ring on its leg which registers all the bird’s details and how many metres it flies in a minute to the nearest four decimal points. Waiting for it in the loft at home is an electronic timing device and when it walks over this it is immediately “clocked in.” All these details are then fed into the computer at the club to determine the winner based on the fastest velocity of the bird. Like humans, pigeons are also tested during the racing season for any drugs which may have been given to them illegally.
Schenk concluded by saying, “Nothing can beat the sensation of seeing a bird as a distant dot in the sky, then folding its wings as it dives straight for the landing board on your loft. It is obviously also exciting when you have won a race, sometimes by a mere second.”
His wife, Lucille, assists with the pigeons when he is tied up political duties. The couple have three children and four grandchildren.
As an example, he quoted that one of his birds had flown at a speed of 1323, 5843 metres per minute in a race from Kokstad.