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Leigh James of Newton Hyde


Leigh & James of Newton, Hyde


The past season 2015, was a season when years of dedication to the development of their Soontjen based family of pigeons, was clearly demonstrated by what they achieved. This is not an article about apartnership with a one race success but one about week in week out performance, the truest measure of all CONSISTENCY!


Only racing in a small but competitive club, this partnership have shone at Federation level, flying from the position of one of the longest flying lofts, some 35 miles further than the shorter Federation flyers. Not so easy to do when you focus is on sprint racing. Only flying in races competed for Inland and with a distance spread of 100 miles to 195 miles. Their achievement has been to win all Inland averages within the Staffordshire Moorlands and District Federation. These include;


Old Bird Inland Average Winners

Young Bird Inland Average Winners

Combined Old & Young Inland Average Winners


The highlight and perhaps the most impressive result of the 2015 season was in the first YB race of the season, when flying into a strong head wind and as mentioned earlier, flying to the very back end of the Fed.

                                                                      F/T                Dist


As you can see from the above result, their flying distance is significantly further than the next competitor to them and the team performance is a good example of the quality of family that they have developed.


In The Beginning


The partnership of Ross Leigh and Gary James came together in 2003 when they raced in mid week races only with Manchester Flying Club, a once upon a time organisation of great prestige. Ross the senior partner however, has been involved with pigeons since the age of seven when he found an injured pigeon along side his dad’s allotment. He cared for it, reported it via a local fancier and the owner, from the North East of England and gifted the bird a blue cock to Ross. Well that was it; the bug had truly bitten young Ross. His dad obtained a pair of squeakers for him from a friend and the first loft was constructed from a large tobacco box. The two youngsters turned out to be hens and the blue cock escaped but all was well when he found his way back and a loft was formed. Back then in 1963 Ross was the first member of the family to ever to keep pigeons but as fanciers around the North West will know he wasn’t the only one as brothers Scott and Gary have also been involved.


Only keeping his pigeons as pets, the next step came in 1976 when Ross decided to apply for membership to Hyde HS, a club of which he became a flying member in 1977. It wasn’t long before lady luck smiled on the young fancier and he had his first success that same YB season, with two young birds obtained from local fancier George Hazel. In those days Ross raced from a loft situated in a neighbour’s garden, a location that he flew to with brother Scott and friend Lee Campbell. The partnership was together for four seasons until the neighbour moved house and unfortunately the birds had to go. In those days the pigeons were Wildies from Ron Green and KO Nipius from local fanciers. One cock in particular sticks in Ross’s mind, a bold chequer, winner of 5 x 1sts club plus 1st Stockport Federation at 106 miles. It wasn’t until 2003 that Ross returned to the sport when, the current day partnership of Leigh & James was formed.



Ross holding "Big 50"     Gary with a Fed topper from"Big 50"

As if the disappointment of having to leave the sport when having to vacate his previous loft location and dissolve the partnership, Ross then encountered problems with the local council and racing went on hold for a further 12 months. It was finally resolved and from 2005 until the present day, the partnership of Leigh & James has been steadily climbing the curve of success.


Current Family of Birds


Ross and Gary have tried several strains including the Lambrecht and Roland Jannsen pigeons but performances have pointed them towards their concentration on the Soontjens. The base of today’s family of mainly blue and blue w/f birds with the odd chequer amongst them came from John Baker of Warrington. Around that time John’s performances were much talked about around the North West. The John Baker Soontjens in turn came from a man who needs no introduction, none other than Nigel Laycock.


John Baker provided the partnership with 10 youngsters which were flown out and trained to 15 miles and then allowed to develop. This team were trained again as yearlings and bred from that year. As two year olds they were put on the road. Two of those ten birds went on to become the base breeders of the present day family. Two blue cocks “Big 50” and “57” won in their racing careers, 15 x 1sts and 11 x 1sts respectively. Both cocks have also been prolific producers of winning pigeons. In the YB race result shown above, all of the first 7 pigeons in the Fed. were of the original John Baker lines. There are some recent introductions being tried as crosses with the “Big 50” and “57” lines and these are from Dennis Sapin stock and pigeons direct from Paul Stobbs & Moseley of Stonehaven lofts.



"Big 50 "                                          Fed Topping son of "Big 50"  



The Old Bird race team consists of 24 to 32 widow cocks and the youngsters are on average a team of about 40 flown on a darkness system. The old cocks are given around 18 to 20 tosses before racing but once racing begins they are only trained once, on a Wednesday, weather permitting. The yearlings however, continue to have 3 or 4 tosses per week. This continues up to race 4 when the yearling cocks are then reduced to 2 tosses per week. When I asked Ross about training and racing in conditions like easterly winds, his reply was firm, “they race in east winds, so they train in them”. I asked if there were any stand out stars within the Old & Yb race teams but there was no hesitation when responding that they are a team. The cocks are given their bowls on night of basketing, bowls being kept in a separate shed during the week. The cocks see their hens only for a brief minute or so before being basketed. They never have empty feed pots and only take what they want, with the pots being emptied on a Friday morning. The hens are always ready for the cocks on their arrival from the race; a cock is never allowed to become disappointed.



The YB aviary            Aviary used for the hens

The youngsters are treated in a similar way as the cocks, in so much that they are allowed to eat as much as they want; they are very comprehensively trained pre season and allowed to remain as mixed sexes throughout the season. If they wish to pair it is allowed and encouraged as a form of motivation. Ross stressed one particular factor which he believes has added t this seasons YB performances, that being the addition of a YB aviary. As part of daily health maintenance, cider vinegar is given via the water weekly and Red Cell is added to the corn. The corn fed is VanRobaey YB mix. At this point it is appropriate to mention a friend who helps out with the birds and who has developed a great bond with them. Neighbour and friend Dave Shaw gives a hand with the day to day chores and is always there to welcome the birds home from training. Ross & Gary wish to extend their sincere thanks to him.


Leigh & James with helper Dave Shaw                       Everything picked up by CCTV for peace of mind


In conclusion to our chat I asked Ross what he considered to be the most influential factor in the building of their current team of racers. Ross answered this without hesitation and replied the Baker pigeons. On behalf of himself and Gary he requested that sincere thanks be extended to John Baker for the honesty and kindness with which he conducted their original purchase. Also he paid tribute to the quality that had originated via Nigel Laycock. The loft of Leigh & James is certainly one to look out for in season 2016 as their team seems to be going from strength to strength!


By Chris Knowles