“ON THE ROAD” WITH KEITH MOTT.
Les Stevens of Lower Halstow.
The name Les Stevens has been a ‘house hold’ name in the Kent pigeon fancier for a great many years, as he has won it all at the top level with his pigeons in his 70 years in the sport. In his many years in the sport Les has had many good experiences with his birds and one of his best was in 2017 when in he recorded four Cooremans widowhood cock in three seconds on his Bricon ETS to win: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th Kent Invicta South Road Combine Exeter (150 miles). Brilliant pigeon racing by any ones standards! In 2005 a father and daughter arrival, ‘Fernando’ and ‘Paula’ were clocked seven seconds apart from Thurso (526 miles) to win 1st, 2nd club, 1st, 2nd North East Kent Federation, 3rd, 4th Essex & Kent North Road Combine. Another highlight for the Stevens loft was when Les had a Kent Auction Sale at Sittingbourne and the Her Majesty the Queen’s loft manager, Alan Pearce and his friend Carlo Napolitano came down from Norfolk and purchased a blue Fabry hen for the Queen’s loft. The hen bred well in Norfolk and was the grand dam of 5th open NFC Pau for the Royal Lofts. Alan was later killed in a car accident and Carlo Napolitano then became the Royal Lofts manager. Later on Les and his partner, Eric Lowery, swopped a pair of Fabry pigeons with the Royal Lofts and on taking them up to Sandringham they had a tour of the Queen’s racing lofts. In1986 Les’ good Fabry blue cock, ‘Alboreto’, won the Kent & South Coast Combine from Berwick. The birds were liberated ten minutes before the mighty London North Road Combine and ‘Alboreto’ had the best velocity of both the organisations at Berwick that day by far. Another champion Fabry cock, ‘Capelli’, won: 1989: 1st Kent & South Coast Combine Thurso (525 miles), 1990: 1st South of England NRFC Thurso, winning a microwave oven, which Led says is still in use today.
Les Stevens has a silent pigeon partner in his good friend, Eric Lowery and told me, ‘Eric is the same age as me, 84 years old in 2019. He was a very good fancier 20 years ago and raced south road with the Chatham and Gillingham clubs. Many premier positions were won over many years in the sport with a small team of pigeon raced on the natural system. Eric was a first class carpenter all his working life and in the later years in was a site manager for a big building firm, marking out the houses for large estates. He was a keen pigeon trainer and quite often took his Dr Rigg / Barker birds for a 40 mile toss before going to work. Eric lives in Faversham and is a great help in the management of our winning team of pigeons here at Elm Farm. Being a carpenter, Eric keeps the lofts in good order and our good friend, Malcolm Gogle has recently painted the lofts. We keep one another enthusiastic about the pigeons and the local scribe; John Samson calls Eric and me, ‘The Plough Boys’. Eric is a really good friend’.
Les has had some outstanding success racing in the Kent Inland Sprint Championship Club Poole open races in recent year and these pigeons recorded the highlights: 2015: ‘The Governor’ 1st open Poole: 2016: ‘Cameran’ 1st open Poole (467 birds): ‘Sunny Jim’ 2nd open Poole: 2018: ‘Mozart’ 1st open Poole (501 birds): ‘The Jockey’ 2nd open Poole. The wonderful Cooreman blue cock, ‘The Governor’ is also a premier breeder, being sire of many winners including ‘Mozart’ and ‘The Jockey’. Premier racers in the Les Stevens loft today are: ‘Sunny Jim’: 1st Federation, 1st Joint Venture Lyndhurst (1,80 birds), 1st Federation, 1st Joint Venture Poole (1,997 birds), 1st Federation, 1st Joint Venture Bedhampton (1,635 birds), 2nd Federation, 2nd Joint Venture Poole (2.079 birds), 2nd Federation, 2nd Kent Invicta SR Combine Exeter (2,165 birds), 3rd Federation, 3rd Joint Venture Lyndhurst (2,017 birds), 4th Federation Lyndhurst (1,228 birds), plus six times 1st club in the Sittingbourne RPC: ‘Joshua’: 2017: 1st club, 1st Kent Premier Federation, 1st Kent Invicta SR Combine Exeter (2,165 birds), 1st club, 3rd Kent Premier Federation, 4th Kent Invicta SR Combine Wadebridge (1,122 birds): ‘Jonny’: 1st Federation, 1st Joint Venture Lyndhurst (1,767 birds), 1st Federation, 1st Joint Venture Poole (2,079 birds), 1st Federation, 1st Joint Venture Portland (1,545 birds): ‘Cameran’: 1st Federation, 1st Joint Venture Wincanton (1,251 birds), 1st Federation, 7th Joint Venture Bedhampton (1,587 birds), 7th Kent Invicta SR Combine Exeter (1,629 birds). Won 15 positions in first twenty of the Federation results: ‘Raheem’: 2nd Federation, 2nd Joint Venture Poole (2,079 birds), 2nd Federation, 2nd Joint Venture Lyndhurst (1,725 birds), 2nd Federation, 3rd Joint Venture Poole (1,450 birds), 4th Kent Premier Federation, 4th Kent Invicta SR Combine Exeter (2,165 birds) beaten by three loft mates: ‘The Jockey’: 2018: 2nd Federation, 2nd Joint Venture Bedhampton (1,256 birds), 5th Federation, 6th Joint Venture Wincanton (841 birds), 8th Federation, 8th Joint Venture Poole (923 birds), 20th Federation West Bay (900 birds), 2nd Kent Inland Sprint Championship Club Poole (501 birds), Les Stevens’ best yearling racer in the 2018 season.
The partners race 24 pairs on the widowhood system, racing only cocks and the hens are housed in a small loft with a grilled floor, sited 30 yard away up the Farm Road. The racers are paired in mid-January, on the full moon and they only rear a single youngster, with some being fostered out under other pairs. Les likes plenty of fresh air in the lofts to maintain good health and condition, and he told me, one hen out of the hen’s widowhood loft won the local show with over 40 birds in the class two years on the trot. When the cocks are on widowhood they exercise around the loft twice a day and get about three training tosses before the first race. Just before the first race the racers are fed by spoon in the nest box, morning and evening on ‘Gerry Plus’ and as the races get longer they are fed Versele-Laga ‘Superstar’, and a pinch of Hemp. Two days before basketing the cocks live in the front half of the box, then on basketing night the box is opened and the nest bowl turned over. The hens are never shown to the cocks. The day of the race the racing loft is cleaned out and half an hour before the cocks are due to arrive home; the hens are let out to go in the race loft, where they are locked in the nest boxes. The hens are fed so when the cocks arrive home, they are not hungry and will welcome them. The cocks get the hen for about an hour on their return and are given a bath the next day with added Versele-Laga ‘Bath Salts’. The best racing cocks are only raced inland from the West Country, as Eric says; the partners have lost some good widowhood cocks from France. Les told me, ‘we have some birds in another loft on the natural system and like hens sitting eggs for the longer racers. In the past we have done well flying North Road to Thurso (525 miles), with the Fabry cocks on widowhood and hens sitting eggs. These days we prefer shorter races and not have to wait days to clock pigeons in. Fabry once told me on a visit to his home in Belgium, birds on the day are a true race and second day is a lottery’.
For many years Les was noted for his wonderful racing performance with the Fabry pigeons, but the main family kept now are the Louis Cooreman of Belgium pigeons, which are racing brilliantly. He keeps 15 pairs of stock birds, which are mated up in mid-January and not many youngsters are bred from these pairs each season. Les has kept all the Louis Cooreman sales lists in England and Ireland and studies the breeding details of the family. He has a good idea of the best winning lines of the family and when bringing in new breeders he goes for young birds off these pigeons. Some of Les’ best breeders are retired racers, including: ‘Button’, ‘The Governor’ and ‘Bambino’, and says he might retire ‘Joshua’ for the 2019 season. One of the best Cooreman stock cocks at the Lower Halstow loft is ‘Picasso’ and he was purchased at the Doncaster sale, and Les says he stood out to him in the pen. He is a son ‘Emile’, who has now proved to be one Cooreman’s great breeders and was top priced bird at his first Doncaster dispersal sale in 2018.
Les and Eric’s young birds are trained three or four times a week, weather permitting and three weeks before the first race the sexes are separated and put on the sliding door method for racing. The door is opened one hour before basketing for the race and they race most of the programme. They are fed ‘Gerry Plus’ and depurative for the short races and go on ‘Superstar’ and ‘Young Bird No Maize’ mixture for the longer races. The partners use Aviform products and Belgica De Weerd swab before treatment when necessary. The youngsters are put on the ‘dark’ system from weaning until 21st June and there has been no problems with the birds after, with them racing well as yearling and in later in life.
Les is a retired farmer and when I asked him about his early years in the livestock fraternity he told me, ‘as a boy I was always interested in birds and could name all the wild birds around and my sister was a keen bird watcher. As a 15 year old lad I became interested in other birds and had the regular job of taking my sister’s friend, Pauline, who was a farmer’s daughter, home in the next village. After my National Service I married Pauline, who became very interested in the pigeons and wrote in the British Homing World under the name ’Widowhood Hen’ for quite a few years. We were the guests at the Essex Central Federation dinner and she got up at the top table and spoke about the widowhood racing system. We were one of the first to race on the Widowhood system in our area and I remember the room was in silence when she was talking. Sadly she passed away in September 2017 and I think the pigeons have kept me going, along with the farm, which is now run by my two sons. I first started as a stockman and together with my father we started the Boxted herd of Sussex cattle, which are still going strong today. I think it is one of the best herds of this fine beef breed! We run 30 old Sussex cows, 250 ewes and produce beef, lamb, pears and plumbs. I have been a professional stockman and farmer all my life and I think it my knowledge has helped me with my pigeon racing and management’. I must add that when Les came up to my home in Claygate with Eric and Malcolm Gogle to have his birds photographed, he brought us a present of a box of his Farm grown pears and they were the best pairs I’ve eaten since I worked on Kingston market as a school boy in the 1960’s. Really brilliant!
Les had some Fantails at a very young age and obtained his first racing pigeons from a Mr. Gill in 1947. He joined the Gillingham club (65 members) and raced young birds in 1949, winning his first race from Berwick (323 miles) with a Barker blue pied hen. His first loft was over the stable on the farm and his main mistake in the early days was over feeding and not being able to get birds to trap on race days. The young Les was a good school boy Cricketer, but the pigeons stop that activity as both were on Saturday. While he was away doing his National Service in Germany his mother and father kept his pigeons going and he purchased his first Fabry pigeons at the Tommy Fairclough London sale in 1958. The first Louis Cooreman pigeons were obtained from Bob Fenech in 2004.
Alan Clements of Basildon.
Alan Clements lives and races his very successful team of pigeons in the pigeon racing ‘hotbed’ of Basildon and holds his own against the very best fanciers of Essex. Alan came to my home in Claygate recently to have some birds photographed and I must say his pigeons are a credit to him. The pride of his loft is his good blue hen, ‘Caroline’, she is a ‘Hall of Fame’ winner, recording: 2016: 1st club (only bird on the day), 4th Essex & Kent Combine Thurso (510 miles): 2017: 3rd club, 22nd London North Road Combine Thurso (542 birds): 2018: 1st club (only bird on the day), 27th London North Road Combine (566 birds) Thurso, 2nd club Weatherby 9(180 miles), plus several other premier positions. ‘Caroline’ looked and handled as good as her racing performance, she was beautiful!
Other top racing pigeons in the Clements loft today are: Blue chequer cock, ‘Phil Boy’, the winner of 1st club, 25th Essex & Kent Amalgamation Newark (1,868 birds), 5th club, 30th Essex & Kent Combine Thurso 510 miles (only 39 birds home in race time). This game cock won five top club positions and flew Thurso three times: Red chequer cock, ‘Johnny H’, this young cock won 1st club, 1st Essex Central Federation Sleaford (1,452 birds) in the 2018 racing season: Blue hen, ‘Treble Three’, won 1st club, 87th Essex & Kent Combine Ripon (1, 763 birds): Blue cock, ‘Rosa’, another outstanding 2018 young bird and winner of 1st club Sleaford (105 miles).
Alan was born in West Thurrock in 1947 and was one of five children in the Clements family. The young Alan and his elder brother, Derek, kept many pets over the years, but always came back to their pigeons. As young boys they converted an old Chicken shed in to a loft and at that time there was no money so they scrounged pigeons from where ever they could get them. They didn’t know what a pedigree was and fed their birds on cheap chicken corn! The brother’s dad had to join the Aveley RPC so they could race their pigeons and Alan can remember not getting any birds home in those early days. Things changed when Derek started work, as three good pigeon fanciers, Arthur Lowe, Harry Murrel and Teddy Osborne worked at the place of his employment and they gifted the two lads some better pigeons. Alan said they were great times and Teddy is still racing today, and is the secretary of the Grays pigeon club. The Aveley pigeon club had 44 members at that time and although the youngster enjoyed their racing, it took them six years to win their first race. Alan said he will always remember that first winner, it was a young bird race and he won it with a little blue chequer hen. Derek was always very keen on shooting with his dogs and still enjoys that sport today. Alan said in those days pigeons only had ‘one eyed cold’ and ‘canker’, not like the many problems they get today! Top racers in the local area at that time were Hermitage Brothers and the young Alan spent many hours at their loft, and they gave him some good pigeons and advice. He started work and then could afford some good quality corn and purchased some more good stock birds. When bringing in ne birds he never worries about strains or pedigrees, but looks for winning bloodlines. Alan says he made plenty of mistakes in the early days, the main one being over feeding.
After 60 years in the sport, Alan’s present main racing loft is 12ft x 6ft with 16 nest boxes and has two other smaller lofts for the hens, and young birds. He thinks dryness is the main factor of good loft design and has used deep litter on the loft floors for many years, which he thinks is great. The birds are paired up in January and are raced on the roundabout system, and the hens are show to the cocks on marking day. Alan feeds ‘Bamford’ corns and feeds the racing cocks twice a day and the hens are on the hopper. He likes to keep the birds fit and well all the year round and they race from 74 to 500 miles. Alan keeps a very small team of pigeons and loves racing every Saturday, but could not race in the 2000 season, because he was badly injured in a car accident and did not work for two years. Alan breeds 40 young birds every season for racing and these are put on the ‘darkness’ system from weaning, and are raced to the perch. They are trained well and are if they are in good feather condition will race through to the longest race (200 miles).
The main families kept are Busschaert and De Klak Janssens, but pedigree has no bearing on pairing up, the birds paired on what Alan thinks go well together. Alan’s good friend, Johnny Haggerty, moved to Clacton in 2003 and Alan looked after his birds while he re-located on the east coast. Johnny was winning a lot of races at that time and the team included his outstanding dark chequer cock, ‘28’, which had club wins in double figures and seven Federation wins. While the birds were in his care, Alan was allowed to breed from them and these are the base of his Busschaert line today. Other base pigeons were purchased from the Ponderosa UK Stud and J. & S. Evans clearance sale. The premier Laindon racer, Phil Wood, also gave Alan some good stock birds in the early days. Alan said, ‘Phil was a great pigeon racer, winning the ‘Hall of Fame’ award and is a true gentleman. He no longer races, but still keeps a few birds and breeds winners for other fanciers’. Several good stock birds were obtained from good local fanciers including, Mick Tukley and the late great Jimmy Richards.
The principal Alan Clements stock pigeons are: Busschaert blue chequer cock ‘59780’: son of Johnny Haggerty’s champion cock, ‘28’: blue chequer hen ‘25242’: 2014: 17th Combine Thurso (510 miles), 2015: 15th Combine Thurso, blue hen ‘11758’: 2016: 4th Combine Thurso, 22nd Combine Thurso, 27th Combine Thurso, blue chequer hen ‘12331’: 2016: 51st Combine Thurso, 2017: 2nd Combine Thurso, blue chequer hen ‘11754’: 2017: 24th Combine Berwick (306 miles), 37th Combine Perth (387 miles) and an outstanding breeding red chequer Busschaert hen which has never raced.
Alan tells me he has a terrible Sparrow Hawk problem around his loft in Basildon and has had lots of pigeons killed by these predators. He recent purchased a flying drone, which he sends up into the sky several times a day in the garden and that seems to be frightening the Hawks away. He maintains the recent decline in the sport in recent years is because no young people are coming in due to it being far too expensive to start up and it has become to professional. Alan says he doesn’t keep written records of his performances, apart from the bird’s prize cards and keeps the information in his head. He enjoys every race long or short! Alan enjoys the breeding side of the sport and although he likes to see a bright eye on his breeders, he has no interest in the eye sign theory. Alan has very strong opinions about the transportation of our racing pigeons and says with the hot weather climate changes in recent year, the metal race crate are not a good idea. He is not a great fan of using corrugated cardboard sheets on the floor of the race crate and maintains you will never beat wood shavings.
TEXT & PHOTOS BY KEITH MOTT (www.keithmott.com).