“ON THE ROAD” WITH KEITH MOTT.

A Three Borders Federation Special Feature.

Bob & June Harper of Morden.

The end of the 2015 racing season saw the mighty Mitcham & Morden club win the Three Borders Federation ‘Federation Points Trophy’, with 190 points, in spite of the club not sending to the first young bird race! The Mitcham members won a list of premier prizes including, Frank & Sue Carson: 1st Federation Yeovil, Bobby & June Harper: 1st Federation Falaise, Honey & Grandson: 1st Federation Yelverton, Billy Looker: 1st Federation Messac, Bobby & June Harper: 1st Federation Yelverton (YB). The clincher for the Mitcham & Morden lifting the ‘Federation Points Trophy’ was Bobby and June Harper’s wonderful performance in the last race from Yelverton, when they recorded 1st club, 1st Federation, 9th SMT Combine (1,617 birds). The Three Borders Federation sent 875 birds to Yelverton (180 miles) for the last young bird race and the convoyer, Dom McCoy, liberated at 10.00hrs in a south west wind.  As I’ve stated several times at that time, Dom had produced some really good sport for the membership that season and the Yelverton finally was no exception. Bobby Harper’s first bird on the ETS was his outstanding Gaby Vandenabeele blue hen, ‘Hat Trick Queen’ and this game little pigeon has won three races in the Mitcham club as a young bird in 2015.

 

A week after the Yelverton race I drove up to Morden to visit Bobby Harper and see his very successful team of Andrew Marney / Gaby Vandenabeele pigeons, and I must say we could not have picked a better day for a drive into London, with it being a beautiful warm, sunny September day. The 40ft loft was set out in a square and was fitted out with ‘sputnik’ traps for ETS clocking. The loft’s special feature, which Bobby said was for easy cleaning, was all the floors, perches, nest boxes and the main loft floor was made of plastic. One of his ‘pet hates’ was deep litter on the loft floor and maintained he would never use it! The first bird I handled on my visit to the Harper loft was the Yelverton Federation winner, ‘Hat Trick Queen’ and she was bred out of Bobby’s good Andrew Marney / Gaby Vandenabeele blue pied cock, ‘Falaise Express’, winner of 1st club, 1st Federation, 3rd SMT Combine Falaise (1,534 birds) for Bobby in the 2015 season. What a family of pigeons, Federation winners breeding Federation winners in the same season! She was put on the ‘darkness’ system and flew six races to the perch to win, 1st club, 16th Federation Blandford (1,615 birds), 1st club Kingsdown (150 birds), 1st club, 1st Federation, 9th SMT Combine Yelverton (1,617 birds). Bobby raced a team 40 young birds that year and they were trained for six weeks up to 30 miles before the first Federation race. He commented to me, that 2015 was the first season that his babies came so badly from training, taking 90 minutes to come from 10 miles and then came out and did so well in the racing!

 

Bobby Harper had enjoyed a good season racing in the Three Borders Federation and his full performance is: (old birds): 13th Federation Yeovil (1,628 birds), 1st Federation, 3rd SMT Combine Falaise (1,534 birds), 9th Federation Yelverton (887 birds), 2nd Federation, 4th SMT Combine Messac (1,164 birds), 6th Federation,14th SMT Combine Truro (1,512 birds), (young birds): 16th, 17th Federation Blandford (1,615 birds), 16th Federation Exeter (1,078 birds), 1st Federation, 9th SMT Combine Yelverton (1,617 birds). A great loft performance!

 

Bobby liked to play Golf as a side line to his pigeon racing and told me he was on a 14 handy cap.  He liked Federation racing from Blandford (80 miles) through to Bergerac (450 miles) and raced 24 cocks on the traditional widowhood system. The racers were paired up in the second week of January, with the hens being taken away when the youngsters were about 16 days old and then the cocks were trained up to the first Federation race. The birds were fed on several top mixtures and the racing cocks were never broke down. The cocks flew out around the loft in the morning for exercise and were trained on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday during the racing season. The widowhood hens were shown to the cocks on marking night and the racers got their mates for an hour on their return from the race. The widowhood cocks were mostly raced inland and were fed on the best Van Robys mixtures. Bobby was on the basketing committee at the Mitcham & Morden club and told me he prepared the race crates every week, and enjoyed helping the club secretary, when he could. He rated Frank & Sue Carson as the best local fanciers and said the Sutton partnership has been topping Federation and Combine results for many years!

 

The Harper loft started up just after the Second World War, when Bobby’s late father, Bob senior, started racing pigeons in Lambeth and Bobby was his junior partner, hence the racing name R. Harper & son, which he still raced under until that day. They raced in the old Chelsea & South Lambeth Flying Club and raced with great success, with the Ameal and Barker pigeons. Bob senior was a great worker for the club and was their chief clock setter for many years. Bobby Harper was born in a pigeon family, with Bob senior’s brother, Harry, and his father, Bill Harper, both being premier pigeon racers in the London area. The father and son partnership never had a big loft or kept many birds in the early days, because the back yards in Lambeth were very small and Bobby said, when you opened the outside WC door it hit the side of the pigeon loft! In those days there were many premier fanciers in the Lambeth area, including: F. Raynsford, Sharp & Bateman, Mr. & Mrs. Read, Len Henderson and of cause the great, Joe Langbridge. Bobby said those were the days! The Harpers won many premier prizes through the years, but never topped the Federation until they moved in to the present Morden address in 1994. Bobby bought the house off a pigeon racer named Roy Stag and when he moved out he left his loft, and that is still part of the loft set up today. Bobby had never won the Combine, but had been 2nd several times and can remember winning 1st Federation, 2nd Combine Le Mans many years ago, which was a great thrill at that time, for his late father, Bob senior. The main family raced with success in the early days were Staf Van Reet and Bobby purchased them for his dad in 1993.

Bobby purchased nine pairs of Gaby Vandenabeele stock birds from Andrew Marney of Bromley in 2011 and after two very successful years racing them, he went back to Andrew and obtained a round of 40 young birds to race. Bob said, he couldn’t give Andrew Marney enough praise, he had given him brilliant Gaby Vandenabeele racing pigeons and good advice on how to be successful with them, and he had never looked back since meeting Andrew. Bobby raced a few pairs on the natural system for the longer events and kept nine pairs of stock birds, which were paired up after Christmas every year. We looked at all the premier racers in the Harper loft on my visit and although they were in the moult quite heavy, they all look in great health. Bobby treated his birds for the basic aliments, but told me he was not in favour of treating pigeons all the time while they were racing. He never showed his birds and liked his breeders to be above medium in size, but also liked a good type and most important, good feathering. The premier racers we handled on the day of my visit were: ‘Hat Trick Queen’ the Yelverton Federation winner, ‘June’s Girl’ the blue chequer hen bred by Andrew Marney and winner of 2nd Federation, 4th SMT Combine Messac and ‘The Truro Cock’ a handsome blue chequer cock also bred by Andrew Marney and winner of 6th Federation, 14th SMT Combine Truro. A wonderful loft of pigeons!

 

Billy Looker of Mitcham.

 

I first became aware of Billy Looker and his wonderful team of pigeons when he won the Three Borders Federation from Messac in the 2015 season, after which I invite him to my home to have some birds photographed for this article. He came to Claygate in February and on seeing his six pigeons and their race performances it was clear to me that his great performance started long before his Messac success. His 2015 Federation winner was his yearling blue cock, now named ‘The Fed Topper’, and he is a son of Bill’s champion stock cock, ‘Lenny the Lion’. The blue cock was raced on the roundabout system and recorded from Messac (258 miles) 1st club, 1st Three Borders Federation, 3rd SMT Combine (1,164 birds).

 

Billy has raced his old birds on the roundabout, with outstanding results for several years and tells me, he can accommodate 24 pairs, and finds the system very enjoyable. During the racing season the cocks are in with the nest boxes and the racing hens are on perches. The racers are let together on the marking day and on their return from the race they are left together for one hour, before going back on the system. Bill’s loft is 20ft long, with four section and the young bird section has a 5ft aviary so the inmates can enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. The structure is fitted through out with roof lights, for nature light and vents at the bottom and at roof level for good ventilation. Deep litter is not used in the racing loft, as Bill like to keep an eye on the birds dropping at all times. He has eight stock pairs which are housed in a 8ft breeding loft and he uses deep litter in this loft, which he says has never been a problem to the birds. The race birds are paired up in January and normally they single rear a youngster and then the hens and their youngsters are removed at around 16 days, and then they are on the roundabout system to start racing. They then start to get regular exercise around the loft and once they are going well at home, Billy starts to train them for about eight tosses up to 30 miles before the first Federation race. As previously stated the racers see their mates on the marking and they are never broken down with their feeding. Training tosses along the south coast are preferred and Billy tells me that he never trains during the racing season, unless their form drops and then he will give them a tosses or two to bring them back. He has started enjoying channel racing in recent seasons and likes to pick his races for certain pigeons. The old birds are fed on Mariman’s Varimax and Super Power 50/50 mixture, and he has found there is no wastage, and they fly well on this feeding.

 

The main racers in the loft today are: The blue hen, ‘The Combine Hen’, winner of 2010: 2nd club, 3rd Three Borders Federation, 3rd SMT Combine (1,557 birds) Yelverton and her nest sister ‘28106’ winner of 1st club, 2nd Three Borders Federation Exeter, the blue chequer pied hen, ‘Mason’, winner of: 2014: 21st section, 40th open BICC Falaise (old hens), 6th section, 27th open BICC Guernsey (old hens), the handsome blue pied cock, ‘The Flash Cock’, the winner of: 1st club (234 birds), 1st Three Borders Federation (1,424 birds) Blandford (92 miles), the blue chequer WF hen, ‘The Alencon Hen’ winner of 1st club, 2nd Three Borders Federation, 3rd SMT Combine (749 birds) Alencon, 23rd section, 45th open BICC Falaise, 3rd club Fougeres, 3rd club Falaise and of cause the 2015 Messac Federation winner, ‘The Fed Topper’. A very impressive team of racers!

 

Billy is a heating engineer and has been self-employed for eight year. He tells me his wife isn’t interested in the pigeons, but his two children, Crystal aged seven and Billy junior aged one, love them and like them to fly and feed them. They both have their favourites and Billy’s nephew, Mason, helps him with the cleaning out and feeding. Mason is five years old and he sometimes goes to the pigeon club with his uncle Bill for marking. Bill has always been interested in ‘Country Sports’ and fishing, which he has had a lot success at. He likes Ferreting and shooting, and has done a lot of Clay Pigeon shooting. Billy says his most thrilling thing in his time in pigeon racing was winning the Three Borders Federation from Messac in 2015. He has several premier positions at the top end of the Combine result, including 2nd open and says his main aim now is to win the Combine! The families in keeps are good at short and long distance racing, but he enjoys the long distance events best and his best performance to date was winning the Three Borders Federation from Messac (258 miles) in 2015. Billy says it is a big ‘thanks’ to Lenny Jenkins for his help and advice over the past few years and thanks also to his mum, who helps him out with the pigeons when he away working and can’t get to the loft.

 

The main family kept at the Mitcham loft are: Staf Van Reets from Lenny Jenkins of Dagenham in Essex, plus some of Lenny’s own family of pigeons and the very successful Muller / Aarden pigeons from the Padfield Brothers in Wales. Billy pairs the stock birds up in Mid-January, the same time as the race team, so he can under lay the first round of eggs from the stock birds in the racing loft and he feeds the stock birds on Versa Laga ‘Breeding’ mixture, with extra Maple Peas added. Billy’s number one breeding cock is the blue Staf Van Reet, ‘Lenny The Lion’ and he was purchased from Lenny Jenkins in 2011, and he has bred many premier racers for the Looker loft from the outset. The nest pair, ‘The Combine Hen’ and ‘28105’ are his daughters, the 2015 Messac Federation winner, ‘The Fed Topper’ is a son and ‘Mason’ is a granddaughter. A fantastic breeding cock! Billy tells me he has six direct from ‘Lenny the Lion’ currently in the race team and all have done well at Federation and National level. He breeds about 30 youngsters each season to race and these are put on the Dark System as soon as they are weaned. When they are flying strong around the loft, he starts their training at 10 miles and then they progress up to the 30 miles stage and once they get there, he keep them at 30 miles until the first Federation race. The young birds are fed on Versa Laga ‘Breed and Wean’ and Gerry Plus 50/50 mixture. They are not split during the racing season and Billy is not to bothered if they pair up and have eggs or youngsters, in fact he tells me, he has had some good performances with his young birds sitting. He likes them to race the whole young bird programme if possible and enjoys the longer races best. He is not adverse to sending his babies across the English Channel. To educate the young birds is Bill’s main aim every season and maintains the more training the better for them in later life. Once racing has finished the birds are parted ready for the moult period, which Billy maintains is a very important time of the year. He feeds a good moulting mixture, with a lot of oil seeds and gives them plenty of warm baths. He thinks a good moult is key to good performances the following season! He is not into the eye sign theory, but says he shows his birds at the local club’s winter events. Billy maintains it is a good thing to keep the members in touch in the winter months and it is a good excuse to go down the pub!

 

Billy Looker was born in London in 1984 and has lived in Mitcham all his life. His dad has always been a Fancy Pigeon fancier, starting many years before Bill was born, so pigeons have always been a big part of the Looker’s life. Billy has had Fantails and Tumblers all his life and had his first race birds in 1998, when he formed a racing partnership with Wayne Gardiner. Billy told me, sadly the partnership only lasted a few seasons, but he really caught the racing bug! He started racing again on his own in 2007, with a few gift late breds and in 2008 he had his first team of racing young birds. He purchased some youngsters from the Breeding Station, which were Soontjen and one of them won two firsts in the Mitcham club. Bill has still got that hen and she has bred some real quality youngsters over the years. He can remember racing in the very strong Mitcham FC back in 1998 and one of the best flyers then was Frank & Sue Carson and says they still are today. His biggest mistake in his novice days was overcrowding and over feeding, but since meeting Lenny ‘the lion’ Jenkins in 2009, he has looked back. Billy has learnt a lot about feeding and conditioning the birds in recent years. In his early days the young Billy was gifted pigeons from every one, which performed ok, but soon realised that if he wanted to really compete against the best he needed to invest in good pigeons that were winners. His first club was the Mitcham FC, which was then based at the Bull PH in Church Road and his first loft was nothing fancy, just a 12ft structure with two sections and open door trapping. He remembered at that time everyone was talking about the new thing, the ‘darkness’ system and he taped black bin liners over the young bird section windows, but it worked, because he won races.

 

Billy was quite adamant when we spoke, that the big problem in our sport today is the birds of prey. They are everywhere and he thinks if it allowed to continue it will be the death of the pigeon racing sport. When talking to starters in the sport, he tells them the most important things are a well ventilated loft and don’t over crowd it. Billy has never paid attention to inbreeding in the stock loft and has always paired the best to the best, which has worked well for him. He has bred a few late breds in past seasons and has found them to be a waste of time, so never bothers now. Bill’s pigeons are kept tame because his two children enjoy them and one of his tamest is the blue stock cock, ‘Lenny the Lion’, and he is a bit of a character.

 

There you have it, the wonderful Three Borders Federation winning success of Bobby & June Harper and Billy Looker. That’s our article for this week! I can be contacted on telephone number: 01372 463480 or email me on: keithmott1@virginmedia.com

 

TEXT & PHOTOS BY KEITH MOTT (www.keithmott.co).