Work on the new game farm con­tin­ues apace for Dorset keeper Char­lie, who lets us in on a few of the tools and es­sen­tial items ev­ery game­keeper needs

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The tools of the trade that ev­ery keeper needs

Af­ter the punc­ture in last month’s is­sue, I’ve now got new boots on the Kub­ota which are 10-ply rated so they are more punc­ture- and thorn-re­sis­tant. Be­fore I ar­rived, the boss had mod­i­fied the Kub­ota, putting on ex­tra-large tyres and cus­tom-made wheel spac­ers to help give more ground clear­ance with less ground pres­sure and churn­ing up.

My own pref­er­ence is to use tracks. We used these on the Yorkshire moors and a quad bike on tracks can tackle pretty much any boggy or marshy con­di­tions. I’m await­ing the ar­rival of a new Can-Am quad so hope­fully next month I can re­port how I’ve got on with it and how it copes in the mud pulling my trail feeder.

There is still the need to hand-feed in ar­eas where ve­hic­u­lar ac­cess is dif­fi­cult. For some keep­ers, they don’t need hedges and don’t need to worry about main­tain­ing them. On our es­tate, how­ever, there’s a par­tic­u­lar hedge a few fields away from a wood – it is on the high­est point of the shoot and cre­ates some high birds so it is im­por­tant to make the most of it. The hedge is on ten­anted land so a game strip is out of the ques­tion but feed­ing in the hedge and then work­ing it out on a shoot day is an op­tion.

The scales have been out ev­ery week to weigh the birds. Af­ter a few weeks on a higher pro­tein diet I’m now happy with their weight so they are back on a main­te­nance pel­let be­fore I switch them to a pre-breeder diet.

Hav­ing the es­sen­tials

Since the last is­sue with the photo of me with my two favourite dogs I’ve been asked what I think are three other es­sen­tial things a keeper needs, so here are mine:

1. A Leather­man. I have no idea what keep­ers did or how many tools they had to carry be­fore these were in­vented.

2. Cof­fee and lots of it. Long cold nights and early morn­ings have turned me into a caf­feine ad­dict, es­pe­cially at the mo­ment with the set­ting up of the game farm.

3. An un­der­stand­ing part­ner. They are the un­sung he­roes of the game rear­ing and keeper­ing world. If we were work­ing through sup­per, my mate’s wife used to load her car boot up with KFC to feed ev­ery­one and she was still help­ing to dog-in with her Staffie (a crack­ing dog) while she was heav­ily preg­nant. So on be­half of keep­ers every­where, thank you!

Down on the farm

On the game farm side of things, the boss and I are fo­cus­ing on breed­ing and rear­ing partridge com­pletely dis­ease- and an­tibi­otic-free. Be­ing dis­ease-free is an im­por­tant part of the bird’s wel­fare and the gov­ern­ment crack­down on an­tibi­otics in mod­ern game rear­ing and keeper­ing means that an­tibi­otics should only be used as a last re­sort, rather than as a pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sure.

‘It is a rush against time to fin­ish get­ting the lay­ing field set up with the boxes we’ve been mak­ing and fit­ting the feed­ing sys­tems’

We re­ally are at the start of cre­at­ing the game farm here and at the mo­ment it is a rush against time to fin­ish get­ting the lay­ing field set up with all the lay­ing boxes we have been mak­ing, and fit­ting the au­to­mated wa­ter and feed­ing sys­tems. As many of you know, com­mer­cial lay­ing partridge only work paired up in boxes be­cause they are ter­ri­to­rial. The boxes we have made are dif­fer­ent than those you can buy, but we have never tested them with the feed­ing and wa­ter sys­tems so I’m a bit anx­ious to fin­ish set­ting them all up, get them tested and get the partridge in and set­tled. Once we know that the boxes work then I can tell you a bit more about them.

In the wild, partridge will usu­ally lay by the end of April but game farms use ar­ti­fi­cial light­ing to start them lay­ing sooner and ex­tend the sea­son. Most peo­ple use flood­lights or a row of bulbs above the boxes. We are go­ing to try LED rope lights strung through the boxes as LEDs are more en­ergy ef­fi­cient and cause less light pol­lu­tion.

We haven’t tested them yet so I will let you know in a few months if they are a to­tal fail­ure or a suc­cess. Keep your fin­gers crossed.

In the mean­time, where’s my cof­fee?

The work of feed­ing never stops on Char­lie’s shoot Ve­hic­u­lar ac­cess isn’t al­ways an op­tion

Work can only be done when fu­elled by cof­fee

Feed­ing adult birds with main­te­nance pel­lets through the win­ter en­sures they keep well fed and healthy while nat­u­ral sources be­come scarce. Tak­ing on the mud with new tyres

On a bound­ary, you can still feed-in the hedge to pull birds in

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