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
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