KEEPER’S DIARY: Plans for the game farm continue apace
The season might be over, but the hard work continues apace for busy gamekeeper Charlie Matthews as a European grant allows plans for the new game farm to gather momentum
Apart from dealing with any caught-up laying birds, February and March are usually quieter months for the gamekeeper and the traditional downtime. There is usually a mass exodus of keepers and their families heading off for some Canary Island sun and family time before it all starts again. For others, the quiet time means cracking on with their deer cull which they will have been too busy to do throughout the pheasant season. I’m not catching up this year, but I’m hoping to be able to cull some deer for general estate management – plus it will be a nice change to eat some venison rather than pheasant most nights of the week!
At the time of writing, the shooting season appears to be ending well here with our days exceeding the bag target, which has made the boss and the Guns all happy. I’m looking forward to Beaters’ Day and the chance to get stuck into shooting and experience the birds I’ve cared for and tended to all year. I know quite a few of my beaters have booked the following day off work in anticipation of a good evening celebration and the tradition of drinking the shoot bar dry!
Pest control continues, with the game farm continuing to draw foxes here and another five were shot in the last week. Typically, I can go out for two or three hours around our land and not see a thing and then come back to the game farm to find them only in the adjacent field! The mild winter we’ve experienced has seen cubs out early; a vixen I shot in early January was about a week or so off birthing a litter.
On the game farm side of things, I can now let you know that we applied for, and have been successful in receiving, a grant from the Rural Development Programme for England which is a European grant. There is still time to apply for grants so for anyone starting a new project or looking to increase their game farm productivity, I would recommend looking into it. The application process seemed quite daunting but our local Dorset team have been a huge support in guiding us through it.
One of the things the grant is helping us fund is internal renovations to a rearing barn. The barn will be much better insulated and therefore energy-efficient. This will allow us to save money on gas and electricity and will also allow us to improve the health of young chicks by allowing us to better regulate temperature.
The rearing barn will also have new internal, fully-washable plastic surfaces and ceilings, which will make it much more bio-secure by allowing for a thorough clean and disinfection. Again, this will
‘The barn will be insulated, which will improve the health of our young chicks by allowing us to better regulate the temperature’
improve the health and welfare of young chicks by stopping the spread of disease and therefore reduce the need for any antibiotics or medications. Also, anyone who has reared partridge will know that they create much more dust than pheasants. This is because partridge chick feathers develop with a sheath on them which is then shed (think lots of dead skin, pretty grim). This dust gets everywhere – on the walls, ceilings and lights – and needs to be removed between batches of chicks.
So, in amongst the end-of-shooting-season gamekeeping, the pest control, the deer cull and the development of our partridge laying field, I am also involved in the internal renovations of the barn. It has made me rethink my rat control programme as I have seen such huge numbers as we have been gutting the barn. Although we use poisons in and around the buildings, it isn’t always the first priority and the numbers have really increased. We all know the destruction that rats can do to hedgerow birds and to property. I had one which cost me £200 after it decided the wires in my car engine were tasty. They are also a biosecurity hazard, as somehow I don’t think they will dip their paws in FAM 30 as they move between the rearing barn and the field! So as you can see, there won’t be much jet setting off for winter sun going on in February for this keeper!
There’s always plenty to do on the game farm
It is important to maintain good biosecurity on the game farm, such as dipping boots into FAM 30 whenever we go inside.
The game farm is an added draw for foxes on Charlie’s shoot, so culling continues apace