Monday, 17 August 2009


I've been looking after my pen of pheasants - I have 4,750 young charges to feed and water and ensure their general health & well-being, at least for another week until the real keeper comes back from his paternity leave.

I admit I've lost a few to buzzards and bad weather. Hard rain for too long can cause some of the less sturdy birds to just give up and die. I know of 7 at least that won't be flying over the guns this season.

Even with this many pheasants - this is only one pen, there are 10 or so other pens on the estate, some with more birds, some with less birds -this is not poultry fancying; this is farming on a pretty large scale. Birds are hatched, grown, flown, and harvested every year. And the whole process starts all over again come February.

But that doesn't mean you don't care about every bird. It may seem contradictory to consider a single individual' needs in the scheme of thousands but you do. Take Ted for example.

I go around with Mike every night checking that the electric fences are working and the birds are going to roost. In one pen, there's been a cock pheasant with curled under toes, probably from his position in the shell when hatching. I think he's found it harder than most to get around walking on his knuckles and after a few days of warm dry weather, Ted was dehydrated and going downhill rapidly. He's been sat by the gate into the pen for 2 nights. So last night I took him home with me, and syringed some water into him and put him in an empty chicken house with some high energy food and water. It didn't look hopeful but this morning he was much brighter. I check on him regularly and refill his water which he tips over trying to move about. But at least he's moving about now.

If Ted makes it a few more days and looks strong enough, I will see if I can splint at least one foot straight to give him better movement. If it works, he can go back in the pen ready to fly with the rest of them on a shoot day.

I know I'm saving him to be shot at, which sounds absurd. But we nurture all the pheasants - by feeding them, giving them medication if they're sick, building shelters to protect them from predators. Some birds just need a bit more input than others. After a shoot season, only an average of 30-40% of the birds are shot, i.e. harvested. The other 60-70% go on to live and breed. If Ted is strong and makes it through the harvest then he can pass his genes on. I'm just giving him an extra chance.

About the naming - Ted is not a 'pet' name, it's for convenience. We may have any number of wild birds at home getting a bit of extra support. By giving them each a name, it's easier when Mike and I are talking about treatments, etc. If I say 'Can you check Ted's water at lunch?' Mike knows which bird I mean and it's easier to remember the treatment history of a particular animal by association. Plus, this little guy just looks like a 'Ted' - hey, I never said I didn't feel an affection for them! If I didn't like the birds, I wouldn't enjoy the work and I wouldn't be good stockman. Or temporary stockman. I've still got a lot to learn.

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