Sunday, 13 June 2010

Layers, Shutters, and Cleavers

Now that we have all the pheasant eggs we need to produce this year's stock, we can let the laying hens (and their boyfriends) out of the pens. Half the birds are being crated and moved to the woods. There's an electric fence around the woods to protect them from the foxes, plus trees for roosting, and dense cover for laying a sneaky clutch of eggs. All the amenities a pheasant could need. We will continue to feed them in the woods so they stay put until shooting season.

Catching pheasants is hot, tiring work. There is no easy way to do it. You just need enough people to herd the pheasants into a corner -

and a couple of netters to scoop as many as possible -

The herders also catch a few each by hand before they scatter. Then we gather them into a corner and start the process again until all the birds are caught. Pip waits in the back of the truck if she's needed to retrieve any stragglers.

She has such a gentle mouth she returns them to hand unharmed. I don't know how people get things done without working dogs to help them.

We crate the birds and some of the helpers take them straight down to the woods -

It is not a job for anyone with a bird phobia as they explode upwards, flapping and kicking up dust. Feathers and toenails and spurs take their toll on us. We're all sporting straight-line cuts on our face and hands. One even managed to slit the inside of my bottom lip. There's blood on our clothes - a mixture of ours and theirs.
But we all make it through the experience.

Considering the opportunity for bacteria and other nasty organisms to get into our systems (hey, I just had a bird's dirty toenail cut the inside of my mouth!) I'm surprised how rarely we get ill. I think we have immunity to pretty much everything avian-related. But I still really look forward to washing the poop out of my hair at the end of this job.

The other half of the laying birds are being released straight onto the field. The pen doors are left open and the birds can come out at their leisure. We still put food in the pens to keep them around the field and any stragglers who go back to the pens at night instead of roosting in nearby trees are still protected by the electric fence around the pens. Eventually they will settle themselves into the adjoining woods, and we'll start putting their food in there.

On the other side of the field, the young stock is growing on well. Sixteen sheds are full and five more will be filled over the next fortnight. The bigger birds are out on grass in protected pens. They still seek out the warmth of the heaters inside their sheds at night.

Today we're fitting more nets on top of outdoor runs. This keeps the growing birds in and the buzzards and sparrowhawks out. I'm patching holes while Mike and Pete attach the nets to the runs with tiny hooks -

There's lots of natural cover in there to make the birds feel safe and provide some shade and wild food.

Our local town of Bridport is famous for net, rope, and twine making throughout history.  Rigging for famous war ships was made here. So were the ropes that made the nooses used to hang criminals in London (hanging was known as "being stabbed with the Bridport dagger"). The tennis nets for Wimbledon are still made here. So are all the nets we use in the gamekeeping industry.

Our dear friend Nicola has worked in Bridport making nets for at least 30 years. This time of year her books are filled by orders for gamekeepers. She and her two female colleagues "shut" (i.e. stitch together) the nets to order. I don't know if it was traditionally a female job but it seems that the good shutters now are all women.

Nets come in a big bale and Nicola cuts them and shuts them to order. They use special net-making needles and a series of movements and knots to make invisible joins. When the busy season for net-making is over, Nicola is going to teach me to shut nets so I can repair our own pheasant nets properly, instead of bodging the gaps with baling twine. During the shooting season when chores and daylight are less, I can do a bit of mending while I catch up on my TV watching.

At home, the cows have moved into the back field behind the house. My usual dog walking routes have to be altered this time of year, to take into account where livestock is grazing. Sheep aren't a problem as they keep away from the dogs, but cattle can be confrontational. I make a mental note of where the overly inquisitive young steers are, and where the bulls are. One bull is in the field behind the house, which is our regular dog walking route so I'm giving him a wide berth for now.

That's him lying down just the other side of our fence. He's very placid, as beef bulls tend to be. But as a farmer once told me, you can never wholly trust the male of any species. Amen to that.

The dogs and I have been walking in the woods instead. The bluebells are over but the rhododendrons are flowering -

Unfortunately some of the pernicious weeds are also romping away. Stinging nettles are extra potent in this dry weather, and cleavers are trying to spread their seed. Apparently Podge is their chosen seed dispersal method -

And that's why they call them cleavers I guess. Picking seeds off of the dogs at least makes a chance from picking ticks off of them. Mike tells me a change is as good as a rest. I'm not convinced.


Paula said...

I like the new look!

So- what do you use for breeding stock for the next year? Some of the babies that you hatched the previous?

Jennifer Montero said...

Paula - The laying birds are let out now, and the babies hatched this year will be let out when they're about 10 weeks old.

All the birds old and young will take their chances over the guns in the shooting season. Some will be shot but many more will survive.

Next February we will catch around 3000 of the birds who made it through shooting season to lay next year's stock. We will catch some of the older hens as well as young hens - moms and daughters. We swap our male birds with other shoots to enlarge the gene pool and improve our stock.

In essence a pheasant is wild except for the first 10 weeks of its life. For those few used in breeding, add another 4 months in an outdoor laying pen. A pheasant's natural lifespan is around 3-4 years.

Poppy Cottage said...

Also like the new look blog!!

Poppy Cottage said...

Mmmm... poop in hair, good free conditioner? Hey might have new drum carder on it's way to me?????????

Fancy a carding session if and when it appears?
me xx

martha in mobile said...

Good Gracious! Your pup looks like the hunters I see buying ammo at Wal-Mart!

Jennifer Montero said...

Colette - I would love to try a drum carder! Particularly for the alpaca fleece. I'll bring the cake, you pick the date.

Jennifer Montero said...

Martha - Your comments always make me laugh out loud!

My husband is British and his one trip to Wal-Mart made him fall in love with our country. He couldn't believe that we can buy food, ammo, and clothing all in the same place. (He's also a big Dunkin Donuts convert)

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Jen -- Nice look! Very readable.

I had the damndest time figuring out the picture of Podge. It looked like his head was coming straight out of the earth -- I didn't realize there was a whole dog under all that vegetation.

Adriana Perez said...

I happened upon your blog as I was looking at pics of cleavers. Your pic of Podge covered in them brought a smile to my face. Cleavers are a useful herb to dry. They are very good for your health.