We stop collecting eggs from our pheasant hens this week – a welcome milestone in the keeper’s year as it frees up 2-3 hours every evening! There are still at least four more hatches to come out of the machines (one per week) but it means the hens can now be released from their pens, back to the freedom of the surrounding woods and fields. We still supplement their food with feeders dotted around the estate, which we top up as needed from our feed silos -
If you feed a lot of birds, these silos are a great system. Trucks pull up and “blow” food in by the ton, which we buy at much cheaper bulk rates.
Silo 1 has high protein pellet which we give to the pheasants while they are laying. Silo 2 has straight wheat, the pheasants’ staple diet. The birds prefer the pellet and protest the change to wheat by scratching the wheat out of the feeders and spreading it everywhere, looking for any hidden pellets. Sometimes birds will even chase the feed buggy. The guys make up funny bird voices: “’Scuse me, Mister? You got any more of those pellets in there?”
You have to amuse yourself when you work long hours alone in the woods.
This season’s pheasant chicks are growing well. One rearing field is already full, and we’ve been preparing a second rearing field next to the house. To prevent disease build-up, we move the rearing sheds to a fresh area of the field. This is done using a telescopic handler -
The sheds have rings attached to their frames at all four corners so a strap can be fed through and picked up by machine. The driver plops each shed in a line, one next to the other –
Then we add a plastic-covered shelter onto the front of the shed, like a little greenhouse for tender pheasant chicks so they can start to enjoy the outdoors and sun, without taking the full brunt of any drops in temperature or heavy rain showers.
The "used" half of the rearing field was ploughed last autumn, left open to winter weather, and reseeded in spring with a new ley of grass. This autumn, I’ll graze my ewes on the new ley to keep the grass down and flush them (ie give them a nutrient-rich diet) ready for the ram in November.
Our hatches have been good, but we’ve been watching the professionals all around the estate do a better job. The pair of swans nesting in the formal garden hatched a brood of 6 cygnets –
The swans look haughty and majestic gliding on the formal pond with the manor house as a backdrop. The more common Canada geese have been hatching broods on farm ponds.
Our rescued gosling and his (her?) 3 siblings are growing fast. Geese broods usually graze grass; our goslings were raised in a house with pheasant chicks on a high protein diet. By their second week, they were so big that the pheasant chicks were trying to nest under them.
Goslings are pretty easy to foster. Their main role in life seems to be converting food into poop, but they are chatty and companionable. I like them better than pheasants, but don’t tell Mike I said that.
The swallow family in my porch is thriving too. Every year they occupy the nest above my chest freezers. This year I got smart and put old feed sacks on top of the freezers to catch the droppings. I didn’t really get smart: I saw our neighbour do it and stole her sensible idea.
There is even a nest of blackbird chicks I check on every day. The mum nested on the fence line at waist-height by the entrance to our pheasant chick shed. She’s hatched 5 chicks that both mum and Mike are very protective over. Mike parks his truck well back when he checks his own brood of pheasants every morning, so he doesn't disturb the blackbird family.
Once the laying hens are released from their pens, they can hatch some wild broods of their very own.
n.b.- Dispatch from the Department of First World Problems
Our internet supplier has closed down, which means we no longer have access to good internet. In fact, for the foreseeable future, we have NO internet. Eventually we will have slow internet, from the only remaining provider, but we don't know when. Our cell phone service is sporadic too. For now, I check my emails in the grocery store cafe once a week, when I've finished my shopping . If I don't post comments right away, or answer them quickly, I just wanted you to know why.
Don't feel bad for me. It just means I can spend more time laying in my hammock with Tina the turkey and Dakota.