Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The End of the Season and The Start of the Outbreak

Shooting season is over for another winter. As is usual, I've lost a few dog leashes and broke another walking stick. I wore out the seat of my remaining pair of wool pants and had to borrow a pair of Mike's old breeks to see me through the last weeks. I managed to tear those on barbed wire.

My hands and face are also cut up from climbing over barbed wire fences, and from the industrial strength brambles that grow here, but they're healing fine. The rough cover wears bald patches around the dogs' eyebrows too. Quincy's are the worst this year. We share a tea tree salve from the doggie first aid kit to help the healing.

Other post-shoot season jobs include checking the dogs' condition. I run them through the sheep weighing scales, and give them appropriate doses of worming meds. They have been munching on all sorts of half-decayed animals they find in the woods, and even carp remains that the otters leave on the banks. So, worming is a must.

I bring home lots of shot pheasants to fill our freezer, and the dogs' bowls. Pheasants (and deer) are making nothing on the open market. The game dealer takes our shot birds away but, this year, only gave us a few dozen oven-ready birds for the clients each day in exchange. We try not to waste anything, even if I only cook up pheasants for dog food..

I was kindly invited to shoot as a client on another shoot this season. It was a fancy shoot with morning coffee in the grand estate house, being chauffeur-driven to each peg (where one stands to shoot), and fed canapes and champagne by liveried staff between drives. I'm a confirmed introvert, but did my best to be a good guest, to add to the good conversation and to put a few birds in the final bag. But there is a saying: You cannot drink the keeper's beer and the boss's port. It's hard to straddle the class system, to be a worker one day and a gun the next. My introverted self was relieved to return to the beer side of life, with my dogs for company.

I did shoot a bloody good hen on the last drive though, to the applause and hurrahs of the other gentlemen. A good shot is always a pleasure.

So, as workers, we were all glad to see the end of the season. It's not that we don't enjoy it, but continuous wet winter days and lack of sun makes us look forward to spring.

A few of the beaters in our break room, enjoying a sit down after a long day's work

There is a dark cloud hanging over this coming season before it even starts. An outbreak of Avian Flu has hit the UK. It's the H5N8 strain, harmless to humans but lethal to birds. Migrating waterfowl are passing it on to wild and farmed birds. A pheasant farm in the north of England lost 10,000 birds to the flu and will likely go bankrupt because of it. The carrier birds show no symptoms but an infected flock just drops down dead.

The first few weeks of February is normally our holiday time, the break between the end of one shoot season and the start of catching up our breeding stock for next year's season. At the moment, Mike is holding off on catching any stock. A pheasant in the woods is classed as a wild bird; a pheasant in a pen is classed as farmed. Catching birds inevitably causes them initial stress, the biggest factor in a bird getting sick. A late chick is better than no chick at all.

Our normally free-ranging chickens and turkeys now have to be penned in by law. They must be fed inside a shed so wild birds don't eat from the same feeder. Same with the birds' drinking water. We have a population of wild birds in our garden that feed from bird feeders. I have continued to feed them, to prevent them moving on and contracting the virus. But there's a zero tolerance policy on Canada geese that take up temporary residence on our ponds.

Our chickens, in their free-ranging days, helping themselves to goat feed. 
They always check to see if I've forgot to close the lid!

Biosecurity has been increased: no visitors to come in or out without using a virucide foot dip. And traceability: every visitor has to be logged in, and must write where they're going to next after leaving us. Even if we take all the right steps, any outbreak within a 5 km radius of us means all our stock will be automatically culled.

We attend the lectures and webinars given by our poultry vets, to keep up on regulations and information that changes on an almost daily basis. Most vets feel that the worst will be over in 6-8 weeks, when the migration cycle ends. I hope they're right.


Gardener Fisher said...

Your life is in the hands of officials and idiots. The initial idea might be correct but the regulations that emerge are often far from perfect. Good luck.

Paula said...

Oh yuck! Losing all your birds to a cull would be awful. I hope it doesn't come to that!

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry you're under such a terrible burden. Waiting and watching and hoping to be spared. Washington State had it's own version 2 or 3 years ago. One bird producer was shut down, birds culled and all pens burned. They have returned to business but it took an enormous toll. Be well yourselves and stay strong.


Janice Bendixen said...

Yikes! Life never is simple, is it? But I will pray for you and your sundry beings (Mike included). There was a photo posted online of a murder of crows that were found dead near Boston, MA. No word on the cause. Nature will do as She does and we must abide... . Thanks for the post-season update and congratulations on that fine shot!

Anonymous said...

Life is never easy is it? Will be hoping that fortune smiles on you in the coming weeks and you and your livelihood are spared. Best of luck to you all.