Last Tuesday was our last hatch of the season. The incubators and hatchers are all scrubbed down and closed up for the season. I will turn the hatching room back into the butchery over the coming months, ready for shooting season.
Mike, with a lot of help from beaters and staff, managed to get almost half of our birds to wood. Beaters - like Andy here - catch pheasant poults in the sheds, crate the poults and stack the crates on a buggy, ready for their short trip to the woods -
The crates are stacked 4 high so each trip carries 8 crates. We run two buggies in tandem, so we're always loading or unloading and can keep the process moving. I'm following Mike -
We pass our neighbour's herd of Hereford suckler cows, i.e. calves that are born and stay with their mothers in a small herd, out on pasture, free to suckle and graze and enjoy the views. The cattle look so well, healthy and content. I can see his hay field behind is cut and on the ground, soon to be baled.
Hey it's not just the cows that want to enjoy the views. I love admiring good stockmanship.
When we get to the woodland pen, I check and make sure feed and water stations are full and working-
Then I can open the crate doors and let the pheasants out -
They come out in their own time. The brave ones take flight, but the cautious ones stand on the edge of the buggy and check out their surroundings first. I stand back and watch. Way back, as the pheasants inevitably poo when they fly so it's best to be out of target range.
When my crates are empty, I drive back to the sheds to swap my empty crates for full ones and the process repeats until the woodland pen is full or the sheds are empty. I have to keep a tally of how many crates (15 birds to a crate) that I release. I have a perfectly good phone that has apps I could use to keep track but no, I do this -
It's only slightly better than Mike's system of scratching marks in the mud inside his buggy -
Honestly, you think we would embrace the modern conveniences in our pockets.
The birds are embracing their new outdoor lifestyle and settled in well, finding food and a place to perch up high from predators. We surround the wood with 8ft wire and a strand of electric wire at ground level, just to help protect them while they adapt to living outside. Both will be lifted in due time.
Now we have to bring food to the woods to feed the pheasants. About this much a week -
Speaking of animal feed, I've made my own hay this year. This is only because I rented a field and didn't graze it soon enough. The grass got so long, making hay was the only option.
I hired a contractor to cut and ted (spin the hay to dry it out) my grass. His tedder broke down and rain was coming. I called my neighbour Margaret for help She's runs a feed store and knows everyone. Margaret sent her husband with his old tedder and a friend with even older baler to get me out of trouble -
You can see the rain clouds amassing behind us.
They left the bales on the field for me to pick up. I rushed out of bed early the next morning to bring them home and stack them. In total it took 4 trips with the trailer. Mike met me to help after I finished the first load. He even brought coffee - the whole pot, sloshing around the floor of the Land Rover, and a couple of mugs on the front seat with Molly. Typical Mike catering, but most welcome even with the dust and dog hair in it. .
Yes I am still in my pyjamas but I managed to beat the rain! Here's my haul: 125 bales of meadow hay which cost me 50p each for the baling, and a nice bottle of Malbec for Margaret's husband.
Last month during lambing I was paying up to £7 a bale!
I have put tarps over the stack and will leave it for a month or so. Hay can heat up and even burst into flames when it's first baled (same concept as the heating up of your compost pile) so I will wait to store it in the barn until autumn.
So, to recap (because I love reminding myself it's all done...) ---
Our hatches are finished,
Half the birds are to wood,
The sheep are all sheared and the fleece sold,
Lambing is done (042 never produced, she was just fat!),
And the hay is in!
It's been a productive month.
On the down side, my vegetable garden is pathetic. The rabbits ate my runner bean plants and kale, so I will be eating rabbits instead of greens. The crows are still stealing my chicken eggs if I don't collect them quick enough. The window on the tractor is still waiting to be fixed, along with belts on the mower and an oil leak on the telehandler.
And finally, we did not buy the farmhouse and 11 acres. Sadly, we couldn't get the funding in place in time for the auction. But our pheasant vet and her husband bought it, so that's good news. There are plenty of good places out there and we will keep looking until we find ours.
There's no time to sit on our June accomplishments. Next on the list is the County Fair being held here at the estate, so I have a lot of tractor mowing to do to make everything tidy. My horse field is going to be used as the gun dog arena so I need to get that in shape next. And now that the butchery will be back on line, I can spend a few evenings in a high seat and bag myself a muntjac deer or two to save for beaters' lunches.
I might even have a day off.