This year, we built a butchery to process and sell our game direct to consumers. I'm sharing this because I think it's important to remember that game birds are food, not targets. We wouldn't put a single pheasant on the ground if this was not true.
We spoke to the local planners and standards officers about setting up our own butchery. We have a hatching room which we use in the summer to hatch and sort chicks, but it was empty in the winter. Would that be suitable, with a bit of upgrading? Turns out it would, which dropped the set-up costs significantly as we didn't have to rent a premises or build something new.
We have a talented estate maintenance team - Stu and Andrej - and between them they clad the walls, put up the plastic curtain barrier, installed sinks, and painted the floor. Mike already had stainless steel tables, and sundries like knives and vacuum packers we acquired over the season, which is only 1 October through 1 February for us.
The food safe wall covering going on
The curtain to separate the butchery from our hatchers and the entrance
The finished room
The market for game is uncertain, made worse by the insecurity of Brexit. No one can predict what it will mean for exported meat. The estate owners here were not comfortable shooting birds if there was no steady market for the meat. The butchery was our answer, and it works well for shoots of our size. (Very large or very small shoots probably need different solutions.)
A week's worth of shot game, ready to fill our orders
Via word of mouth and return custom, we sold out, all season long. We sold to pubs, local butchers, direct to people who picked up their orders on site (which is extra nice - being able to open you premises for inspection). We even filled a last minute order for a film company making a movie, who were desperate for rabbits skinned and in the fur.
Feather and fur need to be kept separate until butchering, so I gave over one of my house fridges to the rabbit orders.
Meat that didn't make the grade, i.e. it was too bruised or perhaps had a tear from being retrieved, we minced up and sold as dog food. Raw feeding is popular, so legs and carcases were in demand too.
Our deer stalker has a separate butchery, and we passed business back and forth between us. He took our pheasants to Fortnum & Mason in London, a very prestigious food hall which also stocks his fallow venison. We sold his venison liver - it was our best seller.
I won't bore you too much with this project. We were glad that it turned out to be a profitable addition to the shooting business, and we plan to invest in it a bit more next year. There's a sausage maker and commercial grade mincer on our shopping list. In our first season, we managed to wear out two domestic vac packing machines before we bought a more commercial one, and it's holding up great.
I'm especially pleased that all the pheasant and partridge we supply were once an egg laid on a field near the house, hatched in the barn, raised and released within a few miles radius, shot and butchered in the barn, and sold direct. Few food miles, complete trace-ability, and a very affordable product: boneless pheasant breasts are 65p each, a brace of partridge crowns is £2, whole oven ready rabbits £1.50 each.
OK, how about some cute lamb photos now?
Ewes and lambs in the orchard
Friendly lamb no 5
Moose and her new ewe lamb, Squirrel
There are 9 lambs so far. Six ewes have lambed, two are still to give birth. My other horned ewe has started to make her birthing nest, and her sides have gone hollow so there should be another birth today. I have some of last year's lambs to trim up now, and I'll select out the biggest ram lambs to take to market on Monday. Fingers crossed the prices stay high another week!