Up and down the country, today and over the next few months, there will be electric meters (and game farmers) running on overdrive â€“ and the reason? The hatching and rearing of over 20 million pheasants throughout the UK.
It all began at the end of last shooting season. After the whistle was blown to signify the last drive on the last day, for many shoots the process of catching up birds began. Cock birds and hens were sent to their local game farmer where they could be transferred to the laying pens and/or fields. Eggs were laid, collected and graded for size, colour and shell quality.
Once the eggs were washed with a specialised egg disinfectant, they could be trayed up ready for their 24 day incubation period.
Which brings us back today â€“ hatching day for many! On hatch days, chicks are counted out, and reared in batches of anything between 500 – 1000 depending on pen sizes. Alternatively for keepers rearing their own birds, the day old chicks are boxed up and delivered to shoots up and down the country.
In the initial stages of the rearing process, it is vitally important that the temperature is just right â€“ if itâ€™s too cold, the chicks will pile on to one another (this is an artificial rearing process after all, and there is no broody hen for the chicks to take refuge under). Regular checks at 2 hour intervals ensure that the chicks stand the best chances of survival in these early stages.
To ensure that the birds remain in the best possible condition at between 2 and 3 weeks old, the birds are fitted with â€˜anti-feather pecking bitsâ€™ this stops them from pecking each other.
The rearing process will continue for approximately 7 – 9 weeks and in this period, the poults will be gradually acclimatised to the outside world and moved from the rearing sheds, to runs and eventually (assuming they are in good shape and have maintained a good body weight), they will be sent to shoots throughout the UK, where they become familiarised with life in the wild from the safety of release pens.
Clearly, the game production process is far more complex than the above overview, and the feeding, worming and overall health of the birds generates a huge amount of work for rearers and game keepers alike.
At William Powell and William Powell Sporting, weâ€™re uniquely placed in the sporting world. We have close ties with a company that manages many of the countryâ€™s premier sporting estates and as such some of the best game keepers in the country, so if youâ€™ve got any questions about the game production process, weâ€™d love to hear from you and weâ€™ll do our best to answer them.