In part two of our interview with ArdMoor’s shooting expert and headkeeper at Holylee Estate, Graham White, we find out what his plans are for the pheasants and some of the problems that can occur. To read part one, click here.
How have you managed to keep vermin under control?
There have been stoats and weasels and I’ve also had problems with fox and owls coming into the pens. We find headless pheasants the next day if owls have been in the pen. Fox can also dig under the wire surrounding the pens which can be a problem. To deal with the vermin, there are small pens scattered around the hills where an occasional dead bird is used to lure in stoats & weasels. I’ve recently had problems with sparrow hawks however, to scare off any birds coming in, I have plastic bags hanging from the trees. In one plastic bag, I have hidden a radio which we sometimes play to keep prey away.
What is the progress with pheasants?
We have a lot of birds to deal with as you can imagine and a lot of what we do is determined by the weather. Anything kept in close proximity is more likely to catch disease than if you have space around you – that’s why so many people catch a cold on the train or plane. Thus, as soon as we can we start getting the birds out of their release pens.
We keep some of the gates open to let them out onto fresh ground; however we don’t want them going too far. This means moving the feeders towards the exits of the pens so that they do not get used to eating in the pen. We then move the feeders away from the pen and towards where we want the birds to fly from which also helps to prevent the birds eating off fouled ground which tends to happen if you leave a feeder in the same spot for too long. If there is a point where the birds are drifting too far then we just use the dogs to push them back to where we want them.
The aim is to get all the young birds off the ground and roosting high in the trees as soon as possible as that is where they are safe from predators, foxes etc.
Feeding and watering
We are checking pens every day, twice a day. I like having a blend between feeders and spin feeding where we spin feed from the back of a quad bike. This helps the birds to start fending for themselves a bit and it gets them away from the feeders where they can all crowd round each other. The two types of feeders are pans and springs – with the springs, the birds can peck and food falls out. This makes it a bit more interesting for them.
In some pens there are header water tanks but with one of the pens for example, there is 500m of pipe that catches a spring on the hill and it can shut itself off automatically. Drinkers are in a zig zag position down the hill in the pens, to relieve the pressure of the water. There are a couple of pens where the stream actually runs through them, which makes life a bit easier as it saves labour.