Game Rearing in Orwell

An unlikely location for a Game Farm!

By Val Rees

Photo:The pens

The pens

In 1993 local gameshooter Dai Rees who had the shooting tenancy on the Wimpole estate, was looking to create bigger shoot days, so he decided to rear some additional pheasants in his garden at Cross Lane Close. This first of all involved a lot of carpentry! No.1 priority was to build an arc, a low shed fitted with electric heaters (known as electric ‘hens’), in which to house day old chicks. This was followed by an A-frame, a pen which would act as a sun parlous to give the birds their first experience of daylight. This pen would be attached to the arc and linked by a hatch. Finally outside of that was a third pen, a large grass run open to the elements but covered with mesh to protect from predators, and again linked with a hatch to the A-frame.

Photo:Pheasant chicks

Pheasant chicks

With game rearing, the day-old chicks are first released into the arc to remain under the electric hens until they are about 3 weeks old. The shed must be kept scrupulously clean, with fresh water and pelleted food readily available. At 3 weeks the first hatch is open and the rapidly growing chicks are allowed to run around in the A-frame and have more room while still being protected from the elements. A week or so later, the hatch linking the A-frame to the open pen is lifted, and the young birds finally get their first taste of the great outdoors to acclimatise them to the open air and stimulate feather growth. By now they’re ready to fly and stretch their wings and are also insatiably hungry, only now they have been weaned off the pellets and fed with grain, but they love nettles and the insects that live on the nettles! The nettles improve their diet and prevents boredom and feather pecking. At 8 weeks old they’re then big enough to be transported and released onto the estate.

So between April and September 1993, 3 batches of 500 pheasants were duly collected from a game farm as day old chicks. It was hard work for both Dai and his wife Val, keeping a constant eye on their young charges, replenishing food and water, and paying great heed to hygiene. But there were many funny moments, most notably when the arc lid was lifted one day for cleaning and a few birds found they could fly and ‘escaped’. This involved Dai running round the garden with a fishing net trying to catch them! After that the net was always on hand during cleaning! On another occasion a bird landed on next doors garage roof, took a breather, then headed back to the safety of the pen, narrowly missing Val’s extremely excited spaniel, Zach! But the hardest work was when the birds were in the final open pen when, on her lunchbreak from work, Val could be seen daily whizzing round the village with a wheelbarrow, gathering as many nettles as possible! Branches were also gathered regularly and put into the open pen so the birds could learn to fly up onto them and perch.

Photo:Zach pheasant-watching

Zach pheasant-watching

Zach enjoyed this bit best - he found it quite amusing to run round the pen headbutting the branches so the birds fell off! After each batch of birds had been collected for release on the estate, the arc had to be scrubbed meticulously before the arrival of the next batch the following day. On one occasion, Dai and Val returned from releasing a batch at Wimpole to begin this cleaning process – only to discover one lone bird in the arc!! No amount of head-scratching could explain how it had got missed, until a note was found the next morning from a neighbour! Apparently the bird was an ‘escapee’ that they’d found in their garden!

But the birds thrived surprisingly well and the whole project was not only very successful but became a local curiosity. Neighbours, far from being outraged, were really interested in the whole process and began bringing friends and family round to view the ‘Game Farm’ and learn more about game rearing. So was this the beginning of a new career for Dai and Val? I think the expression was ‘been there done that’!!

This page was added by Val Rees on 23/02/2015.

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