With the season in full swing, and no hint of the disruption and struggles that so badly hindered last season, we have the luxury this year of worrying about what we should be – running a successful shoot, preventing birds from wandering and increasing our returns.
We’ve all suffered from the inquisitive nature of our feathered friends – who enjoy stretching their legs around the farm or estate, eventually ending up away from the drives or allowing your next-door neighbour to have a bumper season!
And, although many conditions that generally cause wandering are out of our control – weather and exposure come to mind – there are causes that we can influence. These include things like overstocked pens, not enough hoppers or drinkers, using below par holding mixes, the wrong game cover in the wrong place.
If we can be successful in holding our birds and increasing our returns, not only does this keep the guns happy and returning – if somebody pays for a 100-bird day, they expect something close to a 100-bird day – it makes for a happy boss and a successful season in general.
What are you Feeding?
If game birds aren’t receiving enough of the right kind of sustenance, they won’t hang around – this is one of the most common causes of birds wandering.
Both pheasants and partridges have a good, instinctive knowledge of where they can find wild food sources, they also appreciate a varied diet. Therefore, if game birds can’t find enough food, or are fed just substandard wheat, it is more than likely they will go looking for something else.
This is where a holding mix with a good variation of quality ingredients can pay dividends. For example, the Keepers Choice Hold ‘Em Hard Mix + Aniseed contains kibbled maize, white dari, red millet, split peas and several other seeds and raw materials – as well as aniseed. We don’t include wheat, as that is normally found on the shoot already!
Game birds (and most farmland birds for that matter) find aniseed extremely attractive due to both its scent and the colour, making it a key part of any successful holding mix. Our holding mix can be fed sparingly on its own, or mixed 2, 3 or 4 parts wheat to mix – and should be fed on rides or at leak points around a shoot.
The regularity of feeding is also something that needs to be considered. Feeding little and often not only keeps feed fresher and hoppers cleaner, it also allows regular monitoring of stock, conditions and disease. And, if birds are wandering, it is discovered before losing too many and something can be done about it.
Another option that will help is to feed a pelleted feed, as well as a holding mix. If this is the case, its vital that the pelleted feed is fed from the time the birds are released. It’s not advised to stop feeding a pellet and then reintroducing it as continuity is an important factor for game birds.
We have recently merged two products – Our maintenance ration and our covert + spice ration – creating one single pelleted. Our 15% Maintenance/Spice Pellets + Spice are a good source of protein, minerals and micro-nutrients that can be fed through the winter and during periods of holding.
Hoppers and Drinkers
Having enough well stocked hoppers and drinkers is a sure way to prevent your birds from wandering. If there is no food or water source – or if those that are there are overcrowded and overly busy – birds will go and look for what they need elsewhere.
It is also advised to move hoppers around. Hoppers can become very messy, resulting in feed wasted. By moving hoppers and keeping them clean, the chances of the locations harbouring disease is also diminished.
Something else which is often overlooked is water quality. Game birds – like any living creature – need clean, hygienic water to remain healthy. Therefore, it defeats the purpose if there is regular water supplied that isn’t palatable to the birds. Check here for a list of what to look out for.
Although everybody has their cover in and (hopefully) established by this time of year, it is a good time to assess crops for the following year. Are there particular areas of your shoot that is leaking lots of birds? If so, this is a good point to think about planting some cover if there is currently none there.
Another thing to consider for the following season is the possibility of looking at seed bearing crops. These will act as cover during the season, whilst also helping with the hungry gap – making them beneficial to game birds and farmland birds alike.
Increase Your Returns
On the surface, lots of keepers think that holding mixes come across on the expensive side – however a simple sum proves that holding mixes often pay for themselves, and more.
If a shoot can increase returns by just 5% – let’s say five extra birds shot per 100 released – and we take the 2021 average of £40 per bird, that is an additional £200 per 100 birds released. So, via the use of holding mixes, and other aspects which has been mentioned previously, it is entirely possible to stop your birds wandering, and increase your returns.