Keeping detailed records might be boring, but it can ￼￼help with the long-term management of your shoot
For gamekeepers, record keeping is so much more than five columns in a gamebook. Records, which can be as complicated or uncomplicated as you like, are key to the long-term management of a shoot. If you struggle to remember what happened last week, last month or even last year, then there is little chance of being able accurately to remember details about a particular crop, release pen or drive.
Diarising the important details in a book or on a laptop will give you all the information you need — provided, of course, that you put it there in the first place. A gamebook can help you work out your returns, but if you want to go further and find out the reasons why they might be up or down a bit, you need to look further than the columns listing the dead.
If you keep your own laying stock, significant dates such as the first egg and the date of the first set need to be noted. Egg charts are also a good indicator of the health of the flock as a whole, especially when compared with previous years. If your eggs are late or the birds don’t come up to what you expect to be peak production soon enough, there may be an underlying health problem. Birds will only be in lay for a certain number of weeks and only lay 40 or so eggs, so it is important to record what’s happening on a daily basis. Late or fewer eggs will mean fewer chicks and later poults, both of which will affect the following season.
Good and bad
Keeping records of the negatives is just as important as recording the positives. Deaths are inevitable but they do need to be written down. It is too unreliable to rely on your memory to recall dates and the number of dead per pen or hut accurately — it’s far easier to write them down. Writing losses down also makes it easier to notice upward trends and enables you to give accurate information to your vet. If a certain pen has more losses than the others several years in a row, you may want to move it, extend it or release fewer birds in it to help reduce the pressure on the ground. That’s because there is often a link between overstocking and disease. Fewer dead poults mean more birds over the Guns the following winter.
Jotting down release dates is another useful exercise. It is easy to forget when last season’s birds went to wood. If they weren’t quite ready when you started shooting you can have a look at your diary and order them a week or so earlier.
I keep a record of the number I put in each pen. The direction the birds take when they are released isn’t always as straightforward as it might seem. Noting the number in each pen and keeping a rough count of what comes out of the nearest drives on shoot days will allow you to increase numbers where needed and put fewer out to fill up the drives that attract birds from other areas of your shoot.
Vermin records are particularly interesting, especially when they cover five to 10 years or more. Trends, whether upward or downwards, will indicate if there is an overall effect on the population or just a drop in numbers at critical times such as nesting. Our crow numbers have been fairly steady for the past 20 years, there are fewer magpies, and mink have almost disappeared. I’d like to think it is a result of our efforts and not down to something else. While most of us can remember a lot of what we caught and get a feel for what is left on the ground, it is nice to have it in black and white and for us to see the connection between a successful vermin campaign and the number of wild broods reaching maturity.
Changes in crops
Records are essential if you want decent gamecrops. Writing the acreages down will ensure you order the correct amounts of seed, fertiliser and spray. Noting the weeds will help with the identification of any mystery plants, which appear in your crops in later years.
Acid soils need liming every four to five years; testing the pH and noting down the results and needs of each individual plot will ensure you have better crops and that the contractor spreads the correct amount of lime. It will also save you money because you will only need to spread it where it is needed.
Farm crops and planting and harvest times can have a huge effect on a shoot. We try to time our partridge release around the harvesting of crops as well as the planting of the following ones, which can sometimes be even more disruptive than the harvesting itself. Making notes of the expected harvest dates and having an idea of what the follow-on crop will be, will help you plan the release dates or, at the very least, the order in which you fill your pens.
Feed consumption is a useful guide to knowing how many birds are in a drive or holding in a pen. Making notes of the days the hoppers are filled or how much feed you use either daily or weekly will help you notice if there is something wrong with the birds, as a loss of appetite is often the first sign that something is wrong. If the amount of food they are getting through when they are in the drives drops sharply, and it is not because they are on stubble fields or eating acorns, you need to find the reason why. Without some sort of record or an entry in a diary, remembering when the feeders were filled or which drive has had what isn’t easy. Keeping a record of food usage also helps with the planning of the following year’s budget.
Keep an eye on the weather
There is little you can do about the weather. If it’s wet, eggs drop, chicks suffer and poults need to be watched carefully. On shoot days, however, the effects of a strong wind, heavy snow or overnight rain can be allowed for, but only if you can remember how the birds behaved or what they did.
If we have a strong south-westerly wind (our prevailing wind) on our shoot, I know a couple of the drives on the one beat will be lighter than they should be. Conversely, an east wind on the same beat will empty the fields and hedges of birds and fill up the drives better than any beater. If there is a really strong wind, we place the Guns differently or take a Gun off the end of the line and place them as a back Gun in a “hot spot” instead. Knowing how the wind effects the birds and drives makes the planning of a day a lot easier and goes a long way to helping you avoid duff or blank drives.
Watch out for crime
It’s important to record any thefts or poaching incidents. Recording the numbers of suspicious vehicles and noting down the times and dates of incidents is useful when you are trying to see if there is a pattern to any suspicious activities.
A friend of mine noted down the dates of all the farm thefts and poaching incidents on his estate and found they were happening in clusters at around the same time as the local races. He passed this on to the police who upped their patrols either side of the next race meeting and as a result made four arrests.
What to record
First egg, first set, hatch dates and percentages should all be recorded. This is important if you want to compare strains of pheasant, makes of food or penning arrangements.
Deaths need to be recorded daily, not weekly, in laying and release pens. You should note both the day and the shed on the rearing field. All things die, but it is easier to notice an upward or continuing trend if you keep accurate records.
This is the only way to see what dates works for you and your shoot. It is a lot easier if you can refer to a diary when reordering.
Numbers per release pen
This is useful for working out returns, which pens work best and which ones need more (or fewer) birds to fill drives.
These can be useful in identifying trends over five, 10 or more years.
Record planting dates, varieties spray and fertiliser applications, so that you can compare year on year and help prepare for weed problems.
Record how a particular crop improved or worsened a drive or beat; this will help you plan in advance
Note prices and tonnage used to help you plan the following years’ budget
Recording shoot day weather and how it affected a particular day will help you plan the order and direction of the drives
Poaching and farm thefts often follow a pattern. Keeping a record of incidents can help prevent both.