What are the laws and insurances needed when it comes to selling wild food?

lamping rabbits

Game suppliers out lamping rabbits

(from the 2010 Shooting UK archives)

One recent evening. Phil Miles, who owns Godmersham Game Dealers, and local keeper and game supplier Daniel, had both kindly agreed to take me out lamping rabbits .

The night was dry and clear. Tonight, Phil would shoot, Daniel would drive and pick-up, and I would operate the lamp.

Phil was equipped with a .22 Brno with a 10-shot magazine for the rabbits and had also brought along his Sako .243 stalking rifle in case he had an opportunity to shoot a fox. We were out on a fair-sized partridge and pheasant shoot, so Daniel was keen to take any foxes that we saw.

An early success

Daniel drove us down the drive and switched his headlights off as we turned into the first stubble field. I swept the lamp from left to right and as I reached the 12 o’clock position, three pairs of eyes were hopping across the field towards the hedge. Phil got into position, using the roof of the vehicle as a rest, and took the first and the third as they paused briefly in the orange glow of the lamp before they could hop towards the cover of the hedge line. There were two rabbits in the bag in about the same number of minutes, and as I scanned the stubble with the lamp, there were plenty.

Swinging round to the left, another five rabbits froze briefly in the lamplight, allowing Phil to take two more, which we’d come back for in a second. We disturbed some partridges as we drove on again slowly in a U-shape to the top of the field, but there were several rabbits out on the stubble. Phil tapped on the roof and Daniel stopped to allow him to take another shot, resulting in another rabbit in the bag. As I scanned the lamp round we caught the glimpse of another three rabbits hopping into the covert to safety.

From field to chiller

Daniel controls the rabbits and foxes on his shoot as well as on several neighbouring farms. The rabbit population is such that he is often out lamping five nights a week and he shot nearly 4,000 rabbits last year. There is also a large hare population and we saw many of them in the hours that we were out with the lamp and rifle, including about eight or so in one field. The rabbits certainly favour different habitats, said Daniel. There are often a lot in one area and none in another. I tend to shoot the most after the drilling is finished, when the new shoots start coming up. All the rabbits come out of the woods then.

Though we were not aiming for a big commercial bag for Phil to take back to his chiller on the evening of my visit, we ended up with 20 rabbits and seven hares in the bag after several hours, using an orange filter on the lamp and Phil’s Brno .22.

Phil and Daniel separated the hares and rabbits and set to work paunching them, both wearing gloves for hygiene reasons and because the rabbits smell strongly. “It takes a while to get the smell out of your hands and rabbit is actually one of the few game species that I can’t dress out and eat the same day,” said Phil.

“They’ll hang for a few days in the chiller now and then we’ll process them for sale.”

It was after 2am by the time we got back to the farm, and we could hear the combines still at work in the distance. We’d had a successful evening and even though it involves long hours to keep on top of the rabbits in the area, it had been good fun, too. Phil also kindly gave me a hare to take home, which was a real added bonus.

The journey to the table

Phil Miles’s family-run gamedealer’s business is a member of Produced in Kent, which is dedicated to promoting local food and drink in the county.

“The interest in game has increased in the past three or so years and people are more concerned about food miles,” Phil said.

“They’ve suddenly realised that local produce is always available and that it’s seasonal. They seem to be relearning many of the old skills of eating seasonally and sustainably.

“We shoot some of the game ourselves and do a fair bit of the stalking, too. All our venison is wild, not because there’s anything wrong with farmed venison but because we have enough access to wild, renewable meat to keep us going.? The venison is provided by six or so stalkers and tends to be fallow in East Kent. Godmersham Game also has the Forestry Commission contract for venison.

 

There is still a perception among the public that game is difficult to cook, so Phil attends some of the local food festivals, country shows and game fairs to sell his game and to do some simple cookery demonstrations to help to dispel the myth.

“Throughout the season we sell packs of pheasant, partridge, pigeon and duck breasts, so there’s no preparation involved. We do diced breast meat, diced mixed game for casseroles and rabbits, whole or jointed, and we’ve also found half a rabbit to be a good seller. Minced venison is also becoming more popular.

 

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