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Budgeting for a shoot – advice on finding a sensible middle ground

Budgeting for a shoot can be a difficult business nowadays as ‘normal years’ are few and far between; finding a sensible middle ground is key

Allowing some flexibility in the feed budget will help ensure your pheasants remain fit and healthy

As I write this, it’s not even three weeks since the shooting season drew to a close but plans are already well under way for the next one. Gamekeeping is a job of many different seasons and we are currently in the middle of another one — budget season. 

I wouldn’t say this is a particular favourite of mine but it is a necessary evil. The problem is that not everything is straightforward in this game and there are an awful lot of variables to take into account. Sometimes you have to make your best educated guess. It is a pointless exercise formulating a budget that is unrealistic. While it might look great on paper, when it comes down to actually trying to achieve it, you are on the back foot before you start. 

Equally, if you put a budget together that is way over the top from a safety point of view, you will find when it is laid out on paper the figures just don’t stack up. The cost of most things is rising and not many costs seem to be falling, so when you’re working out what price birds need to be sold at (if you sell days) you have to make it the most realistic reflection of the true cost as you can. As I have already said, there are a lot of variables in this job and when you are forming a budget, you have to find the sensible middle ground.


Be flexible

Let’s say that 1,000 pheasants will require two tonnes of pellets in order to reach the stage that they can move on to wheat. It follows that 5,000 pheasants will require 10 tonnes of feed in a normal year — simple. But ‘normal years’ seem to be few and far between these days. What if, while in the release pen, the poults have a disease challenge? A bird that’s under stress really doesn’t want a change in diet when it’s poorly as this will compound the issues and create more problems. The same applies if the weather is poor and the birds are under stress: they need all the help they can to combat the conditions.

I’m not saying go way over the top in your estimated feed requirements but do allow yourself a little bit of flexibility in case there is an issue. Bear in mind that the longer you have the birds, the greater your investment is in them — is it worth jeopardising their health because you have underbudgeted? 

While driving up the side of a young plantation the other day, I thought, “Isn’t it strange that everything I look after is on the menu for something else?” We all know that most things with tooth and claw want to share in the partridges or the pheasants, but the young trees in the plantations are on the menu for the deer and the hares are quite partial to the newly planted hedges.

I’m sure the rabbits would be too, if there were any, and even the bloody voles are having a go. I suppose it’s all part of the rich tapestry that is the countryside; where there is prey there will invariably be predators in one shape or another.

The one species in the food chain that we are certainly lacking here is rabbits. There’s not much in the way of predators that won’t eat a rabbit, and the lack of them has caused a broken link in the food chain, which often gets replaced by another species that is not so resilient and suffers decline because of it. Rather than talking about reintroducing apex
predators, perhaps we should think about introducing something for the predators to eat. Just a thought.