Written by 25 July 2018
The newly revamped Plumpton College gamekeeping department is going from strength to strength with the investment of new incubation facilities, rearing equipment, clay shooting developments and the shoot expansion, providing high quality student experience, knowledge and employment opportunities.
The gamekeeping students at Plumpton College run the commercial game shoot, taking on responsibility for the whole shoot once they enrol in September. The students are in charge of the eight different drives where they split up into groups running their own ‘beat’.
Each morning, the students complete ‘routines’ where they have to check their ‘beat’ to identify bird numbers, feed levels and follow code of practice guidelines checking any snares or traps used as part of the pest and predator control programme. This provides students with experience of running commercial shoots and developing their skills for future employment.
The Plumpton commercial shoot runs every Monday throughout the game shooting season with the students taking full control of the days, even deciding which drives to be used, rested or in fact blanked in, to benefit others. As part of the shoot management module undertaken at the College the students have to plan for the shooting season, organise and manage the shoot days not to mention hosting the days to ensure the paying guns are well looked after and enjoy their day.
Towards the end of the game season, the students set up catchers as part of their gamebird production module. The catchers are used to collect any pheasants left on the estate. This is undertaken to collect as many hen birds as possible, which are used for the following seasons laying stock and housed at a ratio of 1 cock : 7 hens.
As part of the gamebird production process the students design laying pens which are suited for the production of eggs. The pens include an ideal habitat, feed, water, shelter, grit and a suitable enrichment to encourage egg production.
With all the hens collected and the season finishing, the work continues. The game students are busy on the estate collecting up feeders and drinkers ready to wash and disinfect prior to next season. As part of the conservation programmes in place at the College a number of feeders are left out and topped up ensuring the wild birds are fed into the spring.
The next task for the students is to design and set up the rearing field. With the arrival of the new rearing sheds this year, it was very exciting to build and set everything up in preparation for the chicks to hatch. The students designed an excellent rearing field, taking into account weather conditions such as wind, but also looking further into access arrangements and the supply of mains water. With great teamwork, the game students managed to get the field set up in no time at all.
The next step the students complete is to maintain and repair the release pens in the woods ensuring they are ready for the release of gamebird the following season. This year the students designed our newest pen, which will come into effect for release this year.
Once the hens start to lay, normally around mid-May the students collect, wash and store the eggs prior to incubation. Once a sufficient number of eggs have been processed the students set them in the incubator for 21 days, followed by a transfer of eggs to the hatcher for a further three days. During this period, the game students are making final checks to the rearing field ensuring all jobs have been completed and the sheds are ready for the hatching of the chicks.
Once the chicks hatch and have been left to dry off in the hatcher, the students move them to the pre-heated rearing sheds. From this stage onwards, the students have to work together to rear the gamebirds successfully ready for release on the estate. With more chicks hatching from the hatchery facilities this process is repeated with students taking on more control and responsibility with more and more birds on the field. As part of the rearing process the students complete the bitting, feeding, night checks and the overall management of the field. Developing skills ready for the world of work.
Once the pheasants reach 7 ½ weeks of age, they are released into our release pens across the estate in preparation for the upcoming shooting season.
The game students do not just get involved with game shoot and rearing! As part of our newly invested equipment, Plumpton students also run and organise the simulated clay shoots where external clients can top-up their shooting skills throughout the summer and be tested to the max with clays being flushed off the top of our South Down hills. This experience enables the students to see how shoots can diversify and generate income outside of the shooting season.
As part of the student enrichment within the college, students from all courses are able to attend the clay shooting club, which is held on Wednesday afternoons at various stages throughout the year. The top shots from the game department were entered into competitions throughout the year and in the BASC College’s gamekeeping competition fought off all other gamekeeping College’s to be crowned champions for the first time! Not only did the A team win, but the B team came a close second.
For more information regarding the gamekeeping courses please contact the admissions department on +44(0)1273 892082.
Since the original 400-acre College farm was bought back in 1919, Plumpton College has certainly seen a lot of changes.