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Whether you are thinking of rearing your own game birds or starting your own game rearing business, this guide has been designed to highlight some of the major thought processes and physical requirements needed. There are several different ways in which to rear game birds, and the system you implement has to be right for you and the business you are planning to operate. This guide, therefore, will highlight the ‘need to knows’ rather than the ‘how to’s’.
See also: How to write a business plan
The game rearing timeline
Many people believe that rearing game is a short-term project filling only a couple of months each year, however, that is not the case. When you take into consideration the planning and preparation time needed as well as the actual time to rear the birds you are looking at the process taking at least six months of the year.
Getting orders – February to April
Before you even begin, you want to know the order demand you are working towards, there is no point in rearing birds speculatively as there is no guarantee you will sell any excess at the end of the season. Orders are likely to start coming in from February for the upcoming season and once you know your numbers you can get your chicks ordered.
Once you know how many birds you are going to be rearing you will have an idea of the space needed and the number of sheds required.
It’s best if you have available more space than needed in a single year. Rearing on the same land year-on-year can lead to repeat disease.
Also, think through the logistics of the field layout making it as easy as possible to manage the birds.
Chicks are usually delivered in batches from the hatchery as day-old chicks. At this age, they will need to go straight into heated rearing coops which provide shelter, food and water.
The birds are reared to the required age. Pheasants are generally reared to between six and seven weeks of age and partridge between twelve and sixteen weeks.
During the rearing phase on-farm, the birds are released into different stages of housing where the level of light they are exposed to increases, and heat reduces until they are eventually outside in netted runs.
The final stage before the big clear up is the distribution of birds to customers at which time they are ready to go to the wood or to release pens. It’s at this stage you are able to send the invoice.
Game rearing is a labour-intensive process. For 100,000 birds you could see at least three to four full-time staff needed, with additional bodies needed for busy periods. Once the chicks arrive its full-on days with checks carried out on the birds between one and three times a day depending on their age and the system, and the ongoing need to manage field logistics and carry out general maintenance. Birds love to escape.
A typical day:
6:00am – Shed windows opened
8:00am – Birds are fed and watered, health checks are carried out and any dead chicks are removed. Once the field is full feeding can take all morning
12:00pm – Second check of the day keeping an eye out for any problems
Afternoon – maintenance and logistics of setting up the field, this is a job that continues throughout the season and takes a large proportion of time
10:00pm – Final check of the day, heaters and water are checked. A failed heater or a lack of water in a young shed could mean you lose them all
Managing disease within flocks is an ongoing challenge that has to be kept on top of. Having an up to date flock health plan in place will help with managing disease outbreaks, as will attention to detail.
It’s also advised that you work with a specialist poultry vet who will be familiar in dealing with game birds, rather than a small animal vet at your local practice.
It’s not uncommon for game rearers to have routine veterinary visits allowing them to show clients PM reports confirming they are receiving healthy birds. This avoids the risk of any comeback once birds have been distributed.
There are also routine management practices required, such as bitting in pheasants which stops birds pecking each other, which need to be factored into bird management.
It’s worth noting that for someone setting up a game rearing business, all the capital investment will be required before you receive a penny from clients. Hence the importance of confirming orders before getting going.
From a cost point of view, you will need to budget for:
Please note this is not an exhaustive list
Depending on the season and the initial investment made, you could expect to make between nothing and 80p per bird profit. It would be rare to make no profit but the risk is always there. The potential to earn more comes from rearing a greater number of birds as some costs will remain static, but this has to be worked through and budgeted accordingly.
Game rearing is not defined as being ‘agricultural’ and so planning permission would be required for ‘change of use’ of the land to commercial use. However, most game rearing is done without planning permission. If you are also looking to build permanent structures on the site, these will also require planning permission.
It’s always best to seek professional help to ensure you are going about things the right way.