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on the ESTATE.

Byline: WITH DAVE POOLER

I EXPECT our silage making will have begun by the time you read this. As a rule, we do three forage cuts at Rhug. The first couple are of grass, the third and last being mainly cereal-based.

This year, however, as in 2013, there will be very few barn owls floating above the aftermath in the evenings, hunting for mice and voles.

Rhug once had one of the largest populations of barn owls in Wales. The birds were abundant thanks to our mix of wildlife-friendly farming and a plentiful supply of small mammals in my game patches.

But the freezing cold spring of 2013, which drastically reduced the availability of prey, hit our owls hard. Numbers plummeted.

It was reported recently that last year there were fewer barn owls in the UK than at any time since records began.

That may well be true if our experience at Rhug is anything to go by. I do miss them and we are working to get them back: Barn owls are now a priority conservation species for the estate.

? IT WAS all hands to the pumps recently when we took delivery of our first consignment of day-old pheasants.

Until six years ago we produced our own eggs at Rhug, and I really enjoyed the process.

But I simply couldn't compete with the game farms' economies of scale. Sadly, it made better financial sense to buy in chicks.

No matter how prepared we are, when the chicks arrive there's always scope for a lastminute hitch. This time it was an unexpected airlock in the drinker pipelines.

It caused me a few sweaty moments, I can tell you!

Game farms often deliver at "sparrow fart" - dawn. Even so, some game managers hurry to get the chicks out of their boxes and into the sheds. But it's risky in the chill early morning air.

To me, the key to getting them off to a good start is to let them acclimatise in their boxes for a few hours before lifting the lid.

A sudden temperature drop between van and shed can result in big losses. Go by your ears: contended cheeping equates to happy chicks.... ? THANKS to all who helped raise around PS2,000 for good causes at the recent Gamekeepers' Welfare Trust clay shoot at the Myddelton Estate, Chirk Castle.

The next fundraiser, a simulated game challenge for teams of four, is at the Bob Valentine Shooting School, Llanbedrog on June 14.

Details: 01758 740810. Dave Pooler is headkeeper at Rhug Estate Shoot, Corwen, and North Wales chair of the National Gamekeepers' Organisation.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Date:May 29, 2014
Words:433
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