The Joy of Broodies

The first brood is up on the Chayne
The first brood is up on the Chayne

What an all-consuming process this partridge rearing has become. I must apologise to my grousey readers, since this blog has become a chronicle of partridge rearing during the past few weeks, but while it seems to be a diversion, there are always grouse at the heart of this project. And even if there weren’t, trying to re-establish a native population of grey partridges into the Galloway uplands is a mission worth recording in itself.

A month to the day since they were hatched, the first batch of partridge chicks has been put into position on the Chayne. I set thirteen eggs beneath a silkie x sussex bantam and she hatched twelve. One died the following day, two were trampled and another one got stuck under a drinker after a week. This has left eight birds, all of whom have done fantastically well – One slight exception is a bird which took a funny turn during week two and started to gape and yawn as if it had something stuck in its throat. Given that it was too early for it to have gape worms, I left it and in due course it came back round to good health. The only way I can tell it apart from its fellows is that it didn’t grow at all during its brief illness, and it is now the only bird in the brood without feathers on its head – it still has a red and gold downy cap. Aside from the obvious error of working with such small groups of birds (I have one rather impractical brood of just three…), the experience has been a great primer, and seeing my own “home-bred” eggs into viable poults has been extremely enjoyable.

I moved the entire brood up together with their mother and placed them in an A-frame next to where the game crop is going in. I was too late to organise a contractor to come and disc the ground before the silage cutting started, so I’ve had to make my own arrangements. We went to collect a rusty rotavator this morning, and once the smiths have taken a look at the three point linkage on my father’s tractor, work should get started pretty quickly. I don’t know exactly what will be planted this year, but I have a sack of stubble turnip seeds on my desk which will fit the bill if nothing else. As this crop grows, and at a few strategic points elsewhere on the farm, partridges will be trickled out onto the hill.

Interesting to see in the new hedge nearby where some remnants of last year’s gamecrop still remains that ox-eye daisies have made a sudden appearance, along with “essex red clover”, which looks like a cross between normal clover and a pea. It has grown almost two feet tall and promises to produce some fantastic flowers, provided it doesn’t mind being overshaded by the monstrous, over-bearing ranks of rugosa rose which have come on fantastically since I planted them in the long distant days of February.

Although I’m a total convert to working with broody hens, there are some downsides. The hen up on the hill is quite my favourite bird, and it causes me some concern that she could be gathered up by some lousy fox with hardly a moment’s notice. You can’t help getting a little attached to the hens, particularly since they are all so different and have their own distinct mannerisms which are then passed on to the chicks. I’m obviousy fretful on behalf of the partridges alone, but putting at risk a hen that I have been working with every day for almost eight weeks really makes me a little uncomfortable. I suppose she is “at risk” every night of her life, particularly since a badger set seems to have recently appeared on the hill behind the hen house.

A small electric fence around the pen gives me some cause to relax, but as soon as the game crop goes in and sheep are taken out of the field, there will hardly be room to walk without standing on a snare. Combined with frequent trips out with the lamp and rifle, I hope to be able to keep the danger pinned down for the next couple of weeks until she is not needed any more and can be brought back home again. The other hens will start going up with their broods next week, and while I would disappointed if anything happened to them, I am guilty of the most appalling favouritism.

In the meantime, I’m waiting for a warm, still evening to open the pop-hole and let these poults out for their first taste of freedom. Provided that the hen calls them back in again to roost, they will be able to use the pen as a base to explore the rest of the field. This method of “hefting” partridges to a particular area is certainly rather old-fashioned, but it certainly makes for a fascinating and rewarding project.

In the meantime, I gathered up my 191st partridge egg of 2013 this morning, with no obvious sign that my laying pairs have any intention of stopping. The only pair which has stopped should be hatching out eggs even as I type this, so more details will be posted when they become available.

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