Country Lives

Ian Woodcock, gamekeeper

I wake up hearing the birds at about 6.30. I pick up my terriers and look over the wall to where my chicks are growing. During the night anything could happen, and I don't settle until I've seen that everything's okay.

"Then I jump into my truck and go around my beat, checking traps for vermin. Sometimes my dogs catch a rabbit, which I feed to my ferrets.

"When I come back, it's time to take the broody bantams off their nests. Nowadays they use artificial heating to rear chicks, but I stick to tradition, with hens playing surrogate mother to the eggs I collect in the wild. I keep a record of when the eggs are put down and know exactly which day they'll hatch.

"At 9am I have breakfast and plan my day. On hatch days I transport the baby chicks out to runs in a field. I `bit' the pheasants with rings through their nostrils to stop them pecking each other to death. Every bird counts, and if they die I take it personally.

"When the pheasants are big enough they go into pens in the hedgerows. After three weeks they're free to leave, but they still fly back when I call them. Some of my neighbours aren't very cooperative, they grow sweetcorn the other side of the fence to tempt my pheasants.

"I visit the pens after lunch, then return to the rearing fields to move the coops on to fresh grass. Pheasants are remarkably stupid, and if we do it without trapping a leg we've done well.

"At 7pm I feed my dogs, then it's teatime, when I talk to my wife about the day. After tea, I put the chicks away for the night. Then I stand and listen for a bit. If one's crying, I know it's not under its mother and I have to start again.

"Once a week I go out rabbit-shooting, about 9pm. We shoot for an hour, then come in for a drink, then go out again with a lamp looking for foxes.

"I'm only half asleep at night, anxious about what might happen. It's like this seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. It's not a job, it's a way of life, but I wouldn't do it if I didn't enjoy it."

Ian Woodcock was talking to Tony Kelly

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