Students show off eggs-ellent skills at Hartpury’s hatchery

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Agriculture

Hartpury’s agriculture students have been on call 24 hours a day helping to rear the college’s new covey of partridges and pheasants.

The Level 3 Countryside Management Game students have been working round the clock alongside Hartpury’s gamekeeper, Josh Hamblin, to help raise the newborn chicks. The majority of the chicks are now between a day and a week old and have been hatched on-site at the college with the help of the students.

“We’ve been on hand to help with cleaning out, feeding, giving the chicks new bedding, disinfecting the water – all the standard checks really,” said Alex Phillips, 16.

“The partridges are around a week old now and we’ve only just got the pheasants, so they are literally a day old! We’ve also got some more coming soon. They have to be checked every three hours and we change their feed morning and night. It’s really important to keep an eye on them at this stage.”

Students began collecting eggs in April and will continue through into May. Over this period, each bird will produce more than 50 eggs. The students collect the eggs from the fields and wash and grade them according to size, colour and shell quality. Once washed, the eggs are given a secondary wash and rechecked again for cracks.

Eggs are then incubated for 21 days before being transferred into a hatching unit for a further three days. Once hatched, the pheasant chicks are put into brooder houses under gas heaters. They will usually be allowed out of the brooder houses on to grass at two and a half weeks old.

Once they are six weeks old, they are moved out into the woods into specially built release pens. These pens protect the young birds from predators while they acclimatise to life in the wild.

Fintan Holder, 16, said: “We’re directly involved with the rearing period, which is really helpful as you get to learn a lot about the process.

“It’s the first time I’ve done it and it’s hard work but it’s all worth it for the experience. I’m learning a lot from the gamekeeper, he’s teaching me about how everything works as well as what the best methods and practices are to make sure we get the most out of this.”

Within three to four weeks, the birds will begin to leave their release pens and spread out over the surrounding land, gaining more independence along the way. The period from August to late October is spent managing the birds over the estate.

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