Writer, zoologist and gundog enthusiast, Pippa blogs on life in the countryside

Cockers, badgers, and Jordan Shelley

There is no connection between cockers, badgers, and Jordan Shelley I am afraid.  They just happen to all be in my head today!

The tenant farmer is spreading manure all over the fields today.  So I am about to lose a lot of my training space.   I was out very early this morning with the cockers,  tightening up quartering patterns on the stubble.  I shall really miss it!

We have also been doing a lot more stop whistle work and they dogs  are now a good deal sharper than they were a week ago. 

After training,  my youngster came into the ex-layers pen with me to sit amongst the birds whilst they feed.   Having access to game birds on a daily basis is a huge benefit when gundog training and feel very lucky to be able train under these conditions.

I notice that the furore over Jordan Shelley’s dog training performance on The One Show last week is gathering pace.   The Daily Mail has now joined in.   

You can catch up with the latest on my dog blog ‘Totally Dogs’  and on Beverley Cuddy’s blog ‘Cold Wet Nose’.   Beverley has all the press releases from various interested bodies,  such as the Kennel Club and the Dog’s Trust.    Fascinating stuff.

I am off to edit some badger action now.   We left the trail camera at the badger set last night and have some nice little video clips which I hope to show you in a day or two.



I need a plan!

So there I was stood in a field when I had one of those moments, you know,  when your mind goes blank.    Three gundogs sat in a row looked up at me expectantly and I looked back at them.

And I hadn’t a clue what I was meant to be doing.

I  had broken my own rule of always making a plan.  So, for today we just had a bit of walk and didn’t do very much at all in the way of training.

Himself does not believe in making a plan.   He believes that ‘plans’ interfere with living.  But I am  different.  Without a plan I am about as much use as an electric carving knife.

Without a plan,  I get all sorts of things done that don’t need doing,  and don’t do any of the things that need doing yesterday.   So planning for me is crucial.  Even, and especially, with dog training.

The season draws near

The shooting season starts (for us) next month and my dogs are sloppy and unfit.  So, I must confess, am I.    It is time to get them (and me) back into shape.  So this afternoon I shall be writing a plan.  I shall be listing each dog’s strengths and weak points.  Listing what I want to achieve before the season starts,  and then breaking these goals down into weekly targets. 

Next time we stand in the field,  ‘things’ will be different!

Himself on the other hand will not be listing anything.  Next time he stands in a field with his dogs,   things will be just the same as they ever were.   But that’s another story.

Mushrooms, labradors, and a last burst of summer

I have a healthy respect for funghi.   I am fairly sure that I could learn to identify all the edible species that lurk in our countryside as well as the next man,  but I am not about to bet my life on it.  Whilst mushrooms are delicious, I am quite happy with those lovely chestnutty ones that grace the shelves of Tescos.

Himself on the other hand,  being of adventurous spirit,  set off recently for a morning of mushroom foraging with two mushroom enthusiast friends.    Fortunately the guys did not return with their baskets laden so I was not obliged to decline my share.  I  don’t know whether or not it has been a bad year for mushrooms generally,  but  they only found a few edible specimens.

Despite a distinctly autumnal feel to the weather recently,  today has been extraordinary.  Scorching sunshine and blue skies.   One of the beanfields has now been cut and I took two labs out to do some retrieves on it this morning.  It was so hot (26° ) we only stayed out for ten minutes or so.

I was making use of Mr M as a dummy thrower before he goes off to college next week.   I am trying to bring gunfire gradually closer to a little lab bitch that is just getting over her gun nervousness, and today we brought the shots to within 50 yards of her before the heat drove us off the field.

I shall be doing a lot more retrieve work over the next few weeks, partly because it is a great way to get the dogs fit ready for the coming shooting season.

Pigeons and young gundogs

Pigeon shooting

Pigeon shooting is featuring quite a bit on our timetable at the moment.  The beanfields seem to be a particular target for the pigeons and we are now steadily stocking up the freezer with our favourite meat.

Once pigeon shooting is going well it is also a great opportunity to introduce young dogs to repeated gunfire.  Today,  whilst himself was enthroned in our number one hide,  I took  some young dogs for a walk about quarter of a mile away.  

This kind of distance is my starting point as I have a young lab that is on the point of being cured of gun nervousness,  and I don’t want to mess things up by subjecting her to a fusilade of shots at close quarters. 

Over the next few days I hope to gradually bring her closer to the guns.  More of that later

Pheasant drinkers

Pheasant drinkers rapidly become coated with algae,  and contaminated with other debris.   Cleaning them out uses up some of our precious stored water so where possible, we pick and choose our times according to the weather.

cleaning the pheasant drinkers Last night it rained for much of the night, and though the sun was out again by mid morning, more rain is forecast for tonight. Our water storage tanks are now in better shape, so today was a sensible choice for cleaning out the drinkers. Not one of our most fascinating routine tasks.

Like many young spaniels, Phoebe needs some more practice at sitting still, so she came along to watch in the ex-layers’ pen.    The older pheasants are getting used to the dogs now,  and whilst they keep a wary distance,  they are not upset by her presence.

Steadiness around the Ex Layers

Walking the pens is great practice for young gundogs.  We introduce our young dogs to game this way,  on a lead at first,  then simply at heel off-lead.  It gives you a chance to gauge their level of interest,  to assess how distracting they find the birds.   You can get them to sit if a bird takes off,  or gets a bit lively,  every now and then I just stop,  and wait,  and let the birds and the dog relax before walking quietly on.    The ex-layers pen is better for this,  as the little poults are still very nervous

We have one pen each year with ex-layers in.  As their name implies ‘ex-layers’ are breeding birds that were used to produce this year’s poults.  When they have finished laying their eggs,  they are sold to shoots.  

There are pros and cons to buying ex layers compared with poults.   They arrive earlier in the year,  so it means a longer commitment to their care and protection.   They are less vulnerable to the smaller flying predators,  sparrowhawks and tawny owls for the most part  leave them alone.  Buzzards can be a problem if they get a taste for pheasants,  and we have several pairs of buzzards living on the farm.    

Hanging plastic sacks all around the pens does not look pretty,  but it helps to dissuade the large predators from entering.

Once we have the dogs nice and steady to the birds outside the pens,  and the birds are used to them,  they are allowed into the pens  where they sit and wait whilst we refill hoppers,  clean out drinkers etc.    Eventually we can throw a few dummy retrieves quite close to the birds and the dogs learn to run out and pick up the dummies whilst ignoring the live birds.

This kind of practice is invaluable and if you have a young gundog,  it is well worth offering to help out your local shoot in exchange for being allowed to get your dog accustomed to being around the birds.   If you can make sure that they are calm around domestic poultry or rabbits first,  so much the better.  We keep chickens and rabbits at home in our garden so that the dogs grow up learning to ignore them.

An hour in the beanfield shooting pigeons

Pigeon HideWe managed to spend an hour in the beanfield pigeon hide at the weekend.  Himself was not on his finest form,  but nevertheless we took home half a dozen nice fat pigeons,  and gave little Meg a happy half hour collecting the birds from in amongst the beans.

I have seen some quite impressive pigeon hides.   Ours by comparison tend to be somewhat ramshackle.  Nor are we what you might call ‘serious’ about camouflage.

 As pigeon shooters go,  we are definitely not purists. 

Working cocker and wood pigeonHimself says that the day he has to dress up as a terrorist to go pigeon shooting is the day he takes up knitting.   So some dull coloured clothes and a hat is about as far as we go on the camouflage front.  

But it is a very pleasant way to pass an hour or so in the early evening sunshine,  and to provide the family with some lovely low-fat organic meat.