Game on for another season of local meat

Pure Gym

Many people disagree, often fiercely, about the cultural and ethical merits of shooting in the 21st century.

Supporters point to the contribution the practice makes to conservation. The industry plays a vital role in the management of much of the British countryside, and shoot providers spend around £250m a year on conserving rural land.

Advocates also point to the financial contribution the sport makes, claiming it pours about £2bn a year into our economy.

Opponents attack it is as an outdated, unnecessary and unethical practice.

Whichever side of the fence you stand, as long as we remain a species that eats meat, there are worse ways for us to get our fix.

Game tends to be lower in fat, as the animals are more active than their domesticated cousins, and is a good source of lean protein. And, at well-run operations, it could be said that the animals enjoy a better quality of life than on some farms.

The UK’s shooting season runs from September 1 to February 1, and it is during these months that the game industry, naturally, thrives.

In Goudhurst, the sporting and commercial sides of the season come together in the Taywell farm shop, which supplies the game produced by the Glassenbury Shoot, one of the largest and leading shoots in the southeast.

Parts of the present day 5,000-acre Glassenbury estate have been a formal site for shooting since the late 19th century.

The Taywell farm shop, however, has only been up and running since last September.

“There was a feeling that the local community was missing out on all the game that’s available around here,” explained shop manager Becky Jarvis.

“The shoot lodge used to be down on the estate, but we moved up here last year to make it more accessible and, with the addition of the farm shop, it’s now easy for us to sell the game from the shoot directly to the public.”

And with interest in traceability, local produce and food miles having peaked in recent years, Becky says interest in their meat is soaring too.

“People come to us knowing that all the game we sell has been hatched, reared and processed within a 20-mile radius,” said Becky.

“Duck-hatching takes place in Goudhurst, and turkey and pheasant in Woodchurch. We rear the birds and release them on to the estate.

“We have a cold store down there and another up here, a plucking room with a plucking machine, and a processing room where the animals are gutted and prepared.

“Aside from the environmental advantages, it also helps keep our costs low, as we don’t have to buy anything in.

“Demand for game has almost doubled since this time last year. On average we send out anywhere from 800-1000 birds a week. We supply a lot of shops, pubs and farm shops.

“We have a strong client base and we’re adding to that all the time.

“People are hearing about us and coming off their own bat, which makes me very proud. If interest continues to grow, we might need a bigger shop!”

The shop’s success is the result of hard work and fuelled by the success of Glassenbury. There are usually four or five shoots every week on the estate, and people come from far and wide to take part.

“The shoot goes on and the shop stays open no matter what the weather,” said Becky. “When they’re both running at the same time, it’s a fantastic atmosphere in here.

And it can be quite amusing seeing everyone walking around in their tweed!

“We’ve had people coming over especially from Belgium, and others landing in helicopters. On our busiest day last year we had 84 people working on one shoot.”

This large party was made up of one boss, two head gamekeepers, six under-keepers, 60 beaters, ten ‘picker-uppers’, one chef, one waitress, one plucker, one processer, one shop assistant – and 35 dogs.

Becky says the one negative to arise from how busy the shooting side of the business can be is that shop customers are sometimes put off by the number of 4x4s and SUVs in the car park.

But it’s a problem she plans to solve by creating specific parking spaces for farm shop customers to use.

One change Becky has already made is the introduction of fruit and vegetables grown on site to supplement the array of game in the shop.

She says the idea is for customers to be able to buy all they need for dinner in one place, with everything on sale designed to complement the game.

Appropriate condiments, oils, sauces and stocks are among the latest new additions to the menu. The range of game itself typically consists of pheasant, venison, partridge, pigeon, rabbit and duck. Local pork, lamb and beef sausages are also available during the season, with the traditional appearance of turkeys over Christmas.

But the rest of the season belongs to something smaller.

“The most popular game this year is partridge,” said Becky. “It’s slightly surprising as they’re such cute little birds, but we’ve sold a lot of that.

“We’ve also been selling a lot of venison mince, which makes a fantastic bolognese or cottage pie.”

Thanks to the recent purchase of a meat smoker, you’ll soon be able to buy your venison smoked as well.

Becky hopes the variety this brings will help elevate the range and business further, though nothing can compete with the high the festival season brings.

“Business increases ten-fold over Christmas,” she said. It’s by far our busiest time of year.

“As well as our free-range turkeys and the usual range of meats, we also sell Christmas trees and veg boxes.

“We actually have a shoot this Christmas Eve, but last year the large table in the lodge was just covered with turkeys packed up and ready to go. Everyone was helping out and the atmosphere was wonderful.”

Shop window displays and television adverts will soon have you thinking Christmas is here. The truth is, however, there’s still two months to go.

The good news for game lovers is you don’t have to wait until then. Pheasant, partridge and pigeon are for a season, not just for Christmas.

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