Game Cover Case Study

Clicker Gundog

“The effectiveness of our agronomy plan and our ability to adapt to the changing needs of the land and our business is key." 

        Chris Philips, owner

 

Clicker Gundog offers gundog training and game shooting access across 1,500 acres of estate land in Worcestershire. Owners, Helen and Chris Phillips, have revolutionised their approach to land and crop management in recent years, working alongside Kings technical advisor, Will Pratt, and Frontier agronomist, Beth Jones-Davies.

Chris Phillips

Chris Philips

A well-established sporting business that has provided comprehensive gundog training courses for the last decade, Clicker Gundog sees bookings taken most days of the year for canines and their handlers in various sporting estate scenarios. Course levels range from beginner to advanced, with Helen and Chris priding themselves on a holistic and immersive learning experience for all who attend. The business then leases the sporting rights across their 1,500-acre estate in Worcestershire, growing winter bird feed and game crops.

Effective and considered land management has been integral to the business' success, helping to build it from a single small field operation to one that expands across the estate with a dedicated training centre.

Crop management

Despite Helen’s success with the training side of the business, Chris’ experience with crop and land management has been littered with significantHelen Phillips challenges. After looking for specialist advice, he approached Kings Crops for support with improving the business’ game plots and gaining more agronomic expertise.

“Our diverse soil types, ranging from heavy clay to sandy ground, presented unique difficulties, particularly in sustaining game crops that could withstand training exercises,” says Chris.

“The struggles we’d had with poor crop establishment and widespread weed issues, particularly foxtail millet, fat hen and the start of thorn apple, were hindering our ability to provide the best possible training environment.”

The involvement of Kings and Frontier marked a significant turning point for Clicker Gundog, with Will and Beth bringing a new perspective.

After visiting Chris in the spring of 2023, Will and Beth identified a number of problems and it became apparent that the lack of agronomic strategy was adding to the challenges.

Will explains: “We’ve since developed a comprehensive agronomy plan, which is tailored to the specific needs of Chris’ soils and business.

“This plan focuses on effective soil management, appropriate herbicide use and a strategic selection of wild bird seed and game plot mixes, with the ultimate goal of enhancing the land’s productivity and sustainability.”  

Finding the right mix

Will notes that it wasn’t a one-size-fits-all approach; rather that it was important to consider the unique needs of the land and the business’ objectives before selecting the appropriate mix.

He continues: “The cropping plan now includes the right mix of wild bird seed and game mixes that can thrive in the varied soil conditions while supporting the needs of the training programmes.” He notes though the selection of specific game cover crop mixtures was a bit of a balancing act.

“The crops needed to be robust enough to withstand the frequent activity of training dogs, yet not so dense as to impede handler visibility,” he says.

“They also needed to provide adequate cover and sustenance for game and farmland birds.”

The chosen mixtures included a blend of chicory, brassicas and cereal-based crops, selected for their suitability to the different soil types and their ability to compete effectively with weed growth.

Will adds: “The process of finding the right crop is not a one-time effort but an ongoing journey of learning and adapting.

“Each season will bring new insights into how different crops have performed under varying weather conditions and gundog training scenarios.

“As a result, the fine-tuning of crop choices and management practices will be essential to meet the evolving needs of Helen and Chris’ business,” says Will. 

Beth noted that some of the weeds plaguing the land are very difficult to manage and will therefore need a plan for the next few years.

“A mixture of stubble management and herbicide plans to keep on top of the weed burden will be a key focus, as well as reviewing the rotation of the mixes. These are all key to consider when looking at successful game covers. 

Crop up close smal

Benefits

One of the most notable benefits has been the improved viability of the crops, with Will noting that the significant weed often meant that Chris faced problems with poor crop development and establishment. 

Following the new approach, however, in 2023 Chris found that the chosen mixtures - especially the brassica crops - were really delivering in terms of growth and resilience. These healthier have crops have since gone on to boost bird populations on the land.

“The dense crop coverage is ideal habitat for gamebirds and it’s also crucial for training dogs in realistic gundog scenarios,” explains Chris.

“This improvement has not only made the training sessions more effective but has also opened-up the opportunity for more diverse training exercises, catering to different skill levels and training needs.

“With better training conditions and more effective sessions, client satisfaction has increased, leading to more bookings and a stronger reputation in the gundog training community too.”

Thanks to the targeted herbicide plans resulting in a noticeable reduction in weeds, Will has found that the overall health and growth of the crops has vastly improved. “This reduces maintenance efforts and costs, as the business can now grow crops that will last two or more years,” he says.

“Adapting the land management practices to suit the diverse soil types we’re working with has been important in achieving consistent crop performance across various terrains.” 

Looking ahead

Today, Chris and Helen’s focus is to continue fine-tuning their approach by learning from the successes and challenges of 2023.

Chris adds: “The goal is to expand our business by increasing the number of shoot days and enhancing the quality of our game crops to retain more birds. The effectiveness of our agronomy plan and our ability to adapt to the changing needs of the land and our business is key.”

Will adds: “After a really positive change, the focus now is to better understand the limiting factors and any potential new challenges. We’ve seen huge improvements in our first year working with Chris, but there’s lots more for us to do. Now though, we have the right foundation.” 

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For help and advice on how to make specialist crops work for your farm business, get the latest version of the Kings catalogue. 

 

 

 

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