Today’s best shoot providers draw from the best big business techniques to maximise capacity and optimise commercial potential, writes Robert Dangerfield. Take Bettws Hall in Montgomeryshire, for example. Here Gwyn Evans has balanced the equation of production in quantity and delivery of the highest quality. He’s achieved this through a combination of passion and innovation in the sector and constant scrutiny on yield.
The business model spins around game-breeding and shooting - consisting nine shooting estates in five counties, employing some 150 full-time employees. This business has also diversified into premium accommodation and hospitality. Showcased on the website are exciting shooting-related international spin-offs, and the regional dealership for all-terrain versatile vehicles.
The largest producer in the sector in Europe, Gwyn says: “We’ve set over eight million pheasant and partridge eggs this year. We sell birds at three stages retail as chicks, and then poults – and finally as game on Bettws’ own shoots.” This is a self-regulating production cycle. “We sell as many as possible as chicks. Poults – both partridge and pheasant – are an increasing high-value product since consistently we can provide a specified volume, breed, quality and delivery-date – and, in many cases we can deliver all that in a value-for-money package. The balance, stock our own shoots.”
8 Million Eggs per year at 37.6˚C for 24 days
Bettws delivers to these testing requirements using a versatile battery of 25 incubators. In each over 90,000 pheasants, or over 130,000 partridge eggs are nurtured in a 24-day process at 37.6˚C. The fertility of every egg is tested, and thereafter it’s rate of development. Every egg is turned hourly to ensure even growth. Hatched chicks are sorted, graded and carefully-packed into bespoke-designed boxes in compartments of 50 in spun-raffia. “All will be delivered to the customer within hours of hatching,” Gwyn adds.
Poults are brought-on in batches of 1,000 in generously large protected pens – with a heated unit large enough for all-birds’ comfort, heating and feeding appliances and for the rearer to operate. The 50 or-so rearer’s fields may have up to 40 of these pens, they will be supplied all the equipment and feed they need. They supply the land, water and care until the birds can be collected and dispatched to the customer. And here, attention to detail fosters continuous improvement. Biosecurity minimises visits between rearers, but they clearly enjoy rivalry at their own level which meets its climax in an annual rearers’ awards event. “Our average yield 95% across all farms but the winners is usually in the high 90%’s. When we do see losses we work with the rearer to investigate. It’s a matter of attention to detail.” From this a rearers’ culture has developed to control light, temperature and human interaction.
Gwyn started out in the ‘eighties with a hill-farm, 300 sheep and some cattle. Gwyn continues modestly, “We are a family business. My wife focuses on quality and care in the hatchery. My son and daughter are both involved. Our staff are our neighbours, from families who we have grown-up with.” We are above-all a community business. The business has renovated the local village shop and pub in recent years; it clearly is a business with huge heart.
Gwyn may never have had a strictly corporate approach, but he’s committed major investment into his industrial plant, among the first to have developed a full-scale production-line for game-bird rearing. And his passion’s never been lost in the discipline of process-line management and the building of a strong business identity. “The business has grown with the market. And customers become increasingly more demanding – and competition is increasing. “Our target audience for the shooting side of the business is the top one per-cent. But they are also the most demanding one per-cent, too.”
Tips from Gwyn Evans
- Capacity: Providers must have a consistent source of quality game
- Attention to detail: Game rearers must understand their yield and the factors affecting it
- Quality: - Of product and service. Increasingly suppliers must be in the top tier to be profitable
- Marketing: Target the market and formulate a compelling message at the right time, in the right places
- Listening: To your customers is essential to develop the product and service
- Innovate: Constantly keep moving forward. The perceived traditional business of commercial shooting is “Anything but.”
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