The pheasant is hardly a wild bird around here where thousands are bred every year to satisfy the corporate shooters. Driving down our lane over the past couple of weeks, when all the young poults have been let out of their housing and introduced to the big, wide world, is like driving through some bizarre obstacle course from 'Alice in Wonderland.'
The birds crowd on to the lane, pecking madly at the newly-found source of grit. Along comes a car. 'Could this be the gamekeeper with our daily ration of corn?' they think - and rush towards it.
The rash, hardened drivers just keep going, scattering them and expecting them to get out of the way - they don't all make it, but is being killed by a car any worse than being shot with a gun?
Other drivers blow the horn, stop, get out, shoo the birds on to the side of the road, get back in the car to find they are all in the road again. Or, worse still, they appear to be going purposefully to the left and then - at the last minute - change their minds and run back.
Last year we had a 'pet' pheasant on the farm. We called him Fez and after a few days eating with the hens he would come when we called his name. Then one night he ventured into the hen house with the hens and got shut in. Next morning he was frantic to escape and we never saw him again.
Once the farmer ran over a pheasant's nest while hay-making. He came into the kitchen with six still warm eggs in his cap (he had killed the sitting pheasant hen) and we put them under a broody bantam hen. Within a week we had six long-legged, scrawny chicks. They thrived, lovingly cared for by the bantam, who seemed bemused when they preferred to hide under the brash in the run rather than under her skirts.
When they grew bigger we made a pen for them in the field and they grew and thrived, until one night a stoat got into the pen and killed one of them. At this point we thought it wiser to let them go and take their chance in the wild. We were surprised to find them a few months later, huddled into the corner of the greenhouse one cold night.
I don't eat pheasant. Seeing them around all the time and sometimes forming some kind of relationship with one (we had a nest in the front garden this year and she hatched twelve chicks) and - for a second - holding their bright eye in your gaze - means that they are well and truly crossed off my menu.
Already the Glorious Twelfth has passed and grouse-shooting is in full swing around here. In another couple of months, when these young poults have grown plump and tasty, pheasant shooting will begin. I just hope that by then most of them learn to run rather than fly. If only they would stick to the ground the shooters can't shoot them - they are not allowed to shoot down and must wait for the bird to take to the air.
To me eating a pheasant would be like eating a friend. And who amongst us would like to do that?