Kennel sharing: Adapting to survive — and thrive *H&H Plus*

  • Kennel-sharing arrangements are becoming increasingly popular, and are a good way boost both packs’ coffers, discovers Rebecca Jordan

    Our world is shrinking. Aside from the hills and moors, every hunting country is plagued by an ever-prevalent outbreak of new-build. If the Government’s housing policy goes any way to help young folk stay close to their roots and feed into the local economy, then all well and good. But this irreversible development is designed for the purpose of our nation as a whole. Hunting communities must therefore adapt if they are to survive.

    It’s not a new phenomenon. In the late 18th century Harrow provided some of the best country for the fifth Earl of Berkeley and his hounds, which hunted from the River Severn to Kensington Gardens.

    As each season progressed, hounds were kennelled at Berkeley, Broadway, Nettlebed, Gerrards Cross and Cranfield. Then London rapidly grew westwards and the Earl’s hunting boundaries consequentially retreated until his hounds were permanently kennelled – as they are today – next to the castle.

    Yet the Berkeley is, two centuries on, still one of the most popular and respected packs in the country with a hard-riding field keeping these hounds up to their work.

    Ours is a tough, grounded, diverse and hard-working community. There is no reason, therefore, why we cannot – yet again – come together, look to our strengths and galvanise ourselves for further change to secure longevity.

    Retaining identity

    Amalgamation appears to be a dirty word to many in the hunting fraternity. Often it is a last resort, with the many resources each pack could bring to the table dissolved in a political cauldron, resulting in a soured atmosphere.

    The sheer thought of the man hours required to establish a successful merger is overwhelming. The days when a mastership was a full-time occupation are nigh gone. Today, time spent overseeing kennels and stables is often at the expense of keeping the country open and entertaining, or vice versa.

    There are some in our midst, however, who have seen a way to retain their hunt’s identity and standards while also balancing the books. They have chosen to enter into a contract with another hunt and share kennels. Where that arrangement is watertight the agreement can be mutually beneficial.

    A majority of older kennels were designed for a much larger number of hounds than are kept these days – the consuming cost of running too many hounds for the size of today’s countries has resulted in an empty yard and lodge in some kennels.

    On the other hand, other packs are kennelled in villages increasingly populated by commuters and second-home owners who complain about noise. Some feature “historical” facilities which have no chance of fulfilling increasing environmental guidelines.

    “We all have to keep going forward and help each other out. The world is shrinking and I believe two packs of hounds can live as cheaply as one,” says Andrew van Oostrum, who has been a main force of energy behind the Berks and Bucks Draghounds’ move to the Avon Vale kennels this season.

    “Our old kennels are still there. The flesh round continues in our name but is licensed out to an established fallen stock company. We won’t sell the site or change anything vastly in the short term, until we make sure the new arrangement works. Only then, and after some refurbishment, will we consider renting out the property out as a whole.”

    The arrangement with the Avon Vale works out as a monthly livery for 18½ couple of hounds.

    “This is far more financially sustainable than running a whole kennel for the same number of hounds,” says Andrew.

    The package includes Stuart Radbourne, the Avon Vale’s amateur huntsman, hunting the draghounds every Sunday and providing his own horse. Other costs covered by this arrangement include the Berks and Bucks’ share in wages, running costs of the flesh round, vehicle insurance, horse and hound expenses and veterinary bills and hunt staff accommodation running costs.

    “Organising and running a pack of hounds is a full-time job on top of a full-time job. Nowadays we all have jobs and busy lives to work around,” explains Andrew, who runs Total Impact Equestrian with Sara Egan as well as Total Impact Ltd, which imports equipment for the music industry.

    “It takes time and effort to put on a good show and we must remember a day’s draghunting is there to entertain our subscribers, so opening up country and building fences is a priority.”

    These draghounds are essentially foxhounds which have retained their distinctive black and tan markings from the old Dumfriesshire line. They do have their own yard but mix with the Avon Vale hounds on the draw yard as they are fed and exercised as one pack. It would not be possible to manage the two packs so cohesively if one was a beagle, minkhound or basset pack.

    “The fact they are essentially foxhounds was a huge selling point when we were discussing the feasibility of the kennel share,” says Stuart. “We had a spare yard and an old feed yard which we have done up so there is plenty of room, and all hot bitches are kept together. We have a busy flesh round so there is no problem feeding them and they are a lovely pack of hounds so Ollie Thompson, our kennel-huntsman, enjoys them being here. And if their contribution helps us keep going longer I can’t see why we shouldn’t work together.”

    Two golden rules

    The Silverton foxhounds have hosted the Stoke Hill Beagles since 1986. Nine years ago, encroaching urbanisation forced the latter to amalgamate and so the Stoke Hill and North Dartmoor currently have a contract with the Silverton to kennel 25 couple alongside the foxhounds under the care of Chris Matterface, the Silverton’s professional huntsman.

    Josh Smith is the beagles’ amateur huntsman.

    “I work full-time as a tree surgeon so, as an amateur, could not be happier to have Chris, a professional huntsman, look after the beagles,” says Josh. “His role is to clean and feed them; the Silverton’s flesh round provides enough flesh for both packs. My responsibility is to exercise the beagles.

    “Chris texts me if there are any problems – such as a lame hound. If there are any niggles we talk about it immediately and the result is a happy pack of hounds hunting well which are looked after by a professional huntsman.”

    Experience has shown kennel share only works if the involved parties stick to two golden rules: the contract must state exactly what is required – financially and practically. And those involved in day-to-day management of hounds have to get on because they work closely together and need to address any issues immediately.

    It might also sound obvious, but it is very important to cost out every outgoing to ensure the “host” pack is not subsidising the other hounds. However, both sides need to be reasonable and attribute costs fairly.

    Masters with a strong business acumen attribute electricity, water, bedding and medicine usage per hound – as well as man hours. The latter is the main area which can deceive; some contracts have had to be altered to allow for this. For example, if the two packs need to be exercised and walked out separately on a daily basis this can lead to a change in management with the pack paying for livery having to either pay more or take on this responsibility.

    Professional care

    Not far from the east coast in Lincolnshire, Mark Guy works in local government. In his free time, he is amateur huntsman to the East Lincs basset hounds. These have been kennelled at the South Wold for eight seasons but were previously for 10 with the Holderness.

    “It has been great to have the bassets back kennelled in the centre of our hunting country,” says Mark. “A majority of people involved in running a basset pack are either retired or hunting hounds as an amateur. Clearly having hounds looked after by a professional is a big plus. And there are so many costs and regulations involved; we just couldn’t do it.

    “Looking after hounds is our biggest outgoing by a sizeable amount. As with all hunts, just going hunting doesn’t pay for the sport. In an ideal world if we were in the position to pay for our own establishment we would. If there is a disadvantage to this arrangement, it is we work to somebody else’s rules. But the trade-off is we have no responsibility for kennel regulations, red tape or employment law.

    “The success of our relationship is dependent on who the South Wold employs in kennels; we are currently very fortunate to have such a professional team there.”

    Because of lockdown it was nearly six weeks before Mark met, face-to-face, Mark Ollard who has, this season, come to hunt the South Wold after 14 seasons in Ireland.

    They had talked regularly on the phone and fortunately their professional relationship has gone from strength to strength since then. In fact, they have arranged a lead-rein meet with the bassets. Mark and his whipper-in Daniel Burt both attended the bassets’ opening meet and enjoyed watching hounds out of kennels at work.

    “Our contract is quite tough: any more than 21 couple of bassets in kennels and they are charged a set rate per day/hound. The same applies if they rear more than the agreed number of whelps. This summer nothing has been straightforward because of lockdown so, obviously, there has been leeway in the contract to accommodate the difficulty in moving hounds in and out of kennels,” explains Mark Ollard. “In terms of man hours we probably do more with the bassets than we should and so we have to be very careful about that.”

    The financial arrangement stacks up well – equating to the revenue from a large fundraiser for less fashionable packs.

    “The income we receive from the bassets helps towards our running costs. At the same time the East Lincs bassets couldn’t afford to run their own kennels. It is therefore in our interest to ensure we have a good arrangement and keep the basset hounds going,” adds Mark.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 10 December 2020

    Watch the Horse & Hound Awards 2020 virtual ceremony