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Heat Stress in Game Birds: Prevention, signs and products

Minimising the impact of heat stress 

At this time of year, high temperatures can be a cause for concern when trying to keep birds cool in the day and warm at night. Below gives more information on heat stress generally and what you can do to prepare/do during and after a period of higher temperatures to support the birds.

What is heat stress?

Unlike humans, birds don’t sweat, instead relying on panting and drinking to keep cool when temperatures rise. Typically, the body temperature of a pheasant is around 40°C and a partridge 40.7°C. When they exceed this temperature, they become heat stressed, which can lead to a down regulation of their immune system and an increased susceptibility to disease. In its most sever manifestation this will lead to massive cell damage and systemic inflammation, that will lead to shock and death.

What are the signs of heat stress?

To cool down, a bird makes use of two things:

  1. Behaviour
    1. Seeking space, moving away from other birds
    2. Moving to a cooler area
    3. Holding their wings away from their body

If behavioural efforts aren’t enough to cool the body temperature, the bird will start to pant.

2. Panting – Panting cools the bird through evaporative cooling, and the physical process called latent heat of evaporation.

How you can prepare ahead of hot weather

  • Dry the environment e.g. remove wet bedding, fix leaky drinkers
  • Get the temperature in the shed as low as possible
  • Clean the water lines
  • Identify any sources of humidity
  • As birds won’t drink hot water, burying water pipes, insulating pipes, covering pipes or header tanks can help by reducing the exposure to direct sunlight

During hot weather

  • Provide cooler areas in the rearing shed
  • Increase ventilation to help cooling
  • For birds, 14 days onwards and where birds have full access to the runs, providing areas of long grass can help to encourage the birds out and provide shaded areas
  • Having additional feeders and drinkers will also encourage the birds outside where it may be cooler and have easy access to food and water
  • Maintain good water hygiene and monitor water temperature. Flush lines regularly and sanitise them with Aqua-clean as warmer water will lead to increased growth of bacteria. Ice or ice blocks can also be added to header tanks to rapidly cool the water
  • Supplements are important if the birds are displaying signs of heat stress. Use electrolytes/solulyte or heat stress products that will help to keep the birds hydrated

After warmer weather

  • Encourage birds to eat and drink as they’ll be tired (panting uses energy)
  • Consider using Energy Plus. But do not mix Heat Stress Plus and Energy Plus as this will block the water line