The commencement of the brooding and rearing season could not come soon enough for many in the sector following the abrupt end to the 2020/21 shooting season caused by the third UK national lockdown. After a year of change and uncertainty, we have seen a lot of renewed positivity as sites have got underway with chick placement, and it has been said that there is a healthy number of deposits being paid to shoots which is excellent news.
Whilst overseas travel still carries uncertainty due to restrictions, some clients are preparing for a slightly reduced season as they cater for UK guns only, with the view to return to their usual numbers (as based on 2019) next year. For the clients who are running on slightly lower numbers than usual, they are using this time to review their set-ups and operations, streamline processes, and work to future-proof their business for seasons to come.
As vets our role has changed over the past few years, and certainly since my time at university when our studies were solely focused on the diagnosing and treating of disease. However, for our vet team at St David’s our work now focuses much more so on a holistic approach to animal health and welfare, as well as working with supportive organisations and people in the industry on the issues that matter to the sector and impact our clients.
In the past year we have seen an increasing demand on the industry to become more accountable, and with the introduction of the British Game Alliance (BGA) Assurance Schemes as they work to secure the game meat market, there have been calls for further traceability across the sector. It is here that our veterinary work has evolved as we are able to take a two-pronged approach. In addition to working across the whole supply chain from hatchery to shoot, we liaise with organisations such as the BGA and other veterinary practices to outline the health and welfare standards set out in these schemes, as well as working with our clients on the ground to understand and implement the changes required to better future-proof the sector.
We have also seen an increase in sites using data recording and analysis to learn from and improve things such as bird performance, profitability and returns as well as more closely monitoring mortality rates. From a vet perspective this is a fantastic leap forwards as we can look to analyse this data with clients, assist them in identifying the cause for disease and issues on site, and put new protocols and management plans in place to reduce them the following year. It is these considered data-driven changes that will innovate the sector and will better support the case for self-regulation among the legislative bodies.
As well as working with our clients on the efficiencies of their sites, we have also been continuing our work on the roll out of the Mycoplasma blood test. As discussed in previous articles for The Sportsman Review, the test, which is specifically calibrated for game birds was created in a joint project between the BGA, Sci-Tech Labs and St David’s Game Bird Services. We consider the test to be an important part of the preventative toolkit for the industry as we look to combat this disease; and now the test is open access, we are encouraging everyone to blood test regularly so as they know their mycoplasma status and we are better able to prevent, identify and manage the disease across the national flock.
In addition to working with the sector on innovation and developments, our team of vets and Field Services Personnel are continually working on product, husbandry and equipment trials and innovations within our practice. For the past two years I have been working with the team and our clients to trial a new nutraceutical product in Partridge called Necox. Necox, which is new to the market, is an essential oils-based supplement that can be used to regenerate and protect the micro villi of the gut. This gut cell protection means that pathogens such as cocci find it harder to damage the gut structure which causes diseases and mortality in the birds. After my initial trials in 35,000 partridge, we found there to be a significant reduction in the amount of medication required during the rearing period, as well as a marked reduction in mortality amongst the flock. This year our team are expanding the Necox trial in Pheasants, and investigations will be focused on the benefits of Necox, bird welfare and the return on investment for the keeper.
Following what was a difficult season for all, both myself and our team are encouraged by the positivity across the sector. The increase in data recording and analysis, as well as the appetite for new innovative solutions to improve the health and welfare of the birds in our care, shows us the future of the game sector as we strive to align ourselves with other food producing industries, and secure our place in the rural economy for years to come.
Originally written for Sportsman Review