Ben South BSc (Hons) BVetMed MRCVS
The most stressful time for all bred game birds is the point at which they are moved from the rearing sites to the release pens. I think the best way to describe the level of stress and changes these birds have to face is to imagine being sent to live on a remote desert island tomorrow for a year. Not only do you have to face the stress of travelling there but once you’ve landed, there’s a completely different environment to deal with. There would be a number of stress factors; where will you take shelter, what will you eat, where you can find water that is safe to drink and what predators you need to look out for. Consider this when you are planning the release of your birds and the importance of eliminating these potential stress factors. A lot of it is down to planning.
The Rearing Field
By now, both pheasants and partridge have been in the pens for several weeks. Many sites will run several staggered batches through the rearing field and depending on the size of the flight pens and the weather conditions, some pens can be quite poached. Ensure wet areas are cleared and give birds more space if possible. Clean and accessible water is essential out in the flight pens and good access to dry pellet. There are several factors managers must consider two to three weeks before the birds are caught up and moved.
- The Client: Have you contacted your client in good time to discuss when the birds will be ready for transfer?
- Remember, you have taken a lot of time and expense to grow these birds to the condition that they are in and you must ensure your client is ready for them to arrive when they are at their best. We are often called to sites due to delays in transfers. Birds that are over-crowded and stressed often lead to disease outbreaks and pecking.
- Bird Age: Are all your birds of the relevant age for moving?
- Birds that are too young will struggle to cope with the stress of transfer and will not do well once released at wood. Pheasants should be around 6-7 weeks and partridge can be anywhere from 12-18 weeks old.
- Bird Condition: Are all your birds fit and in good condition?
- Never consider moving birds that are weak or in poor condition. If a pen looks poor due to disease, give them more space and time along with some veterinary input before transferring them. A strong bird will travel better and find shelter, feed and water quicker once at wood.
- Weather Forecast: What is the forecast for the next 7 days?
- Do not just consider the weather for the day of transfer. So often birds are moved on a good, dry day but then spend the next 5 days in rain and break down in disease. Avoid moving birds when it is raining.
- Distance to Client: How far are you travelling?
- If you know you have travel far, start catching birds earlier. You do not want to be releasing birds to wood after around 11am. These young poults need time to find feed, water and a safe roosting site before it goes dark. The more time they have the more likely they will stay strong.
- Staff: Have you enough numbers to ensure an efficient catch?
- Ensure that during catching you are as quiet as possible, no loud radios! Do not try and catch excessive numbers of birds in each hand and ensure you handle them with care when placing into crates.
- Intestinal Support: Are you giving your best support to the birds?
- Gut health often becomes compromised during stressful periods, especially at transfer, which can lead to gastrointestinal disease. I suggest in the weeks leading up to transfer date, birds are supported with an organic acid such as Ultimate Acid in the drinker lines. If you know your site is particularly susceptible to protozoal outbreaks then consider enhancing this support with the addition of Parazilin or Coccilin Plus.
The Release Pen
It should never be overlooked that estates and gamekeepers have as much responsibility in ensuring good transfers of poults to wood as the rearing fields. Blame is so often thrown around from one side to the other when poults start dying, but if both parties work together and maintain good communication, many issues will never arise. Consider the following points well in advance of taking your delivery of birds this season:
- Pens: Are your pens ready and suitable for young birds?
- You are responsible for providing an adequate environment for the young poults that are arriving. There should be good areas of low lying cover and low perches for them to roost. Predators should be controlled and pop-holes all closed up. Take a look at our Pen Assessment piece in our Game Vet Blog for further advice https://stdavids-gamebirds.co.uk/resources/game-vet-blog/
- Staff: Have you enough staff to help release the poults?
- Ensure you are there to oversee the release of poults. If you have any concerns at this point, make them vocal and speak to everyone involved including your vet.
- Timing: When have you requested your poults to arrive?
- Avoid taking poults to wood in the afternoon. There isn’t anything more important than ensuring your new poults are in the pens on time and when you have agreed with your rearing field. Delay will cause disease.
- Weather: Do you know the predicted 14 day forecast?
- At this time of year you should be more knowledgeable of the weather than an arable farmer. Precipitation is not our friend and if it is unavoidable, ensure dry pens are filled first and provide extra cover from the rain. Wet poults will become cold and compromised allowing disease to take over.
- Feed: Have you provided enough access to feed?
- Remember these poults have been reared in simple pens with only feed bins and water drinkers. Ensure hoppers are covered, flat and easily accessible for young birds. Always provide plenty of hoppers. I suggest one per 100 birds. Do not spread pellet on the ground as this will attract wild birds, rodents and slugs. Consider providing feed around the perimeter of the pens as well up the rides. Often poults will dispense to the fences where they cannot find feed.
- Water: Is it clean and is it free flowing?
- Water is vital for young poults. This is even more crucial if the journey has been long or the weather is hot. Find out what the poults are used to drinking from on the rearing fields and try and emulate this at wood. I would recommend priming the clean drinkers with Ultimate Acid and keeping the birds on this through to release.
- Worms: Have you ordered your wormer?
- Gastrointestinal worms will severely compromise even the strongest of poults. As soon as birds arrive on your site they will be picking up eggs from the ground. Allow this to happen and start your worming regime after 10-14 days after the poults have arrived. I suggest using an in-water wormer like Panacur AquaSol.
Remember planning and communication is key. With all this in mind, I hope the weather behaves and that the young birds get the best start they can out in their pens.