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Reflecting on this year’s rearing season and how we can improve future set-ups

Kenny Nutting BVetMed MRCVS

As the release of game birds across the UK comes to an end and the shooting begins, I have had time to reflect on the 2019 rearing season, its ups and downs and compare it to the previous season and identify what we still need to understand.

This season has been largely more temperamental with regards to the weather. We have seen flooding one week followed by a heatwave the next. This has put pressure onto some rearing systems and thus the birds themselves. Coccidiosis was in general higher than 2018, whilst the levels of Hexamita remain largely the same as most years.

There were reports of non-responsive coccidiosis outbreaks in both pheasants and partridges. Farmers and keepers were sometimes keen to blame the medication, indeed was I at one point. A closer examination of most situations revealed heavy concurrent levels of bacteria which were not reduced alongside the coccidiosis medication and thus the birds seemed to have little improvement. Once we combined other bacteria reducing medications such as Coccilin Plus or Acids we saw the majority respond. On occasion, antibiotics were required to finish the job. There was one case of coccidiosis in partridges where the level of environmental burden was so extreme that the medication could not get a grip of the disease. We removed all bedding, disinfected the sheds with Interkokask and used Coccilin Plus and Ultimate acid in the water and the birds resolved themselves after three days.

This highlights the need for continuous bedding top-up and appropriate cleaning of sheds. Within other poultry sectors, we have alternate cleaning programmes using different products and in worst affected sheds we use two or three disinfection and detergent products in order to bring down the environmental load of cocci oocysts. I was discussing only last week whether one of my game farmers should move his field every year. We discussed the merits of moving versus remaining. I then asked ‘Did they clean the kickboards on the run sections?’ they looked at me despairingly (I fully understand what a horrid and long job this would seem). I put forward that the coccidiosis problems we see are usually after two or three weeks of being in the runs, even on fields that haven’t been reared on in 10 years. Therefore, the coccidiosis is on the equipment brought in. This somewhat put a spanner in their works, BUT importantly meant that they do not have to move their rearing set-up from one side of the county to the next every year and can invest in the infrastructure on one permanent field.

A high level of security can then be installed on this field to deter those that wish to cause harm to the birds or damage the rearing equipment. This year, the majority of the game farms under our control have asked for help to improve efficiency, security and help reduce disease and thus improving welfare. There has also been plenty of talk on how to make sure they prove to the BGA that their system is up to scratch and can pass the regulations that will be self-imposed by the industry. I will be spending my winter months visiting our clients in order to help facilitate this process and show those that are against our industry that we have nothing to be ashamed of and help highlight how much good is being done.

For those that are up early in the morning as I am, there have been some interesting points raised by Radio 4 Farming Today. I had the privilege of being interviewed to tell people how a game farm works and how they are moving with the times and investing for the future. They even managed to cut out all my ‘umms’ and ‘errrs’ which must have been a lot of work given my skill level in being interviewed!