Alan Beynon BVM&S MRCVS
The most significant aspect of the rearing season for us was the apparent increase in numbers of birds reared for supply to the shoots. All areas of the system have been increased from laying hens, to hatching and to poults supplied to shoots.
This has placed demands on operatives and cash flow and while some businesses can apply themselves well to expansion, others have not fared so well. Simply increasing stocking densities in rearing sheds or into release pens we know does not work but requires more space, equipment and infrastructure, as well as cash.
The increased demand for chicks and a limited supply meant that chick quality was about average and we experienced some high mortalities in the early days of life. The knock on from this is that the birds that remain tend to be stronger and better for the shoot but leaves the game farmer somewhat out of pocket!
The other issue that became more evident was that some shoots ask for specific breeds and sometimes this can be difficult with a poor hatch or increased demand. As a result, we are starting to see some shoots with breeds that were not requested.
From a disease point of view, we have seen a reasonable weather pattern with some great rearing programmes. There were the usual issues with parasites and we seem to be able to deal with worming issues better as we understand the management techniques required to control this problem in release pens that have been used for many years.
The swollen head issues reported from last year increased again this year as the disease is transmitted vertically. This means that the problem is passed from hen to chick via the egg so it is essential that we test the hens and start to control the disease at this level. As vets, we meet to discuss the season each year and start to put together a programme to try to control this dreadful problem. We also discuss issues such as this with all other game bird veterinary practices and research institutes to gain as much knowledge as possible.
The Spanish partridge trade appears to be becoming stronger as we see more birds arriving this year. Our decision to leave Europe and the subsequent currency changes may well impact on this trade next year as the birds will increase in price if the pound is weak. The converse, I guess, is that shooting is more affordable for those guns visiting the UK to enjoy our sport.
As I write, partridge shooting has just started, our work is almost finished and we start to work with those game farmers who are holding hens and cocks for next year’s chicks.
Have a great season, from all at St David’s Game Bird Services.