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Vaccinations, blood tests and lighting up

January Vet’s Diary with Sean Wisdom, BVSc MRCVS

FIRST and foremost, I’d like to wish you all a very Happy New Year from the St David’s Game Bird Services Team. Based in our East of England practice, serving Norfolk, Suffolk and Lincolnshire, we have been busy supporting new and old clients with the process of preparing for the upcoming laying season.

In January a lot of people are coming to the end of pairing up their overwintered partridges and grading their pheasants. At this stage we want to do a general health check on the birds and use this time as an opportunity to continue preventing any common diseases from gaining entry.

We would typically be looking at vaccinating birds against diseases such as infectious bronchitis, TRT and Mycoplasma. Alongside this we recommend blood or PCR tests to check whether diseases have been, or are present, and what that disease is if one is found.

When we are blood testing, the main focus is around Mycoplasma Gallisepticum, using the calibrated gamebird Mycoplasma test. We test to ensure the birds aren’t bringing Mycoplasma with them to the laying field.

It is important to note that, as with any test, there is room for error. However, it is generally accepted that to be 95 per cent confident of finding disease in five per cent or more of birds in a flock, you should take 60 blood samples if the flock has 500 birds or more. By following this protocol, we build confidence that there are no diseases, or not a significant level of disease, to impact upon the laying season. 

If a disease such as Mycoplasma has been present, we would want to seek alternative sources of birds for breeding. Bloodwork typically takes around five working days to get results, so it is worth bearing this in mind and planning ahead.

During this month, we are also beginning to think about the process of ‘lighting up’ the birds, which is relevant for both pheasant and partridge breeding. Lighting up is effectively creating an environment of false extended light, mimicking longer daylight hours. The aim
of this is firstly, to produce eggs earlier and secondly, to maintain peak laying for an extra three to four weeks.

This is quite a technical process with most aiming to mimic light for somewhere between 14-16 hours a day. This should always be increased slowly. For example, some increase light by 10-15 minutes per day, others do 15 minutes every other day, and some do 30 minutes every three days. It doesn’t matter which method you choose, as long as the light is increased slowly and consistently.

Birds have ‘light sensors’ both within their skull and eyes. Most light will reach the eye sensors but only certain types of light will penetrate the skull to activate those sensors, therefore maximising effects and production. If you would like further advice regarding this process, then I would recommend speaking with one of our team at St David’s Game Bird Services who will be happy to help.

Finally, we must be vigilant with protecting against mites in the laying systems. It is critical that if mites are found to be present, a product is used to kill mites’ eggs. This should be sprayed on all equipment to reduce any risk to the birds.

Originally written for January’s monthly feature of Countryman’s Weekly – ‘The Vet Diaries’