Paul Jeavons of Worcestershire Game Farm and chair of the GFA Health and Welfare committee writes:

With my health and welfare commitments and my position in RUMA, I have decided to make an effort to reduce the amount of antibiotic/medicine used, year on year, on my game farm.

I have wondered, when I see another game farmer’s advertisements state ‘birds delivered with relevant post mortem/health certificate’, what it actually meant. I presumed this extra cost to rearing would be very expensive but was in an effort to regain sales after a high incidence of disease, in the previous season, when problems had inadvertently been passed on to their customers.

With slight trepidation, I contacted my vets, PHS, and ran it past them. I asked for a weekly visit for 12-14 weeks and requested a Thursday as chicks could be examined at 2-3 days and poults before they left at 7-8 weeks.

To my relief, they already had customers who they visited weekly and a price per hour was agreed which included as many post mortems (PM’s) as were needed plus the findings and reports. Most visits were from the same vet, which kept continuity, but holidays etc. meant I did have a different one occasionally.

For the first few weeks it was a case of showing the vet around the system and explaining how we operate, (every game farmer I know does it differently!). A PM room was created in the egg room which had plenty of light and suitable work surfaces which could be easily cleaned. A roll of clear polythene was purchase on which to perform each PM. This was then bagged up and put in our incinerator.

To begin with it was chick examination up to 4 weeks of age and fresh dead chicks were bagged and labelled from the morning rounds to be PM’d later. I tended to be the ‘scribe’ as the vet dissected each bird. The visits lasted 2-2 ½ hours and it gave me a chance to communicate my issues and management problems and discuss how other rearers and those in the poultry industry tackled different disease/management problems.

The benefit of the whole experience was a very calming influence. Rather than finding a problem and having to rush to the vet, ours being a 3 hour round trip, and almost impossible on a very busy rearing day, I knew after a few weeks of visits what we had and what was likely to show up in the later batches. Also, on the legal side, we had a post mortem to back up all medications which showed in our veterinary medicines book.

Once we got near poult delivery time, we could PM 4 batches of Pheasants and do Cocci counts on 2 groups of RLP each week. Interestingly, we found low levels of Cocci in 5 week Pheasants that looked fine but then could be monitored daily. Due to the kind weather these went to 7 weeks old without an outbreak and could be treated prior to release saving on earlier prophylactic treatment. We also found low levels of Hexamita in RLP at 8 weeks. This was monitored and it never got any worse. I was advised not to treat them and they went to the shoot and have showed no symptoms.

I even went as far as photocopying the relevant PM reports and including them with my GFA delivery document. Full time keepers appreciated this but some of the smaller customers were baffled not having had experience of disease/medication.

Practically speaking, it goes against the grain to put 8-10 good poults in a crate to be euthanased later from each of your selected groups and of course is a cost, but overall we have used fewer drugs and more importantly used the correct drugs for each scenario and not once during the season did we have to carry a bag of dead diseased birds to the incinerator! This must have saved £1000’s and what is more I had plenty of spare at the end of the season.

The GFA has always promoted teamwork between game farmer, game keeper, feed supplier and Vets to work together for a successful release.

Vet’s Point of View:
It was very rewarding to be able to follow through Paul’s birds on a weekly basis. By going to the site regularly I got a better feel for his rearing system and issues that affect it. As Paul says there is a huge variance in the rearing methods of different game farms and the disease pressures they face. The weekly visits allowed us to see problems coming and also allowed young staff that Paul is training to show their skill in recognising potential disease. This monitoring of groups as they went through allowed us to reduce medicine use and losses on site. From the point of view of organising our work having a regular weekly slot allowed us to plan our manpower which makes farm visits easier to fit in around our other commitments to the poultry industry. With the experience of this year in the bag we will be able to plan with Paul for the next rearing season and hopefully continue to improve the health of the birds on site, increase profitability and reduce his stress levels.

Christian Blake-Dyke B Vet Med MRCVS