A joint decision taken by the NGO, GFA, the feed industry and the veterinary profession was taken to stop the inclusion of antibiotics routinely into feed for birds entering the release pen in May this year. This decision was a starting point to reduce the antibiotics used in the sector to the required 50mg of medicine per kilogram of body weight.
The increasing problem of antibiotic resistance in people is the driving force for this change across all sectors of food production and a recent article I read suggests that the inability to treat infections in people is rising at a dramatic rate to the point that it is anticipated to overtake the number of deaths from cancer by 2030.
We are still allowed to medicate feed if we have diagnosed a disease on a shoot, although the delay between diagnosis, writing a prescription, the manufacture of feed, delivery and placing the feed in front of the birds is worryingly long in the course of trying to treat an infection of a disease as severe as hexamita.
Whilst the use of water soluble antibiotics have their place on the rearing field, their use in a release pen is more questionable. Many pens have responded well to this method of administration but even with a very dry summer so far and with some pens in marsh land, with running or stagnant water courses and the sudden down pour of rain in the last week, we are finding it very difficult in some cases to treat by this route.
The exclusion of in-feed medication has also provided a large number of clinical cases earlier in the season and with a worrying speed of arrival. That said, the response to treatment is equally fast with a good result achieved if the disease is diagnosed accurately early in its course.
As a Practice, we are recording the cases as they arrive and what is very interesting is that many release pens that I would have predicted to be a problem, are not and vice versa. There is little relationship to stocking density but a big relationship to the layout of the pen and the source of the birds. Many of my large shoots have not noticed any change since withdrawing routine antibiotic use but are well managed and have worked on providing an ideal habitat over many years. What remains clear is that there is a lot of work to be done with designing problem release pens better in anticipation of poults next year, as well as more control over the rearing period.
If there has been an issue on a rearing site and if it is not communicated effectively to the gamekeeper now using clean feed, the results can be disastrous and very quick in its inception.
As I look back at the last 20 years that I have been involved with game birds I feel we have moved a long way with advances in rearing, management of birds on shoots, quality of birds presented to guns and feel we are able to meet the new challenges with time.
However, I feel it is ironic that Emtryl was taken away from us and we have, to some extent, replaced this with an antibiotic regime that has appeared to have been a backwards step both for animal welfare and human health.
We are working with Sportsman Game Feeds to produce a series of videos to offer best advice as we enter this new phase which we hope you find useful.