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Ask the Vet - Pre Release and Preparing the Birds for Movement

Dr Ben South BVetMed BSc MRCVS

Q.What is one of the most important things to consider when moving the birds from rearing sites to release pens?

This is the most stressful time for all bred game birds. Eliminating potential stress factors should be a top priority. I cannot emphasise the importance of planning. One crucial areas to consider is the importance of evaluating the weather. It is hugely stressful for young poults being caught and moved without the added environmental pressures. We often see breakouts post release due to cold, wet, dark woods and poorly set out pens.

Q.Imagine it is two or three weeks before the birds are caught up and moved. What should you consider?

By now, both pheasants and partridge have been in the rearing pens for several weeks. Many sites will run several staggered batches through the rearing field and depending on the size of the flight pens and the weather conditions, some pens can be quite poached. Ensure wet areas are cleared and give birds more space if possible. Clean and accessible water is essential out in the flight pens and ensure good access to dry pellet.

  • We are often called to sites due to delays in transfers. Birds that are stressed often lead to disease outbreaks and pecking. Contact your client in enough time to ensure they are ready for transfer.
  • Are all your birds of the relevant age for moving? Birds that are too young will struggle to cope with the stress of transfer and will not do well once released at wood. Pheasants should be moved around 6-7 weeks and partridge can be anywhere from 12-18 weeks old.
  • Are all your birds fit and in good condition? Never consider moving birds that are weak or in poor condition. If a pen looks poor due to disease, give them more space and time along with some veterinary input before transferring them.
  • As discussed previously, make sure you consider the weather, not just for the day of transfer, but for the next 5 days. As a precaution, avoid moving birds when it is raining.
  • How far are you travelling? If you know you have to travel far, start catching birds earlier. You do not want to be releasing birds to wood after around 11am. These young poults need time to find feed, water and a safe roosting site before it goes dark.
  • Are you giving the best intestinal support to the birds? Gut health often becomes compromised during stressful periods, especially at transfer, which can lead to gut disease. I suggest in the weeks leading up to transfer date, birds are supported with an organic acid such as Ultimate Acid in the drinker lines. If you know your site is particularly susceptible to protozoal outbreaks then consider enhancing this support with the addition of Parazilin or Coccilin Plus. 

Q. As a shoot, what are the main areas to consider to ensure good transfer of poults to wood?

It should never be overlooked that estates and gamekeepers have as much responsibility in ensuring good transfers of poults to wood as the rearing fields. Blame is so often thrown around from one side to the other when poults start dying, but if both parties work together and maintain good communication, many issues will never arise.

  • Are your pens ready and suitable for young birds? There should be good areas of low lying cover and low perches for them to roost. Predators should be controlled and pop-holes all closed up.
  • When have you requested your poults to arrive? Avoid taking poults to wood in the afternoon. There isn’t anything more important than ensuring your new poults are in the pens on time and when you have agreed with your rearing field. Delay will cause disease. Do you also have enough people to help release the poults on time?
  • Do you know the predicted 14 day forecast? Ensure dry pens are filled first and provide extra cover from the rain. Wet poults will become cold and compromised allowing disease to take over.
  • Do you have enough feeders? Ensure hoppers are covered, flat and easily accessible for young birds. Always provide plenty of hoppers. I suggest one per 100 birds. Do not spread pellet on the ground as this will attract wild birds, rodents and slugs. Consider providing feed around the perimeter of the pens as well as up the rides. Often poults will disperse to the fences where they cannot find feed.
  • Is their clean source of water? Find out what the poults are used to drinking from on the rearing fields and try and emulate this at wood. I would recommend priming the clean drinkers with Ultimate Acid and keeping the birds on this through to release.
  • Have you ordered your wormer?

Gastrointestinal worms will severely compromise even the strongest of poults. As soon as birds arrive on your site, they will be picking up eggs from the ground. Allow this to happen and start your worming regime 10-14 days after the poults have arrived. There are now two licensed in-feed game bird wormers, Flubenvet and Gallifen. There are a few small restrictions on the Gallifen, but the active ingredient is the same as Panacur AquaSol. If an in-feed wormer is not possible, an in-water version of Panacur AquaSol is available.

Remember planning and communication is key. With all this in mind, I hope the weather behaves and that the young birds get the best start they can out in their pens.