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Research and collaborations - positive work to tackle some of the industry's most common diseases

Kenny Nutting BVetMed MRCVS

The dawn of shoot expansions has brought with it a high demand for poults across the country. The industry is racing ahead in many areas leading to growth and economic benefits, however, rearing game birds can often be challenging, and we work alongside many sites which are operating with different rearing styles and varying degrees of infrastructure in place.

Most pharmaceutical companies have viewed the game bird industry as small, and in many ways this has led to minimal research and funding support over the last 30 years. Therefore, a lot of game bird medicine is drawn from comparative studies in the poultry industry where funding for research is often in endless supply. However, this still leaves some gaps in our knowledge, so the creation and support of industry led initiatives and research feels like a long awaited step that will be hugely advantageous to help improve rearing practises.

In previous articles, we have discussed the importance of one of these proactive projects in the Mycoplasma Working Groups. We are encouraging gamekeepers and farmers from neighbouring estates to tackle mycoplasma, to develop long term strategies to eradicate the disease and also enable us vets to gather more detailed science relating to it through collective working. The more widespread these efforts are, the more successful eradication will be.

Some of these encouraging initiatives are taking place behind the scenes. One of which explores one of the biggest challenges facing the game bird rearing industry. This is the control of debilitating gastrointestinal diseases during the early growth and development stage of pheasants and partridges. There are many ways that pathogens that disrupt the gastrointestinal tract of young rearing birds can have long lasting consequences on bird health, which can often lead to difficult rearing conditions. We know the gut is a complex community of microbes, but how and when the changes occur to cause catastrophic clinical disease is sometimes less clear. The need for a better scientific understanding of the diseases that challenge our industry from the foundations of chick health has never been more vital than it is today. Not only will it help improve the way we rear and care for our birds, it’ll also help us reduce our reliance of medicines by being able to predict and prevent some of our most common diseases.

One project that is underway has seen game bird vets from St David’s Game Bird Services, South Downs Veterinary Consultancy and Hafren Veterinary Group collaborating with The University of Surrey Veterinary School to conduct preliminary research into the causes and interactions of both eukaryote and prokaryotes proliferation in young game birds. Hexamita is one of the focuses of this research and gut samples from both pheasants and partridges were collected throughout last season and are being analysed at a genetic level for identification and population status. The goal is to understand more about which microbes are causing clinical disease, why they do and when. Limited funding is thwarting rapid progress but the hope is to see preliminary results by March 2020.

Ultimately, we hope the answers and questions that arise from this study can help us make positive changes to the way we practice to produce better, healthier game birds for release. We will keep you informed of any news and outcomes and how we can help use this to your shoot’s or farm’s advantage. If you would like to find out about the projects currently undergoing and how your farm or shoot can get involved, please get in touch!