A joint decision 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 50 mg 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. I recently read an article that suggested that the inability to treat infections in people is rising at a dramatic rate, to the point that it is anticipated to cause a higher number of deaths than cancer by 2030.

We are still permitted to medicate feed if we have diagnosed a disease on a shoot, however 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 their inception.

As I look back at the last 20 years that I’ve been involved with game birds, I feel we’ve come a long way with advances in rearing, management of birds on shoots and the quality of birds presented to guns, and I feel that 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 be a backwards step both for animal welfare and human health.

Our Practice is working with Sportsman Game Feeds to produce a series of videos to offer best advice as we enter this new phase which I hope you find useful.