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Once the shooting season is underway, it is often a time for reflection and analysis to take lessons from one season onto the next. This year, the shooting season follows a period of challenging brooding and rearing conditions, with varying weather and a particularly wet May that caused issues across many sites and adding increased incidences of worms and gut health problems in the birds.
Our team across the country have been especially busy this year, and the numbers of birds on the ground certainly seems to have, by and large, returned to pre-Covid numbers, which is fantastic to see after the challenges the industry has faced over the past 18 months.
Unfortunately, for clients in the north and Scotland the number of grouse on the ground is much lower than anticipated and shoot days this season will be limited. However, for those clients in the moors, we encourage a proactive approach of carrying out post-mortems where possible to see what can be learnt for the next season. We are also working closely to see what can be done in the surrounding environment to encourage healthier bird populations and support the wildlife in those areas.
Developed alongside other game bird vets and shooting organisations, the new Pen Scoring Matrix was launched this summer. It’s used to better assess and identify any changes that can be made to the birds’ environment, to improve their overall health and welfare, as well as to reduce the risk of disease occurrences across the season. The idea is that any changes that are suggested are for the longevity of the site, so during the review we advise on improvements that could be made in the next 3 – 5 years, as well as identify any more immediate suggested changes.
As the game bird sector works towards the goal of self-assurance and to align itself with other food producing industries, it is the introduction of schemes such as the Pen Scoring initiative that allows gamekeepers and rearers to better review their practices and protocols, and to ensure that they are providing the best possible environment for the birds.
As written in my last article for Sportsman, an increase in data recording and analysis as well as an appetite for innovative solutions to improve health and welfare is growing even more popular with clients and across the sector. Now that birds have been released it is a great opportunity to speak to your local vet to review the season and to carry out your Veterinary Health Plan (VHPs). These visits are designed to provide you with a thorough overview of your site and to work closely and proactively plan with your vet to improve bird health, welfare, efficiencies and returns for the following season.
During VHPs, we often speak with clients regarding training requirements and how we can best help them to improve the overall handling and management of the birds throughout the season.
Since the introduction of the British Game Assurance (BGA) Audits, training requirements for gamekeepers have increased, and a series of training modules based on learning objectives devised by several members of the shooting community and vets, including members of the St David’s Game Bird Services team, will be available in the coming months.
To create flexibility, the St David’s courses are split up into three key modules that can be completed individually or as a three-part programme: Breeding Flocks and Hatchery Management, Game Bird Rearing from day old to release and Game Bird Rearing from release to shoot. Each module will cover the key aspects of bird health, management, and equipment throughout each phase of the bird’s life and in relation to the different stages of hatch, rear and release as well as covering key debates and industry topics. Once completed, attendees will get a certificate that can be used as proof of training and is recognised as such by the BGA auditors.
As a practice, we would encourage training as a positive step towards self-assurance for the game bird sector, further aligning ourselves with other food producing industries, and allowing us to clearly demonstrate to consumers that the game bird sector has high health and welfare standards.