MANY GAME shoots are fully booked for the upcoming season – but game rearers have been reminded that the threat of Avian Influenza still lingers.

Game bird veterinarian Matthew Balfour, of St David’s Game Bird Services in Edinburgh, has reported strong pheasant and partridge orders from game rearers, but has urged game farms to prioritise strict biosecurity protocols to improve disease prevention this season.

Giving an industry update to The Scottish Farmer, he said: "Many shoots are fully booked for the coming shooting season already, which is extremely positive following a turbulent year for everyone during the pandemic. Many of the first pheasant and partridge chicks have now been placed, however some game farms are still in the process of setting up with their first chicks due in May. A shortage of bottled gas has caused issues for some sites in Scotland although the situation has now improved."

Turning to Avian Influenza, he reflected on those pheasant laying flocks and poultry units which were infected this past winter. The most recent case in Scotland recorded in February, at a game rearing premises in Leven, Fife, resulted in 14,000 mixed game birds being humanely culled.

"This is devastating for the game farmer as all birds on site must be culled by the Animal Plant Health Agency," Mr Balfour commented. "Avian influenza is unlikely to go away in the future and can only be mitigated against by good housing design and strict biosecurity protocols on site." He added that on a positive note, clinical Mycoplasma has been less prevalent in pheasant laying flocks this year, which he attributed to a side effect of better nationwide disease controls and a lower number of birds on the ground.


Offering advice to those preparing to manage birds for the season, he said: "It is important to have a conversation with your vet regarding water hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting and stocking densities. Good cleaning and disinfection of sheds each year is vital to ensure you do not carry disease issues from one year into another," adding that this is particularly important when it comes to reducing the coccidial challenge.

"All organic material should be removed, and the shed power washed down, followed by the application of a detergent and then a disinfectant," he advised, quoting the 3D’s Protocol – drench, detergent, disinfectant. "The disinfectant must be approved to kill coccidial oocysts and used at the specified dose rate to ensure its efficacy. We also advise against running multiple batches of birds through the same shed in the same year where possible." Regular veterinary check-ups and post-mortem examinations can help to identify any issues on site and allow early treatment of disease.

Addressing the rising political interest in game rearing and the environment, he reported that his veterinary team is working with clients to help them become more sustainable and efficient businesses for the future: "As historically shown, many shoots that rear their own birds to be released onto their estates are investing heavily into improving the natural environment to benefit all bird species, including game birds. With more shoots continuing to work hard on improving the protection of their surrounding environment and to exist in harmony with it, we hope that the game bird sector can continue to support the rural economy for years to come," he concluded.