Tim Western - The National Gamekeepers Organisation

Getting the right start for your game is the way to ensure a good season, the correct nutrition, environment and care are all vital to success and not only that, if you get these things right to start with hopefully less medication will be needed during the rearing and release period. The game sector have been making real strides in the reduction of the use of antibiotics. Organisations including the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) have been working with the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, RUMA and our own sector’s specialist vets on continued antibiotic reduction. Voluntary monitoring of all antibiotic use in game birds began in 2016, and actions are decided each year through a joint meeting involving all industry stakeholders, followed by a joint communication detailing expectations. The sector achieved its target of a 50% reduction in total use and a 25% reduction in fluoroquinolone use by 2018, but extremely poor weather in spring 2019 led to an increase back above the target in efforts to control mycoplasma outbreaks.

However things are now back on track and by changing the husbandry techniques for rearing and quality feed has contributed to the reduction of antibiotic use. Some shoots and vets have also been experimenting with supplements that maintain the gut health of game birds, products that contain oregano and other natural plant based products. Plant-based feed additives, such as oregano essential oil are widely becoming a recognised tool for those seeking to support bird performance in the absence of antibiotics when experiencing certain challenges. Other feed additives that support gut health include butyrates and pre/probiotics.

Reducing therapeutic antibiotic use and the fight against antimicrobial resistance is a key priority for both animal and human health globally. Finding natural solutions which support game bird health and performance, thus preserving antibiotics for when they are really needed and helping to safeguard future efficacy of antibiotics is important for the farming community and gamekeepers alike. We have been down this road many times as a sector where various methods or products have been removed from sale and feed companies, game farmers and gamekeepers have always adapted and improved what we are doing and how we do it. By reducing antibiotic use and better husbandry and nutrition we are not only producing a better sporting bird but also a better table birds which is ultimately the end of the entire cycle.

The supply of game meat has also hit a rocky road but mainly because of Brexit and a worry about the ability to export game. The NGO working with the National Game Dealers Association have managed to iron out the issues with export and the demand for game meat is once again picking up. By producing a good quality product for the table will help to secure the future of shooting. We all have a part to play in every part of the cycle but getting things off to a good start is key to the entire process.