Richard Leach, national sales and marketing manager with game feed manufacturer Keepers Choice says the substantial drop in the use of antibiotics in rearing game birds is vindication of self-regulation.
Overuse of antibiotics affects the game and livestock sector as well as the public at large. Most of us know that antibiotics cannot be prescribed as a fix all, save that they cease to be a fix at all.
The game sector has halved its use of antibiotics since 2016 and has a target to reduce it by a further 25% over the next two years. These figures were borne out at Keepers Choice where in 2017, 9.8% of game feed contained antibiotics, compared with 4% in 2018.
These figures are matched by the pig industry, which also saw a halving of antibiotic use over 2017 and 2018; and commercial poultry producers have managed a massive 82% over six years, 40% of which was achieved in the last year alone. Ruminant farmers too have been set targets, a 20% reduction between 2016 and 2020 on top of what has already been achieved (by far the largest antibiotic use by ruminants is through the udder pre dry cow period; intake through feed is comparatively minor to that of pigs and poultry).
Professor Peter Borriello, chief executive officer of The Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) hails the figures as impressive and applauds the Game Farmers Association (GFA) for mobilising the industry, and mentions particularly game farmers, gamekeepers and vets for the commitment in tackling the issue.
While the need to reduce antibiotic use has been government driven, principally through the World Health Organisation (WHO), the considerable progress has been achieved through self-regulation. The WHO are quick to point out that if voluntary reduction fails, statutory regulation will be sure to follow.
What the civil servants must appreciate is that self-regulation is almost always superior to anything mandatory. Self-regulation necessitates expertise on the ground, a natural consequence of which is to drive up standards because there is no substitute for local knowledge and those involved with countryside pursuits are unquestionably dedicated to upholding its integrity.
The reduced use of antibiotics has seen more game keepers revert to the first principle of prevention being better than cure. This has heightened the need for fit and healthy birds, which in turn has placed a greater emphasis on husbandry.
Whatever the successes, one can never fully eradicate rogue practice, and we still hear stories of the odd vet prescribing antibiotics when other more responsible vets have refused. Often, it is to urban-based small animal practices gamekeepers turn when refused their initial demands from a local country practice. It is against this background that Keeper’s Choice always recommend vets who have experience of gamebirds.
The vast majority of game keepers are responsible and have been pivotal in driving down antibiotic use. For the most part, the days when game keepers called the tune as to how much of the feed should be medicated on a ‘just in case’ basis have gone; increasingly nowadays the focus is on treating actual disease outbreaks.
Feed plays a vital role in helping realise fit and healthy birds. Through formulation it is possible to create a feed that can promote gut health, improve digestibility, and attain optimum growth and development.
Keepers Choice includes as appropriate to particular diets enhanced proteins to help absorption and utilization of amino acids; organic acids and natural oils to support gut heath and reduce bacterial contamination; and Omega 3 Fatty Acids to improve survival rates by giving greater chick viability.
Our advice to game keepers has always been never to be tempted to use lower diet specifications. For example, always check that phosphate - sometimes in short supply - is always included at the optimum rate as it is fundamental to the bird’s long-term well-being.
Keepers Choice believes formulations to help attain fit and healthy birds require access to a wide range of feed ingredients – dependence on a narrow band of materials will undermine the validity of growing stock. Apart from essential vitamins and minerals – calcium, phosphorus and vitamins D and E – too high a reliance on cereals should also be avoided.
The game sector has set itself a further 25% reduction in antibiotics between now and 2020, and the GFA has established a five point plan to assist to this end. It involves best practice in the areas of game management (emphasising biosecurity); prescribing antibiotics (encouraging the use of Vets who are familiar with gamebirds); record keeping; sharing information between relevant organisations (gamekeepers, vets, breeders); clamping down on illegality (using antibiotics that have not been legally prescribed and/or sourced).
Perhaps the success of the game sector in reducing antibiotics is down to its desire to stay self-regulated. But that only partly explains the story. The game sector is fiercely independent and believes itself best qualified to do what is right by the countryside and its way of life. The unfolding narrative on antibiotics would support this notion as correct. As previously mentioned, self-regulation ensures expertise on the ground, for which there is no substitute.
Further information from: Richard Leach, Keepers Choice
Tel: 07831 545035
For all the latest information visit the website: https://www.keeperschoice.co.uk/