Stuart Young, a specialist game bird and poultry vet at Quill Veterinary Services, shares his thoughts:-
Apart from gapes, the majority of problems that we see in the release pens originate from poor intestinal health. A major contributor to this is the quality of the water supply. If we continually bombard the gut with bacteria from the poor water supply we are going to tip the balance of good bugs to bad bugs in favour of the latter.
We are putting the birds in an artificially crowded environment and all birds are trying to drink from the same water source. These stresses are potentially another contributor to poor immunity and hence poor gut health.
We have found in the past few years that keeping water clean has had a hugely beneficial effect on poult health. Accompanied to this we have added acids to try to tip the balance of bugs in favour of the good ones that then keep the bad ones at bay and prevent them from causing disease.
Our aims are to significantly reduce antibiotic usage for common diseases in the release pens such as hexamita. Our feelings are that the combinations of water sanitation and organic acids have significantly reduced this disease and we are thus avoiding the unnecessary in feed antibiotics that were standard with every poult delivery to the shoot.
Graham Crocker of Quill Productions says:-
Release pens are concentrated areas of pheasants and therefore an easy breeding ground for disease, especially as poults will be stressed when first released at 7 weeks old. Their immune systems aren’t yet fully mature and therefore choosing the right drinker is important.
Ground floor drinkers, such as dome masters or even cut open half barrels are an absolute no. Yes they are dirt cheap but they are also dirty and spread germs, even if you wash them out every day.
Hanging bell drinkers are a popular option because they are relatively inexpensive drinkers and cut down on contamination and the spread of disease caused by birds pooing in the water. However, they do still spread disease as the pheasants will dribble water back into the drinker as they scoop water up in their beaks before tipping their heads backs to swallow the water. Using an organic acid in the water is an absolute must as a low pH will help to kill bacteria. At the start of release I use our Quill Boost Tonic which has multiple benefits of acidifying water and supporting the birds’ immune system as well as chilling them out to cope with stress better and helping the final feather production.
Some keepers like to move drinkers around to help prevent wet patches or disease hotspots. Personally, I think the best solution is to put a raised grid under your hanging drinker. It saves time moving drinkers every few days and saves multiple disease hot spots being caused.
I use hanging nipple drinkers in my woods where I have header tanks or mains water. These are the best for the poults’ health as there is absolutely NO disease transmission through the water.
As long as a high flow nipple is used, the poults get more than enough water, especially as it goes straight down the throat, as opposed to the bell drinkers where half of it gets dribbled back into the drinker. It’s on old wives tale that birds don’t get enough water from nipple drinkers; it is all about using the correct high flow water and maintaining a high level of water in the drinker by adjusting the valve which will help to create a wet nipple.
The poults love the tap, tap, tapping sound of the nipples as well as the pecking action and I think this helps with boredom and reducing wandering. I also use the nipple tank drinkers which have the added benefits of clean water and water storage, useful for areas without mains or header tanks but can also be connected to the mains if you prefer.