Gamebirds and Water – The Overlooked Nutrient

Gamebirds and Water – The Overlooked Nutrient

It cannot be stressed enough that gamebirds need a clean, hygienic supply of water.

With much expected of today’s game farmers and keepers, such as controlling budgets and assessing the quality and price of game feed; not to mention dealing with the current Coronavirus outbreak – water can often be an overlooked nutrient. Yet we should not forget that all animals, including us humans, can survive longer without food than water. Water is the lifeblood of any gamebird enterprise – it is key to productivity, body temperature and food digestion.

According to the Game Farmers Guide written by the GFA, the likely water consumption per 100 birds, per day, in litres is:

Clean drinking water key to performance

Shortfalls in the quality of drinking water for gamebirds can lead to a poor performance and a possibility of an over-reliance on antibiotics – the very thing the industry is striving to reduce. And the notion that mains-supplied water must be good for gamebirds come-what-may is true only to a point (mains water can become contaminated like any other).  

The initial quality is not the issue; problems tend to stem from the water lines that supply the drinkers. According to Stephen Bowen, technical poultry specialist with Potters Poultry, in Farmers Weekly, Water ‘sitting in pipes in warm sheds offers an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, algae and other microorganisms. Also, some water tanks are high up in the shed or bird area, raising temperatures further‘.

This highlights the importance of ensuring water is free-flowing: this requires lines to be flushed and cleaned regularly; and demonstrates the need to keep pipes and tanks as cool as possible.

The nature of gamebirds being free to roam outdoors can also increase the risk posed to the birds through contamination. When roaming, birds often peck faeces and mud and then return to the drinkers. This highlights why drinkers should be regularly inspected and cleaned.

Sources, systems and solutions

There are several water sources that can used – mains water being the most obvious. Mains water holds many advantages, for example it will already have been filtered, tested and treated before it comes out of the tap; which immediately lowers the risk of microorganisms and other pollutants being present.

Another option is a borehole. However, this carries an increased risk of contamination compared with mains, especially if the borehole is shallow. The types of bacteria that have been found in boreholes include E.Coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter – there is also the associated risk of Avian Influenza.

Choosing the appropriate drinkers is another vital consideration: they must achieve ease of access, cleanliness, minimal spillage and the ability to cater for the birds needs as they grow.


Many modern floor drinkers have a raised platform with collecting trays underneath, meaning the birds won’t be drinking dirty water from wet puddles. However, this doesn’t avoid the issue of droppings in the area, or contamination from aerial dust. Nipple systems are generally considered to be more hygienic, but if it weeps puddles of dirty water will develop – and it is crucial that it is the right height for the birds. Hanging bell drinkers are another option, but even these require daily cleaning.

Investing in a water sanitising system can be extremely cost-effective. It is exceptionally safe and does not affect colour, taste or odour. But be sure to read the instructions!   

Microbial Water Quality Standards for Gamebird Drinking Water

Water is presumed safe if it has a zero microbial population, provided that mineral content is at safe levels and undesired contaminants are not present. However, presence of microbes in water is not always correlated with disease in flocks unless it increases above a certain infectious level.

The following are the summary parameters for water quality:

  1. Colour, Taste, and Odour- Drinking water for gamebirds must be clear, tasteless, odourless, and colourless.
  2. Bacteria- Bacteria contamination of water can be an indication of contamination by organic material.
  3. Physical and Chemical Characteristics- The acidity or alkalinity of water is expressed as pH level. Gamebirds prefer water with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8 but can tolerate a pH range of 4 to 8.
  4. Hardness refers to the amount of dissolved minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, in water.
  5. Mineral Content
  6. Nitrates and Nitrites
  7. Sulphate (SO4)
  8. Phosphate (PO4)- High levels of phosphate may indicate water contamination from sewage.
  9. Sodium (Na)
  10. Chloride (Cl)
  11. Magnesium (Mg)
  12. Manganese (Mn)
  13. Copper (Cu)
  14. Calcium (Ca)
  15. Iron (Fe)

According to St. David’s Game Bird, “All sites at times may have potential issues with their water either in storage or in line, regardless of being on a bore hole or mains supply” and therefore, accurate and exact testing of water samples is imperative. For instructions on how to take an accurate water sample, click here and head over to St. David’s Game Bird Services.

To conclude

Clean, hygienic drinking water for gamebirds at all stages of development is essential.

A lack of quality drinking water can lead to poor performance, an increase in the use of antibiotics, and will ultimately lower the standard and enjoyment of the shoot. It can also impact on us as game feed manufacturers, with many people blaming feed for issues that are often caused by poor quality drinking water. The bottom line is – If you wouldn’t drink it, then neither should your birds!