Heat Reduces Feed Intake in Game Birds

Heat Reduces Feed Intake in Game Birds

Having recently seen the hottest day of 2020 – an uncomfortable 37.8C recorded in some places – and more hot weather warnings due in the coming weeks, we thought it the right time to give some advice on the effects that heat can have on game birds.

High temperatures and too much heat can see subtle changes in both behaviour and physicality, and it is important to recognise these signs and know what to look out for – and how to react.

A number of our customers rearing poults have commented that before going to wood, young birds are only feeding when it is cool – meaning first thing in the morning and early evening. This has led to observations that, although in great condition, birds are lighter in weight at release than in some previous seasons.

The expectation is that once out in release pens, birds will have much more shade, less heat and be able to exercise. We would expect feed intake to increase noticeably during this period, perhaps by more than 10%. So, make sure not to leave yourself short on feed!

Due to the lack of feeding before release to wood, once released it will pay dividends to feed a high- density grower ration for a couple of weeks, or certainly for longer than usual. This will work to put much needed weight on the birds, in order to meet any challenges ahead.

Clean, fresh water is so crucial during normal weather, so during the current heat this becomes even more imperative. Drinking temperatures can get to levels that reduce intake and we advise flushing water systems regularly to help maintain intake, especially when the birds are active in the morning and the evening.

  • 1,000, 8-week-old pheasants will drink approx. 120 litres per day or nearly 1,000 litres a week.
  • 1,000, 8-week-old partridges will drink approx. 50 litres per day and nearly 400 litres a week.

If the weather is as warm as it has been the risk of heat stress increases significantly. Some of the signs to watch out for are –

  • Gasping, panting, panting respiration (up to 250 breaths per minute)
  • Wings spreading
  • Lethargy and slowness
  • Light body weight and poor colouring
  • Increased mortality
  • Increased output of urine
  • Increase in thirst
  • Lowered appetite

As difficult as our job as gamekeepers is, extreme weather makes it even harder – but the last thing we want is hungry or thirsty birds when out in wood, and in the long-term extra work now will help considerably.