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DEFRA’s code must be changed

As I am a gamekeeper, I don’t have any problem with the idea of having to rear my birds to a sensible welfare standard — I believe I do that anyway. And I don’t particularly mind if that standard is set down in the form of a sensible government code, because my profession might be safer with that sort of official recognition. But the DEFRA Code of Practice for the Welfare of Gamebirds, introduced to Parliament last week, is anything but sensible. It is an ill-thought-out mess.

Take what it says about bringing in new laying birds. I catch up from the shoot 400 hens and enough cocks to serve them. But I also buy in about 100 hens from a friend further afield, partly to make up the numbers for my laying pens but also to bring in some new blood of a particular strain I want here. The new DEFRA code tells me that these incoming birds must be kept separate from existing stock for the duration of the breeding season. Now I realise I’m at risk of stating the obvious, but just how are they supposed to produce chicks if they cannot be penned with the cocks?

Or look at the bit about inspection. Gamekeepers will now have to check all birds at least twice a day for signs of disease or injury. Well of course I do that and more for growing chicks and poults, we all do, but for extensively penned adult birds, it simply isn’t necessary. Once a day does for them, just as it does, by law and in practice, for all the sheep and cattle round here.

Remember, too, that the code applies to birds confined in release pens, it says that quite clearly, so the twice-a-day inspection applies to those too, at least up until all the birds can get out. What are all the little DIY shoots going to do whose keen amateur keepers have always checked their birds very diligently on the way to work? They won’t all be able to check them twice a day.

The code was the sensible sort of document that I would have been happy with until the Government added these extra things late in the day and without speaking to practical organisations like the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO).

There is still a lot of good in the code that we should support but it has been spoiled by uninformed insertions like these. The impractical bits have to be taken out again and I wish the organisations now fighting to do that every success. No doubt a change of government would help!

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