Undercover investigations reveal routine horror at game farms

Posted on the 1st October 2021

Today marks the start of the shooting of millions of pheasants for ‘sport’. For almost two decades, Animal Aid has investigated and documented this industry – including the dreadful industrial operations, hidden from the public gaze, that mass-produce millions of birds for the guns.

In particular, our undercover investigations have, over the years, helped to reveal the appalling suffering of birds who are used as ‘breeding stock’. Many of the pheasants and partridges are confined in metal, battery-style units, which cause so much stress and anguish to the incarcerated birds that they resort to attacking one another. To prevent the birds from killing one another, gamekeepers put ‘bits’ or other devices on their beaks to restrict their beak movement – which probably only serves to make them even more stressed and unhappy.

This year, our investigations have shown the routine filth, neglect and squalor of game farms. In April, we filmed birds in barren cages at a game farm in Sussex. Even the most basic government welfare guidelines stipulate that ‘Barren raised cages for breeding pheasants and small barren cages for breeding partridges should not be used.’ Our complaint to Trading Standards was met with the ‘assurance’ that there were no welfare issues at the farm.

We returned to the same game farm in July. The horrors we found came, sadly, as no great surprise. The entire site was in an atrocious state of neglect with some dead, cannibalised pheasants in cages, and more dead birds in a large enclosure. There was also a large number of dead corvids near the pheasants, and a large quantity of uncollected eggs in the egg trays. We feared that the pheasants may have been abandoned. A return visit with a long-running camera revealed that over a period of 48 hours, and despite considerable movement around the site by workers in vehicles, not once did anyone check on the welfare of the birds in the cages. We have, of course, made another formal complaint.

A visit to another game farm in Somerset in July found pheasant poults (young birds) with featherless and damaged backs, and one poult who had a severe leg injury and struggled to walk. Our investigators also made the gruesome discovery of dead birds in plastic feed sacks in the antechambers to the sheds that held live poults, as well as a bonfire near to the site which had the partially burnt remains of several pheasants and hundreds of bones in the ash. A return visit revealed that new rubbish had been dumped on the bonfire site including several plastic feed sacks with dead and rotting bird remains spilling out, with thousands of maggots in and around these bags.

It should come as no surprise that the birds are viewed as mere egg-producing commodities – to be used and disposed of at will. The industry continues to ignore even the most basic welfare requirements, which is a good reason to ask the government to step in. In the first instance, the raised cages that are used to imprison breeding birds have to go.

Please write to your MP asking them to support this aim.

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