Tips for Raising Pheasants
The following suggestions are based on starting with 50 to 100 day old pheasant chicks.
(tips can be applied to chukar partridge as well)
Click a TIP TOPIC below for specific Tips for Raising Pheasants
Equipment and Facilities:
- Draft-free building approximately 200-300 square feet in size
- Gas hover or electric heat bulbs
- Two to four plastic gallon founts
- Cardboard or metal flashing chick guard 12″ to 18″ high
- Clean, dry straw
- Two to four 24″ to 36″ long metal feeders
Note: Always keep in mind when you raise pheasant chicks year after year, you will always run into something different. Just because you did it one way this year without problems guarantee it as a problem-free process for the future. We’ve been raising game birds for many, many years and find new issues each year. Please follow our basic instructions and feel free to contact us for further information.
Draft free building or area approximately 200-300 square feet in size, preferably with a concrete floor, however dirt or wooden floor is okay provided the floor surface has been cleaned thoroughly of any old manure or litter-this is especially true if chickens or turkeys were once housed in the building. In any event, the inside of the buildings should have been scrubbed, disinfected, completely aired out and dried a week or so before the chicks are to arrive.
Use this basic guide to determine floor space for your pens or buildings:
|Game Bird Age||Square Feet|
|1 Day to 2 Weeks||.25|
|3 to 6 Weeks||1|
|6 to 12 Weeks||4|
Either a gas hover or heat lamps with reflectors can be used as a heat source for the young birds. Four 250 watt heat bulbs should be used for up to 250 chicks. The red bulb cost twice as much as the white ones and the only real advantage is that they are shatterproof. The distance from the heat source to the floor will determine the comfort of the chicks (lower to increase heat applied, higher to decrease heat applied).
Start temperature at 90-92 degrees at level of the chicks. After a few days you may have to start decreasing the temperature as chicks adjust to their environment. The chicks will let you know by the way they act. Study the chicks after putting them down to determine if the heat is at the correct temperature. If the chicks are piling in the center (not merely laying side by side) they are too cold, lower the heat source closer to the chicks; if they have scattered to the perimeter of the chick guard and/or are panting, the heat source will need to be raised from the chicks somewhat. Usually the problem is too cold; however, intense heat will dehydrate the chicks causing E.C.M (Early Chick Mortality).
One word of caution: if you use heat lamps-make certain the extension cords and circuits involved are capable of carrying the load. If a fuse or circuit blows it usually happens at night or when you are not around (Murphy’s Law) and the result will be piling with smothered chicks.
The chick guard referred to is a must for the first week to ten days to keep the chicks close to the heat source until they are familiar enough to find it on their own. It should be a 12″-14″ high round piece of cardboard or metal flashing approximately 5′-6′ in diameter. Construct it to eliminate corners, as corners are perfect chick piling spots. Remove the chick guard when birds begin flying over it–usually about ten days of age. Do not allow the area inside the chick guard to become wet and dirty. Change the litter as often as necessary.
Use a dry, coarse litter for your birds, such as, chopped straw (not sawdust or wood chips). They could eat the sawdust or the fines of wood shavings and die of impacted gizzards. If you use straw you might want to flatten or chop it somewhat to allow the chicks to get around easier. If you must use shavings (or something with fines that the birds might eat) cover it with burlap or an old bed sheet for the first ten days. This will ensure the birds will eat only the feed presented to them.
WATER AND FEEDERS
Use plastic gallon founts you can buy in most hardware stores or feed mills. They are unbreakable and clean up nicely. Begin feeding your chicks on a flat for the first few days. You could use egg flats so the chicks do a minimum amount of scratching out and wasting of feed. Paper plates work well too, but they will waste more feed. Put several within the chick guard area–it’s important that they find the feed and water, mostly water, within a few hours of being put down.
They find it mainly out of curiosity. After a day or two add a couple of the metal reel type feeders, but leave the flats in there until you are sure they are eating from the other type of feeder. Two or three of the one gallon plastic waters per 50 chicks is about right. It is getting kind of crowded in there, but you want the chicks to trip over this stuff until they know what it is. If the litter starts to get wet and dirty after a few days, change it, but leave up the chick guard.
WHAT DO I FEED?
A seven-week-old pheasant will have consumed a mere two pounds of feed or less by the time it reaches that age. Therefore, you can see the feed becomes an insignificant part of the growing out or “bringing up” of the young bird from an expense standpoint. However, from a nutritional level, it is probably the most important segment of the bird’s 18-week climb to maturity.
NEVER use a chicken starter on game birds. Use either a game bird starter (labeled as such) or a commercial turkey starter. It must be granule or ground type feed and must have a protein level NO lower than 28% (30% protein is even better).
It should be fresh, not something the feed dealer has had sitting around for a year or two–vitamins lose their punch after so long and you will be paying good money for an ineffective product. A low level coccidiostat in the feed is fine. There is rarely a need for any other medication at this stage.
Here’s another helpful table:
|Game Bird Age||Amount of Feed Consumed|
|1 Day to 6 Weeks||2lb. Total Per Bird|
|6 Weeks to Maturity||Approx. 1lb. Per Week Per Bird|
A word about medication: Don’t be concerned about it. Most people blow the need for medication way out of proportion. “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” Good management is the key word. Provide a clean, dry environment and don’t overcrowd. The birds have great natural ability to ward off most problems.
What about medication in the water?
Clean, fresh water will do as much or more to stimulate growth and vitality in your birds than anything else you do. Blood is about 80% water, so it’s plain to see what stale, contaminated water could do. You should change water morning and night every day and scrub and disinfect waters every other day. Again it is not necessary to add any other medication or anti-pecking soluble in the water. A water soluble vitamin/electrolyte mixture in the water is cheap insurance and a good idea.
CAN CANNIBALISM BE A PROBLEM?
You bet it can! Feather pulling or cannibalism in game birds reared in captivity is a very real problem, but can be controlled if a couple of things are remembered. Nearly all feather pulling, or worse, starts from the birds being too crowded, which puts them into a stressed condition. Stuffy, poorly ventilated brooder spaces will also contribute to a cannibalism outbreak.
HOW DO I STOP CANNIBALISM?
If cannibalism should start–you must STOP it in it’s early stages or your entire project will be for nothing. Birds released with critical feathers missing, especially the back and head feathers, will not get past the first hard rain, particularly if it is a cold rain.
If the problem starts, darken the brooder area by covering windows and doors. Leave only enough light for the birds to find feeders and waters, but not necessarily each other. Try hanging full heads of lettuce with a spike driven thru the center tied to a rafter or something so it will swing freely thus attracting the chicks out of curiosity and they will enjoy eating the greenery. Perhaps they’ll leave their neighbor alone then. Give them more room, even if you have to move half of them to another area.
If all this fails, and you will know within a day or two, then you could de-beak the birds. Each and every one of them must be de-beaked or it will do no good. This process is very critical, especially in view of the birds being groomed for release. This is true because the young birds will need a full beak for plucking and cracking weed seed and grains, also for catching insects. Here is how you do it: if you have access to an electric de-beaker, use that. If not, a heavy duty toenail clipper will work. Snip just enough of the top beak only, to the point of it turning pink. DO NOT cut it so severely that gross bleeding takes place. You may damage the nerve endings of the beak if too much is taken, to the point of it never growing back. In any event, have a cauterizing agent available, such as silver nitrate, to stop any bleeding that occurs. De-beaking young pheasants is an art; too little taken off will not deter the problem and, of course, too much will stunt the re-growth of the beak. Go slow until you get the hang of it. Catch them one at a time and as you finish one bird, put him in an area apart from the others left to do. This will ensure that you get them all done. The disadvantage of de-beaking is that it is only temporary and will need to be repeated as the beaks for grow back.
A more common solution is to apply rubber hoods to the birds at around 5 weeks of age. About a week prior to putting the hoods on use electrolytes in the water to give the birds some extra energy to endure the stress. You should also put extra water and feed out for them and keep that out for awhile after the hoods have been applied. Keeping the lights on in the brooder building the night before hooding will give them ample time to drink and eat. When ready to apply the hoods, insert the plastic pin through one hole in the hood (depends on if you are left or right handed which hole will be more comfortable for you). Position the hood on the top beak of the bird. Push the pin through nostril hole and into opposite hole of the hood so that barb of the pin is past the nostril and through the hood. If applied correctly, the hood will stand up on its own. The hood should not drop forward or droop off to the side of the beak. Keep an eye on the birds for a couple days after application. Make sure they are in a warm, dry environment to minimize stress.
The best advice on the entire subject of cannibalism is DON’T LET IT START! One last point is this: Pheasants will almost always start feather pulling on the back area, a very subtle process, hard to spot with an untrained eye because of the wings folding over and covering the back area. Periodically, catch several birds, separate the wings and examine the back area for feather pulling. This should be done initially at about two weeks of age. Upon checking there should be a single row of small feathers running down the center of the back just under where the wings fold over. If it is missing or partially missing, the birds are feather pulling and you best do something right now. If you let it go any further, you will be forced into the de-beaking process and that’s a whole lot more work–not to mention the additional damage that will be done.
Getting your birds outside as early as possible, about five weeks of age, for a few hours each day, will make or break your project from a livability standpoint after releasing. Several things happen when you introduce the birds to this outside environment:
- You are giving the birds an additional 400-600 square feet of space.
- The cooler outside air will begin to promote faster, more thorough feathering.
- The conditioning process prior to release takes place, i.e. dusting, pecking at greens, exercising, etc. You can spray the birds with a water mist in this outside area to activate the oil and preening glands which waterproof and harden the birds. This of course is helpful as they encounter their first rain storms.
Here’s how you should build this runway: Have it attached to your brooder building and approximately 10′-12′ wide by 40′-50′ long. It should be constructed completely of no larger than 1″ poultry netting for the top. It is better to have a top because what doesn’t fly out and away, the neighbor’s cat or hawk will nab. The wire for the walls must, must be buried in the ground at least 12″ deep (20″ is better). You’ve come along way with this project to give it all up to that cat, dog, or fox. A project like this tends to draw every critter in the country.
It’s extra work to bury that wire–but if you don’t do it, you should just forget about the outside runway altogether. In fact, please check out our Nite Guard Solar product as additional help to keep away those critters.
Remember to run the birds back into the building each night (at least on nights when you know the weather will be cold or rainy) as a heavy rainstorm could drive them into the corners resulting in piling.
NOTE: Birds should be 8 weeks of age or older before you put them outside permanently because their feather development is complete by this age. The back feathers are the last to come, so you would very likely experience bird loss during a night storm where the cold rain makes direct contact with their skin. Good, thick cover is always helpful in these situations too.
WHEN SHOULD I RELEASE?
This is a widely debated topic. One thing is certain, ringneck pheasants are living and thriving in North America today because they were brought here in cages from China and released. This is historically documented.
Having said that we offer our suggestions based on over 40 years of raising pheasants and observing their behavior in a variety of settings including hundreds, probably more like thousands, of release projects.
Pheasants should be released into the wild at one of two ages; either at 8 weeks of age or fully grown adults in the spring of the year. The adult bird release will generally give you more return for your expense and effort. At the very least you are releasing an adult pheasant into the wild with hopes of survival. At the best the hens will nest and raise progeny that will have never known captivity. These adult pheasants, if raised under optimum conditions will have overcome imprinting to humans and will have developed natural instincts including foraging for food and avoiding predation.
Eight week old birds, upon release, will be looking for some help as they are still imprinting to humans and need to wean away from that. Avoiding predation and finding food and water will be a challenge that many of these birds will not overcome. These same birds if raised to maturity living in large spacious pens with solid, thick cover to hide in will hone their instincts.
The behavior shift from imprinting to attaining natural instincts is something we have observed over many years and will make or break your release project.
WHAT KIND OF SUCCESS CAN I EXPECT FOR MY RELEASED BIRDS?
This is a difficult question to answer, it depends on many factors, most beyond your control. First, the birds will have to re-adapt to freedom, which means finding food, water and shelter on their own. It also means fending off predators. This all has to happen within a few hours, certainly a day or two, after release and quite frankly many birds will not do well quick enough.
We tell people releasing 8-week-old pheasants to expect somewhere between 10% and 20% of the birds to make it until fall and probably less than that to make it through the winter to the breeding spring.
The quality of the birds being released has a big impact on what happens, meaning in terms of genetics and how good of a job you did raising them from day old. Don’t be overly discouraged though–remember the ringneck pheasant is in this country today because of stocking efforts that took place nearly 100 years ago.
Begin the planning for your flight pen as early in the year as possible. Decide what size it should be based on the number of birds you are keeping, use 15-18 square feet per bird (with good cover) as a rule. You will need to have good cover in the pen for the birds to hide in, so plant something like rape, milo, or sorghum (you can actually prepare the ground and plant before you begin construction).
Most of today’s pheasant flight pens use the nylon netting for a top rather than wire, so be aware that netting comes in 2″ mesh 50′ x 150′ rolls–build your pen size accordingly. The side wire should be 1″ mesh galvanized after weaving poultry netting providing a 6′ or 7′ side wall nailed to treated posts on 10′ centers. Remember to bury the wire 12″-20″ deep to discourage animals from digging in and also to keep the birds from scratching and digging out.
Check out our sister company Nite Guard Solar to learn about further predator control solutions. Depending on the size of your pen, you will need to provide lengths of 9 gauge galvanized wire periodically running the length and width of the pen. Have a 10′ or 12′ prop pole available where the wires intersect to lift the netting into the air (we use a 2×4 as a pole).