We often think about adding chickens to our farms and yards. Chickens have TV shows and blog hops and dish plates and curtains and well their own everything. It ain’t all about chickens.
In fact, chickens are pheasants – they are classified with 290 other fowl under the order Galliformes. So, let’s give pheasants their due. It’s time.
Live life on the wild side for a change. If you are used to domestic fowl, these game birds will give you a change of pace. Raising pheasants requires a bit more care and knowledge due to their ability to fly (you will need to net the pen if you do not want them to range freely) and their quirky nature – but raising these game birds is worth the extra effort.
Visit eFowl to learn more about choosing your pheasants. There are dozens of varieties of pheasants, ranging from rare ornamental species to the common ring-necks that are observed breaking from croplands and woods.
Before the pheasant chicks arrive
Unless you hatch your own birds in a breeding flock, or under a hen (silkies are the bird of choice, as they love to set and are small enough to hatch and rear delicate game birds), you will need to prepare a brooder. Pheasants hatch on, or after, 24 days and are shipped like any other poultry, as day-old chicks. They have the same window to travel while they are depleting their yolk supply. This portable food source allows walking birds like quail, ducks, guinea and turkeys to survive without foraging while their brothers and sisters hatch. Unlike songbirds or raptors, which bring food to the nest, the hens of fowl gather their chicks and set off to find their first meal.
Pheasants are shipped in large numbers in order to maintain warmth – usually at least 30 chicks per order. They are shipped single species and won’t be mixed with other types such as chickens or guineas.
- Round brooder – Purchase a brooder ring or fashion one from cardboard. Edges need to be curved as chicks can suffocate in corners. Pheasant chicks are flightier than poults, ducklings or chicks.
- Set the brooder in a draft and rodent free area. The site should be in a calm place that is free of loud disturbances. As they grow, chicks will require roughly .75 square feet per bird for the first 6 weeks.
- Heat lamps – Only use the red bulb to prevent problems with the chicks. Pecking injuries are an issue with these game birds. One lamp per 50-100 chicks is the norm. Hang the lamp 18-20 inches from the brooder floor. Be sure the lamp is FIRMLY secured and at no risk of getting knocked over or touching any flammable materials. Heat lamps are extremely dangerous and care must always be used when situating them.
- Always use a thermometer – The desired temperature will vary depending on the age of the chicks. You want to have an area under the lamp at least 100 degrees when they first arrive, with the outer portions of the brooder slightly cooler so the chicks can cool down. A good rule of thumb is to decrease the temperature of the brooder about 5 degrees per week until they are ready to be outdoors.
- Chick comfort -If the pheasant chicks are huddled under the lamp, they will need more warmth. Lower the lamp. If the chicks are pressing against the brooder’s edges, they are too hot – raise the lamp. When the chicks are feeding and meandering = everything is perfect!
Shavings, the go-to bedding for other poultry, are not used with pheasants. The chicks may pick them instead of their feed. Use straw, shredded paper (non-toxic), disposable pet bedding material or burlap sheets. Wood shavings can be used as litter after the first 5 -7 days.
Use high quality game bird or turkey chick starter (for the first 6-7 weeks). A finer grind is recommended for pheasant chicks. Supply all-they-can-eat in several tray feeders. Be sure the trays are low enough for the tiny chicks to eat comfortably. Clean out any food that gets wet or soiled. Troughs, rather than chick feeders, are usually used with game birds, but if you have the feeders, use them.
Tips: Set mats or cardboard under the feed trays. Sprinkle the chick starter on these clean floors to encourage chicks to locate the feed. Point out the food to the chicks by tapping at it with your finger mimicking what a hen would do.
Lighting should be natural and not harsh. Improper light conditions create stress for the birds. Pheasants are particularly sensitive to illumination. Avoid spotlights, dim lighting and do not leave the lights on overnight (this is true for all baby poultry).
Set out 2 chick waterers for 50-100 pheasants. Be sure the waterers are not under the heat lamp, as chicks will not drink warmed water. Add clean pebbles if there is any risk of the chicks entering the troughs and drowning. Waterers need to be cleaned when soiled and refilled with fresh water daily. Scrub and rinse the waterers each day. Every few days, disinfect them with a food-safe cleaner such as Oxine.
Tips: Dip each bird’s beak into the water once they arrive. Watch the birds very closely the first few days to be sure they are eating and drinking.
Generally 6 week old pheasants are fledged enough to enter their aviary (watch the young birds at this time as they can become rambunctious or aggressive with each other). Weather dictates when this can happen. Wait until the birds are feathered if the weather is unusually cold. Avoid setting them out if the aviary is not roofed and the weather is damp or raining. Pheasants enjoy lots of space and you will need to figure about 6-10 square feet per bird (this can vary, and you may need more space to accommodate males). To enrich the environment, add branches for roosting, and leaf litter or pine needles as flooring for foraging activities.
Enjoy some time on the wild side and watch your pheasants blossom into some splendid birds that will set off some feather envy in the rest of the coops.