Pheasants are well-known today in the United States, but this wasn’t always the case. These game birds were first brought to North America from Asia in 1733, and it took about 100 years for them to begin to thrive here. The governors of New York and New Hampshire dropped the Old English Blackneck Pheasant in each of their states, but the birds weren’t strong enough to survive. The Chinese Ring-Necked Pheasant, known for its colorful plumage and outstanding flavor, was released in the U.S. in Oregon in 1881, 1882, and 1884 by Oregon native Owen Nickerson Denny. The Ring-Necked Pheasants flourished, and, by the late 1800s and early 1900s, many more of these birds were brought from English game bird farms and released across the U.S. Today, pheasants are raised on more than 100 farms nationwide, and many individuals raise small numbers for fun, food, and the opportunity to experience these beautiful birds!
If you’re interested in raising pheasants, you’ll want to gain as much information as you can beforehand so you can be prepared to give them the best care at each stage. Here, you’ll find information on how to order pheasant chicks, prepare for their delivery, and raise them to maturity, including the types of specialized indoor and outdoor locations required to raise healthy pheasants, as well as the feed, water, and time requirements.
Preparing to Raise Pheasant Chicks
Detailed preparation is important to keep your chicks healthy through maturity. Pay close attention to the following key areas. Brooders and flight pens should be planned before chicks are ordered.
Before your chicks arrive, establish your brooder barn. It’s critical that the building you use is airtight and free of rodents. You can design your building especially for your new pheasant chicks or use part of an existing building. Pheasant chicks are delicate, and setting up your brooder barn correctly will increase your chances of success. You’ll need a barn that allows for 3/4 square foot per baby pheasant. You’ll also need a feeder that’s about 2 feet long for every 50 chicks. A 1-gallon waterer is enough for 75 chicks, but your waterer must have a lip that is 1/2 inch or less to prevent these tiny pheasant chicks from drowning. Some breeders put marbles in the waterers to protect the chicks from drowning accidents.
Clean and disinfect the area and all the equipment placed in the room at least two weeks before the chicks arrive. Kiln-dried wood chips can be used on the floor, since they’re very absorbent, but do not use wood shavings. Chicks will sometimes eat the shavings and die. Use brooder paper or burlap in the pens during the first week. Brooder paper, which helps the chicks keep their footing, is available at most feed stores. Burlap also works, but paper or burlap should be removed after the first week.
Use heat lamps over the new chicks for the first 4 to 5 weeks. You’ll need at least one 250-watt bulb for every 100 chicks. Bulbs with red ends aren’t so bright and help to control cannibalism, which can be a problem with pheasants. Hang the lights from the ceiling, with the bottom of the lamp 18 inches above the floor.
When the chicks first arrive, use a draft shield to confine them for the first 5 to 7 days that they’re in the brooder. You can use cardboard that’s about 18 inches high to form a circle with a 4-foot diameter to confine about 50 chicks and to cut down on drafts. The heat lamp should be right in the center of the shield.
Order your feed so that it’s available as soon as the chicks arrive. Feed them a 26 to 30 percent starter feed medicated with a coccidiostat, such as amprolium, until they’re 6 weeks old. The feed should be in crumble form. You can add Terramycin Soluble Powder (an antibiotic) to their water for the first week if they appear to be sick or dying. After 6 weeks, the growing chicks should be fed a 20 percent protein grower feed.
Ordering Chicks and Starting Them in Your Brooder Barn
There are several options for ordering chicks, including from MacFarlane Pheasants Inc., the largest pheasant farm in the U.S., which provides high-quality pheasant chicks, as well as support for new and practicing pheasant rearers. Chicks can be ordered online in advance, and if MacFarlane doesn’t have chicks available the week you want them, you can go on a standby list. When you know when you’ll be ready for chicks, you can call MacFarlane Pheasants at 608-757-7881 to discuss pricing and chick delivery.
When chicks arrive, you’ll want to get them right into your prepared brooder barn. Dip their beaks in the waterer and put them under the heat lamp (that’s where they should gather). If you see the chicks bunch up, then they’re probably too cold. You’ll want to lower your lamp a little or make sure your brooder is draft-proof. If the chicks spread out too much, then they’re probably too warm, and you’ll need to raise the heat lamp. Make sure feed and water are always available, and check on your little chicks frequently throughout the day.
Chicks at 4 to 6 Weeks
Your chicks are ready for an outdoor pen for part of the day! The pen has to be covered with 1-inch chicken wire to prevent your pheasants from escaping. At this point, the chicks need 1 to 2 square feet per bird. On the first nice, sunny day, you can open your brooder house and let the chicks out into your pen until late afternoon. Put them back in the brooder before the sun is gone and keep the heat lamp turned on until they’re 4 to 5 weeks old. Once it’s warm enough to let your chickens outside every day, you can discontinue the heat lamps.
Pheasants at 5 to 8 Weeks
When your birds are 5 to 6 weeks old, you need to be prepared to keep them in flight pens, or “grow-out pens,” as they are often called, which are described below. Pheasants are usually moved outside full-time at 6 to 8 weeks, so the flight pen should be part of your pre-planning for the arrival of chicks.
Pheasants need about 25 square feet per bird in the outdoor pens if they have peepers. Peepers are small devices that are put on the pheasants’ beaks at five weeks to block their forward vision and prevent them from having a direct line of vision to other birds. One of the questions people ask about peeping their pheasants is, “Does it hurt?” The best answer I’ve heard is that the pain of peeping compares to getting your ear pierced, but with the importance of a flu shot. Pheasants need to be protected from themselves. They tend to be cannibalistic and will pick at each other and pull out the tail feathers of the other birds. The injuries caused by this aggressive behavior can result in death to a pheasant, so peepers are recommended!
The Flight Pen
The flight pen is a safe place to put your pheasants until they grow to maturity. They’ll still need feed and waterers. They’ll also need cover within their flight pen. Weeds such as lambsquarters or ragweed germinate early in the spring and provide great early-season cover. Corn can also be planted as ground cover. Ground cover is important for several reasons. It provides shelter for birds from harsh weather, provides shade, gives birds something to pick at, reduces eye contact between birds, and gives them places to escape from one another.
You’ll need to have your flight pen completed before it’s time to begin letting your pheasants outside full-time. MacFarlane Pheasants offers a complete guide to building a flight pen, and you can download the guide for free. It provides detailed instruction for a large pen, but the guide will detail the materials needed, and you can adjust the amounts for whatever size pen you need.
When pheasant chicks are first delivered, it’s necessary to check on them frequently throughout the day to make sure all the factors previously discussed are in order. When they reach 5 to 8 weeks and begin to live in outdoor flight pens, they’ll need to be checked a couple times a day to make sure they’re safe, have enough food and water, and aren’t injured or sick. Preparation, proper nutrition, and consistent care are the keys to raising beautiful, healthy pheasants.
Photography Credits: ©MacFarlane Pheasants, Inc.
It is with great appreciation that I credit MacFarlane Pheasants, Inc. owner, Bill MacFarlane and his employees with information and photographs.
Pat Johnson is a freelance writer who blogs for MacFarlane Pheasants Inc., the largest pheasant business in North America. This allowed her to learn from expert pheasant rearers and cover a variety of game bird topics, including how to raise pheasants, safety practices, barn maintenance, and pheasant recipes.