Five years ago, MacFarlane Pheasants received a strange request from a longtime customer: could we raise 200 French Redleg partridges?
Well, sure we could. We’d been raising Chukars/Redleg Crosses at the time, a close relative in the partridge family, just like a lot of other people. The French Redleg partridge had never been bred on a commercial scale in the United States, but many U.S. hunters knew about them, traveling to England to participate in driven shoots at high-end estates. They were amazed at the flight speed and wildness of the plump little birds.
But as we got more familiar with the birds, we fell in love with the French Redleg, and at this point, they’ve completely replaced the Chukar as our go-to partridge. Here’s why:
• Mature bird mortality is lower
• They’re a flightier bird, wilder and more exciting
• They’re hardier and able to withstand wider temperature extremes
• Easy to raise in captivity
For those that have raised pheasants, you’ll find some differences in raising the French Redleg. Partridge chicks like warmer temperatures, and they like their “A” and “B” rooms brighter. Instead of cycling lights, partridge chicks require 24 hours of light, or they can pile, leading to suffocation.
Raising French Redlegs requires a careful eye against humidity, which dampens bedding and can lead to coccidiosis. In Wisconsin, where our summer days can be thick with moisture, MacFarlane pheasant and partridge chicks are given an inhibiter in their feed, and partridge chicks are given a specific dose in their water at 19 days to prevent the break-out that history has shown happens around 21 days. It’s for this reason that drier climates are ideal for these birds.
Partridge chicks spend four weeks in the “A” room and five weeks in the “B” room. At nine weeks their preen glands have developed and their feathering is good to go, so they’re ready for the outdoor pens. Birds can be skittish when they’re settling in outside, so we switch netting from our standard 2-inch to a 1.5-inch weave. That way, when the birds spook and flush, they won’t pop right through the net.
One final note from the MacFarlane farms: French Redleg partridges thrive on consistency. If you do your chores in the pens in the same way each time, they’re actually quite polite birds, moving out of your way. But stray from your normal way of doing things and the whole flock will flush, and as one manager remembers, he had to army-crawl out of the barn.
The French Redleg partridge is a fast bird, easier to raise and hardier than the Chukar/Redleg Cross, and great for the sportsman who wants a challenge.