From what pheasants look like, raising chicks, pheasant hunting in Wisconsin, and more, learn all about the history of pheasants in the United States here.
Pheasants have been in the United States for more than 200 years. They were first brought to North America in 1773, but they did not begin to propagate until the early 1800’s. The Old English Blackneck Pheasants brought in by the governors of New York and New Jersey in 1773, were not strong enough to survive.
The Chinese Ringnecked Pheasant, known for its colorful plumage and outstanding taste, was released in the United States in Oregon in 1881. Owen Nickerson Denny, an Oregon native, brought the first Ringnecked Pheasant to Oregon in 1881. He shipped 60 of them over the ocean to Washington and then transported them over the open road from Washington to his home state of Oregon. Though the majority of birds had survived the ocean voyage, many were lost while traveling the terrible roads between Washington and Oregon. Denny released the birds that were left on the Columbia River. He released more birds in 1882 and 1884. After those releases, the Ringnecked Pheasant began to flourish in the Willamette Valley of Oregon and move into Washington. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s many pheasants were imported from English gamebird farms, and released across the United States.
Today these birds have been introduced into 40 states. South Dakota has named the Ringnecked Pheasant as its state bird. As noted there were releases of wild pheasants from China in the late 1800’s, but the foundation of most wild bird populations in the U.S. derive from those English game farm importations. Pheasants are raised by the more than 100 farms in the United States. They are released by clubs, individuals, and government agencies to be enjoyed for sport and their tasty meat. Restaurants and grocery stores buy the processed meats for consumers to enjoy.
MacFarlane Pheasants Inc. is the largest pheasant farm in North America and produces approximately 1.3 million chicks per year. Approximately 500,000 chicks are raised to maturity each year. You can visit them at www.pheasant.com to learn more about the state of today’s business and view pictures of the beautiful ringnecked pheasant.
If you’re interested in raising pheasants, here are some tips to get you started.
How to Start Raising Baby Pheasants
The first step of starting to raise your own pheasants is to purchase your birds. If you do not want to have multiple age groups, purchase new chicks each year. You can order chicks online from chicksquote.pheasant.com. If you want laying hens, you need up to 10 different age groups to care for during brooding season.
After Chicks Arrive
Upon arrival, make sure you do the following things immediately.
- Remove chicks from the box,
- Dip their beaks in water,
- Put them under the heat lamps.
Each of these tasks are drastically important to the health of your chicks. Losses will occur if chicks do not immediately start to eat and drink. Make sure that you keep food and water constant.
Chicks should form a circle under the heat lamp. Watch their behavior to determine if changes need to be made. If your chicks begin bunching under the lamp, this means they are too cold. Lower the lamp or add more bulbs. If they begin to spread out or pant, they are too hot. Turn off one of the bulbs, raise the heat lamps, or open a window during hot weather.
Inspect your chicks regularly during the first week, especially at night. Chicks can die from being too cold, especially during the first or second night.
After 2–3 weeks allow chicks to be in a pen outside, during the daytime, on warm, sunny days. The pen should be covered with 1-inch-hole chicken wire to keep chicks from escaping. Allow 1–2 square feet per bird in the pen. Turn the heat lamps on each afternoon when you drive the birds back inside. Use the heat lamps until the chicks are 3–4 weeks old and discontinue the lamps, depending on how cold it is, when they are spending each day outside.
Watch for cannibalism, which is indicated by blood on the wing tips and tails of smaller birds. Add branches and alfalfa hay if you see this, so birds can peck and play on it. You may have to clip beaks back with fingernail clippers; trim far enough back so it bleeds a little if cannibalism is a problem. Clipping may be done at 2 weeks and you may have to do it more than once.
Feed and water
- The brooder house should be big enough to give the chicks 3/4 of a square foot per bird.
- Use a 2 foot long feeder for every 50 chicks.
- You need a 1-gallon waterer for every 75 chicks. The waterer should be filled with marbles or have a narrow lip of less than ½ inch to keep chicks from drowning.
- At 0-3 weeks feed 28% game bird pre starter with a coccidiostat.
- At 3-8 weeks feed 26% game bird starter with a coccidiostat.
- At 8-20 weeks feed 20% game bird grower.
- At 20 weeks feed 14% game bird maintenance.
- If you can’t find game bird feed, you can use a turkey ration.
- The feed should be in crumble form.
- Terramyacin (an antibiotic) can be added to water during the first week if chicks seem ill.
You can’t raise young birds without a brooder barn. The chicks are cared for in these structures for their first 6-8 weeks. It has to be weather tight (no drafts) and completely disinfected 1-2 weeks before you get your newborn chicks. Chicks will thrive in a sanitized environment with new bedding, appropriate lighting, heat and feed. Your chicks generally arrive in a box. They should be removed from the box into the brooding area immediately. Heat, water and feed should be accessible right away. You don’t want your chicks to compete for these necessities. The more comfortable and stress-free the chicks are, the better the chances that they will remain healthy and grow to adulthood.
Brooder Rooms Heating
- Perfect brooder houses have 2 rooms.
- The A room is where the chicks live for the first 3 weeks and have an ideal density of ¼ inch square foot per chick.
- The B room is where they live until they are 6-8 weeks old. And they need ½ square foot per chick.
- Gas brooders (20,000-30,000 BTU’S) are great for large flocks if you have gas. Otherwise, you need at least one infrared bulb (250 watt) for every 100 chicks.
- Bulbs with a red end are not as bright. They help to control pecking and cannibalism.
- You can use cardboard to make a circle 14-18 inches high and 4 feet in diameter to confine chicks and protect them from drafts. About 50 chicks should fit within each circle.
- You have to pay special attention to chick behavior and adjust the heat lamps accordingly.
- If they bunch up they may be too cold.
- If they are moving away from the heat lamp, they may be too warm.
- Chicks are weaned off this heat source at about a degree a day starting around day 5.
- A forced air heater is used after the gradual reduction in temperature.
- By 6-7 weeks the temperature in the B room should be similar to the outside temperature.
Brooder Room Bedding
Kiln dried wood chips make the best bedding. Wood shavings that are too small are a hazard to small chicks that will eat them and die from their gizzard getting impacted. Sand and newspaper are also a hazard because the chicks can lose their footing. Straw is okay for chicks in room B. Be sure to keep all bedding dry to ensure raising healthy chicks.
At about 8 weeks of age it is time for the pheasants to move to outside pens. The pens should be covered with netting to prevent escape and to keep predators out.
- Allow for about 25 square feet per bird and have shelters for the birds.
- The pens need to have straw in all 4 corners of the pens and feed under the shelters for their first week in the outside setting.
- Covered pen construction is one of the greatest expenses on a pheasant farm.
- If you build an 80 ft. By 150 ft. pen you will need posts no farther than 12 ft. on center. You pound the 10 ft. treated posts 3 ft. into the ground.
- All 4 corners need to be braced,
- The side wire should be 20 gauge PVC coated hex wire (1in.)
- You should bury the wire and flare it out.
- A top net should not be nylon. It should be a tied polypropylene or polyethylene 2 inch net.
- A 1/8 in. aircraft cable should run along the tops of the posts.
- The side wire is hung on the cable and stapled to the posts.
- The cable is the top net support. One of the cables goes the 150 ft. length and two cables run the 80 ft. length.
- Prop posts (10ft. or 12 ft. 2x4’s) are placed at each place where the cable crosses in the pen. During snow or ice storms the posts are lowered to prevent damage to the pens.
Ground cover is needed in the pens to provide shelter and distract the birds from pecking at each other. Natural cover is best. The best natural cover is Lambsquarter. It has leaves all the way down the stem and doesn’t tend to grow through the netting. It lasts throughout the season. Ragweed is fine in the spring, but it gets out of control later in the season and is best avoided. Corn and Milo can be planted as cover and make excellent cover for part of the season.
Rats can upset the birds by disturbing their habitat. They bring diseases and can weaken their immune system and even cause death. They have been known to eat the feed and gnaw at pen structure. If you see rats during the day, your infestation may be large! In order to help minimize the rat population take the follow precautions:
- Keep all junk piles cleaned up.
- Place poison (bait stations) around the perimeter of your pens.
- Fill active rat holes with bait.
- Remove birds from the pen and poison all over the pen and remove the feeders.
Starlings can cause many of the same problems. Before poisoning or taking action against starlings, contact the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The most common predators include:
Propane cannons and strobe lights can be used to keep predators away from pens. Many falconers are licensed to trap and remove raptors. Be proactive and enlist their help.
Pheasants will pick at each other in captivity. You can tell this is happening if you see balding heads or missing rump feathers. Some reasons you might see this happening include:
- Too many birds in a pen
- Not enough feeder space
- Lack of proper nutrition.
Prevent these problems from occurring by being diligent, but also put peepers on your birds at 5 weeks of age. Peepers are a type of blinder that keeps the pheasants from seeing directly in front of them and eliminates the pecking behavior. Beak clipping may also be necessary.
Hatching Pheasant Eggs
Eggs must be washed before they are put in sanitized incubators. The most effective process is to use Kuhl egg wash machine and follow these guidelines.
- Wash mild non-foaming soap and Clorox bleach at 105 degrees
- Use a blower to remove the water
- Spray with an ammonia solution.
See the full process in action by watching this egg washing video.
- In incubator
- Temperature of 99.4° F
- Humidity level of 83-84° F wet bulb (53% relative humidity.)
- In hatcher
- Temperature of 98° F
- Humidity level of 83-84° F wet bulb (53% humidity.)
Chicks begin to hatch somewhere between 23 ½ days and 24 days.
- Humidity should be increased to 91° F wet bulb (75%-76% relative humidity), at this time. The increase in humidity helps to keep the chicks from sticking to the cell membrane.
Please note that eggs must be turned daily and humidity levels must be kept constant. When either of these factors is compromised hatchability is reduced.
Pheasant Hunting in Wisconsin
The ringnecked pheasant flourished in Wisconsin after it was brought here in the early 1800s. Wisconsin has the ideal habitat; lots of marshland, uncut grassland, and farm fields provide both the food the birds require and the groundcover they need for nesting and protection. Today, the best hunting grounds in the state can be located in southeastern Wisconsin and in some west central parts of the state.
Pheasant hunting season for 2015 in Wisconsin is Oct. 17 through Dec. 31. Birds are released by the DNR once before the hunting season and twice a week for the first two weeks of the hunting season. They are then released once a week for the remainder of the season, except during deer hunting season. Nearly 200,000 pheasants were harvested in 2013. Although the beauty of Wisconsin in the fall cannot be outdone, there are several other states that are also important to bird hunters.
Hunting Seasons in the Other Top Hunting States
The top bird hunting states, according to Live Outdoors, are South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Kansas, and Iowa. During the 2009 hunting season in South Dakota, hunters harvested more than a million and a half birds. Visit the pheasant section of the DNR in each of these states to get more details regarding rules, regulations, bag limits, etc. Listed below are the season dates for these states for the 2015-2016 season:
||Oct. 17 – Jan 3
||Oct. 10 – Jan.3
||Oct.31 – Jan. 31
||Oct. 10 – Jan. 3
||Nov. 8 – Jan.31
||Oct. 31 – Jan.31
Tips for Pheasant Hunters
Game and Fish magazine has some great tips for hunting:
- Use a good bird dog, such as a lab or pointer, to help you flush out pheasants but also to track it down after the shoot. The author notes that you may be able to knock the birds down, but finding them is more difficult without a dog. Some hunting clubs will provide a dog for an additional charge. If you don’t have a dog along for the hunt, they recommend having one hunter take position and the other walk zigzag through the bushes to flush birds out.
- If you don't have a dog, stop frequently. Walk slowly and stop regularly to stand still. This tactic will often cause birds to flush that wouldn't have otherwise.
- Visit the hunting grounds pre-season to get a feel for where birds might be seen. Early in the season, pheasants tend to hang near water.
- Practice on some clay pigeons before you go out for the hunt so you know your gun and your aim are accurate. Hunters choose three different gauge shotguns for bird hunting. Some go with a 20-guage, others a 16, but a 12-guage will get the job done. A number 5 lead shot is recommended.
- Hunt pheasant during the early morning or evening. Those times tend to be the most productive. If you are hunting at a hunt club, it doesn’t matter as much because the birds are released a few minutes or hours before the hunt is scheduled. Hunting during the colder hours, or during a cold spell, does have advantages. It can be easier on the dogs and easier for tracking.
Americans have been enjoying hunting pheasants for many years. With a little planning and preparation, you too can make sure you bag your limit!
Avian influenza is a virus that can infect domestic poultry and other birds. Infected birds can spread the virus in their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces. This dangerous disease is a real concern to pheasant raisers. MacFarlane Pheasants, Inc., the largest pheasant business in North America, has developed a protocol that is meant to protect their birds from this deadly disease. This protocol states that anyone who visits the farm must:
- State that they have not been around any poultry or other birds for the past 48 hours.
- Wear clothing and shoes that have not been on any other production facility.
- Wear booties.
- Not enter production facilities.
Additional Steps to Aid In Disease Prevention
Remember that it is better to prevent disease than try to cure it once your birds are infected. It is important to keep old birds away from young birds so that organisms are not transferred from one generation to another. Wash eggs with a specialized disinfectant cleaner before taking them to the hatchery. Always sanitize your barns between every group of chicks you raise. Always use new bedding after you sanitize. Remove any dead birds immediately to avoid flies and maggots it the hot months. Other tips include:
- All eggs should be watched and sanitized prior to going to the hatchery.
- Brooder facilities and equipment are cleaned and sanitized between flocks.
- All flocks begin with clean, dry bedding.
- All delivery trucks are washed and disinfected with Lysol before and after deliveries.
- Delivery truck drivers put on booties and uniforms when they get out of their truck.
- Drivers do not enter customer facilities.
- Drivers leave their booties and uniforms with the customer.
- Drivers go home directly after a delivery and wear clean clothes to begin work the next day.
- Birds are tested regularly for avian influenza and receive a clean bill of health from a licensed veterinarian.
Ringnecked Pheasants are the most popular breed. Ringnecked Pheasants are often raised by growers as food and to introduce back into the wild for hunting, and for other raisers. The following traits make this breed ideal for stocking and hunting.
- They have excellent flying ability.
- They are typically healthy and vigorous birds.
- They prefer to be on the ground but fly to find cover quickly and are very fast.
Females are called hens and males are called cocks. Male ringnecked pheasants are brightly colored, have blue-green heads, white neck rings, red wattles, and long pointed tails. Females are medium to dark brown with long pointed tails. These pheasants grow 21-36 inches and weigh around 2.9 pounds but the Extra Large Ringnecked cocks can weigh 3.5-4 pounds and the hen can weigh 2.5-3 pounds at maturity. The average life span of the full grown ring-necked bird is 10-20 months.
Ringnecked pheasants eat according to the season and habitat, feeding on grains, roots, berries, spiders, earthworms, and snails in the wild. They eat more seeds in winter, more insects in the summer. Chicks begin feeding themselves early-on. They usually feed on the ground, sometimes in trees.
The ringnecked pheasant's prime habitat is in crop fields. The secondary habitat includes
- Dense bushes and trees.
In general, this breed travels in flocks in the fall and winter and stay together until spring when the mating season begins. Male courtship includes the male strutting around the female with his back and tail feathers toward her and his wattle swollen. Males have more than one mate and they defend their territory with a loud crowing call and beating of wings. Once fertilized, the female will build a shallow nest of grass, leaves, and weeds. Females usually lay 6-15 eggs in their own or another’s nest. Egg incubation lasts for 23-28 days. Chicks are capable of flight at around 12 days but stay with mother for 10 or 12 weeks. Predators will go after eggs and many young birds are lost to predators in the wild.
Melanistic Mutant Pheasant
The Melanistic Mutant is one of the best known pheasants for survival in the wild. This breed is large with luminous greenish-black plumage that changes according to the angle of observation. They are a pure breed and must be bred together to produce another mutant. Melanistic Mutants can be found in both the US and the UK.
The habitat for the Melanistic Mutant is between 55 and 70% crop fields. The rest of the habitat should be wetlands, grasslands and bushy thickets.