The home of Shooting Times and Sporting Gun

Rearing your own pheasants: how to hatch a plan

With bird flu raging across the Continent, pheasant eggs and chicks are hard to come by — so why not use your own, suggests Liam Bell

pheasant eggs

Eggs should hatch at around the 65% mark, and you should only lose 4% to 5% of chicks

If you are one of the many shoots that struggled, or failed, to secure their full quota of poults this year, and you are wondering where you will get next year’s birds from, you might want to consider rearing your own pheasants. It is not an easy option, and hatching and rearing won’t suit everyone, but if you or a member of your shoot have the time, the space and a few basic husbandry skills, it can be very rewarding.

It isn’t without its pitfalls, though, and there are several things you should consider before you go ahead. The most important is where you will source your laying stock, your eggs or your chicks.

male pheasant

You must catch-up birds before 1 February; after this date it is classed as taking game from the wild

Rearing your own pheasants

If you did manage to put birds down this year and you want to produce your own eggs, by far the easiest and safest way of getting your laying stock is to catch-up some of your own. It needs doing before the end of the shooting season because catching up is classed as “taking game from the wild” in most of the UK, and cannot be done legally any later than 1 February.

This doesn’t mean you can’t trade cocks and hens with another shoot if the birds were caught up before 1 February, but under current circumstances it probably isn’t worth it. Better to rely on the birds you know for your eggs than run the risk of importing avian influenza (bird flu) on to your shoot through someone else’s birds.

Usable eggs

You will need a cock bird for every eight to 10 hens, and a hen bird for every 20 poults you want to release. A good hen will lay 30 to 35 usable eggs. The eggs should hatch at around the 65% mark, perhaps a little higher, but it pays to be cautious when doing these sorts of calculations because things such as the weather are very much beyond anyone’s control. You should only lose between 4% and 5% of your chicks. This means you should be able to produce around 20 poults from each hen.

If you are releasing a couple of hundred poults, you only need to pen 10 to 15 hen birds and a couple of cocks to meet your needs. However, it would be easier and quicker if you had double the number of hens and picked your quota of eggs sooner. The hens can be released as soon as you have enough eggs and may even produce a poult or two of their own.

You won’t need to build a massive laying pen to keep them, neither will you have to spend a fortune on incubators and hatchers. But what you will need is time when rearing your own pheasants.  (Read this advice on building the perfect pheasant pen.)

If you are catching up your stock now, you will need a holding pen to keep them in before they are transferred to a laying pen at the beginning of March. If they are put in the laying pen too early, the ground will become stale, dirty and possibly worm-infested by the time they come into lay. It’s better to have a separate pen to hold them until a few weeks before they start and move them across after they have been checked over and wormed.

rearing pheasants

You will need a cock bird for every eight to 10 hens and a hen will lay between 30 to 35 eggs

Heaviest birds

Keep only the strongest, healthiest, heaviest birds when you catch them and do the same when you transfer them to your laying pen. Go through them twice. Disregard the poorer, thinner ones, anything that looks off colour, and anything that has a rattle or cough in its throat when you handle it.

See that their eyes are clear and run your hands over them to check they haven’t been damaged and that they aren’t carrying shot.

The overwintering/pre-laying pen should be as large as possible, have somewhere for the birds to shelter, electric fences to keep out foxes, dogs and badgers and be away from prying eyes. The birds need time to settle and get used to life in a pen. We brail our birds when we catch them. A brail is a ring of ribbon put over one wing to stop them flying and damaging themselves when they are penned. It is only put on one wing, so that the bird is unbalanced if it tries to fly. If both wings were brailed, they would probably still be able to fly because the lift from the wings would be the same, although not very high and not for very long. (Read how to keep predators out of your pheasant pen.) 

Brailing is preferable to wing clipping because the birds can be released as soon as they have finished laying. If they have been clipped you have to wait for the wing feathers to grow back before you can let them go. If they have been brailed, you simply cut the ribbon and they are good to go.

Both the pre-laying pen and the actual laying pen itself will need to be netted over to comply with current bird flu rules. It makes things a bit more expensive, but will stop your eggs being stolen by corvids, prevent birds that lose their brails from flying out, and reduce the risk of ‘wild birds’ bringing in infections. A good net, which is well looked after — and properly stored when it isn’t being used — will last 20 years and save you dozens of birds and eggs. So it is well worth the investment, regardless of what the bird flu rules are when you catch-up your hens.

Once you are geared up to produce your own eggs, it is up to you what you do next. You could swap the eggs for poults with a local shoot that is geared up to hatch their own. You could trade the eggs for chicks with the same people, or decide to keep the entire process in house and hatch and rear your own. Whatever you decide, you will have some security as far as next season’s birds are concerned, and a great bargaining chip if you decide to buy in your birds and people are short of eggs.

Rearing your own birds is not an easy solution but if you have the time it will ensure you have a shootable surplus