Try something different
Listen to this extended radio story
Radio interview source: Chris Theisen, production manager, MacFarlane Pheasants, Inc.
Chickens, geese, ducks and even guineas probably come to mind when you think about raising poultry on an acreage. Pheasants -- although most commonly thought of as wild game birds -- are another option. A pheasant rooster can easily fertilize a harem of 10 to 15 hens, which each lay about a dozen eggs in a clutch.
Because pheasants are game birds, most states require a permit to raise them. Details vary, but your state's Department of Natural Resources should be able to help you.
To get started, get pheasant chicks from a reputable hatchery. Until they're a few weeks old, they should be under heat lamps and fed a game bird or turkey starter feed. The best feed includes a medicine that will help prevent coccidiosis, a common disease.
Pheasants need their space
If you've raised chickens, geese, or other poultry before, pheasants are a whole new experience because they're wild. They like their space and get cranky if there's not enough of it. And they won't hesitate to let their pen-mates know it.
Producer Chris Theisen says the birds can run around in outdoor pens called "flyways" when they're 5 to 6 weeks old.
"Basically it's a rectangular shaped 80 x 50 foot enclosure, netting over the top with 2x4 boards in the center holding the netting up," he says. "You need to have about 24 square feet for every bird that you raise."
In their natural habitat, pheasants like to hide in ground cover. The birds will do better if the flyways are well-grown with grass, weeds or other cover.
"We plant corn in the pen. It's a pretty good cover," Thiesen says. "As far as weeds go, lambsquarter is a really excellent cover for pheasants. Farmers won't like you so much for planting it because it is a noxious weed, but it works excellent for raising pheasants."
On the wild side
There are some behavioral differences between pheasants and other poultry. "They're not as domesticated, so they have a tendency to pick on each other a little bit more, you know, pull each other's feathers out if you're not careful," Thiesen says. "You just have to watch them ... they are more on the wild side."
There's trouble if you see blood on wing tips and tails of some of the smaller birds. Don't expect it to go away -- instead, it will just get worse. Adding branches and alfalfa hay for the birds to peck at and play on will help.
If you prefer your pheasants wild, you can still welcome them to your acreage by establishing a welcoming habitat.
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