You know us. We’re pretty much up for trying anything, at least once. So when a dear friend of ours unexpectedly handed us a box containing a breeding pair of pheasants, we were stoked. We’d been curious about raising other types of birds for meat, and pheasants were on our list of considerations.
Our friend warned us that pheasants are very flighty, and that they spook easily. When scared they’ll jump around in their cage so violently that they could potentially kill themselves.
When we got them home and opened the box I was immediately struck by how beautiful they were. The male has especially beautiful plumage. Isn’t he gorgeous?
We made a large, unused rabbit hutch into an impromptu pheasant coop. One end is enclosed for protection from wind and weather, with a large open run area for plenty of roaming space. Eventually, if we decide to keep pheasants, it would be nice to build an aviary for them.
If you’ve never heard the sounds a pheasant makes, you should look it up. The male makes the most interesting calls. He makes this purring type noise when I fill their feeder or give them fruit, which I love to hear. I’m not sure if it’s a thank you or if he’s warning his lady of an intruder, but it’s lovely either way.
The hen did lay a little blue egg the first week we had them, but then winter set in and she hasn’t laid any more. She should pick up again soon, when the weather warms.
Challenges of Raising Pheasants
- Pheasants are flighty. If they get loose you may never catch them. (Maybe this depends on how you raise them?? You could clip their wings.)
- They don’t offer a lot of meat. (I’ve never eaten pheasant though… is it worth the trouble?)
- They don’t lay regularly like chickens do, so they wouldn’t be dual purpose.
- I’ve been told that you generally have to incubate pheasant eggs as the mother often won’t sit on them. So if you want to breed pheasants it may end up requiring equipment and extra effort.
- They’re so beautiful! I’m finding it hard to justify eating them.
- They can be a bit wild! Pheasants aren’t as tame as chickens.
That being said, it’s not all negatives. There are some really good reasons as to why you should raise pheasants, too. Here are some of the benefits.
Benefits of Raising Pheasants
People raise pheasants for all kinds of reasons. On our homestead, we planned to raise them for meat – obviously, you can see how that turned out for me! But many people also raise pheasants with the plan of releasing them into the wild to increase local pheasant populations. While some people don’t believe this is effective, state governments in many areas have encouraged and even offered grants for homeowners to do this.
If you decide to raise pheasants for this purpose, they must be released at eight weeks of age or you have to wait until they are fully grown.
Otherwise, people commonly raise pheasants for meat. They add a ton of charm and character to your homestead, and interestingly enough, you might find that if you raise domestic pheasants you might see more wild pheasants hanging around your property out of sheer curiosity.
Pheasants produce meat that is lean and white, not unlike chicken but with a gamier flavor. These birds are easy to butcher, and most people just use the breast for meat since there isn’t a lot anywhere else on the bird.
You can also raise pheasants for egg production. These birds normally start laying in March or April and do so until the end of the summer. During peak production times, they can lay an egg a day! This is better than chickens in a lot of cases. You can incubate these eggs in an incubator (they take around 25 days to do so) or you can eat them – they are delicious.
Regulations and History of Pheasant Rearing
People have raised ring-necked pheasants for centuries. Interestingly, pheasants are not native to North America- they were introduced here from China. However, they have quickly established themselves on the continent and are now often raised for hunting and backyard meat production.
That being said, there are some stringent regulations in place that you will want to keep track of and be aware of before you decide to take the leap into rearing these birds. Check with your state’s Department of Natural Resources and Department of Agriculture to make sure you are in compliance.
In North Dakota, for example, people who own pheasants must have a permit to domesticate them. You can renew permits annually, but you need to have these to avoid lofty fines.
Should I Hatch or Buy Pheasants?
There are pros and cons associated with both hatching your own pheasant eggs and buying day-old chicks. If you’re already incubating chicken eggs or duck eggs (or something similar), you probably are familiar with how finicky incubation can be. You will need to turn the eggs several times a day and keep track of both humidity and temperature.
Luckily, there are countless incubators you can purchase that do this tedious work for you. If you decide to incubate eggs, you should make sure you purchase them from a reputable source.
Care for them careful and store them at temperatures around 50 degrees until you are ready to incubate – they can usually stay viable for at least 18 days if you are handling them correctly.
You will incubate pheasant eggs in the same way you would incubate chickens. The only major difference is that you can’t really candle pheasant eggs because their shells are very dark.
If you want to buy pheasant chicks, this can be a bit easier. There are countless people who sell ring-necked pheasant chicks but again, look for a reputable source to make sure that the birds have not been exposed to disease.
Day-old chicks are very sensitive to fluctuations in temperature and will need special conditions once you get them home -make sure you are set up to accommodate your pheasant chicks as soon as they arrive.
You can put your pheasant chicks directly outside in the housing as soon as you get them but it’s recommended that, as with other types of poultry, you keep them in a brooder for the first few weeks of life. They will be very vulnerable to predators and the cold at this age. Therefore, it’s recommended that you always start with a brooder.
As soon as your chicks arrive, you need to make sure the heat source in your brooder is functioning (I’ll talk more about the heat source in a minute).
Make sure the brooder is filled with clean water and food (you should be using a game bird starter – not chick starter) and dip each chick’s beak in the food and water to let him know where to find things.
In the brooder as well as in your adult pheasant housing, you should use some form of a coarse, dry litter – a good option is chopped straw. Avoid sawdust, because this can be eaten. Wood shavings can also cause impaction of the gizzards.
Some other good options include expanded vermiculite and chick starter paper. Chick starter paper is recommended over any kind of litter that you use, at least for the first five days, to prevent chicks from eating the litter.
Brooding is an important time of growth for pheasant chicks. In the wild, your birds would have the protection of their mother to keep them warm. This is not the case in the brooder.
Keep an eye on your pheasant chicks while they are in the brooder to make sure they are staying warm enough – if they are piling in the center, they are too cold, so you should lower the heat lamp closer to them. If they are scattered around the perimeter, they’re too hot.
If you use a brooder that was formerly used to brood chickens or other kinds of poultry – which is perfectly acceptable, by the way – just make sure you disinfect it. You can also purchase a separate self-contained brooder that will hold a large number of chicks.
Your brooder should be large enough to allow the chicks to get away from each other and to choose their own personal area of comfort under the heat. You can use a heat plate or a heat lamp, but a heat lamp should provide consistent warmth.
Most people who brood pheasants use a 250-watt infrared heat lamp. A commercial heat lamp Is best as it will have certain safety features and more reflection of the heat. The heat lamp should be hung about 16 inches form the floor and lowered every day.
Ideally, your brooder should provide no less than one square foot per two chicks until they are six weeks old. Section it off with a piece of metal flashing. This will get rid of corners in your brooder, as corners provide a good spot for your chicks to pile up – you don’t want this, because it can cause your birds to trample each other. You can remove the chick guard when the birds are about ten days old.
You can purchase or build your own brooder. Here is a video with additional tips on how to build your own brooder:
Shelter for Adult Pheasants: The Flight Pen
When you first get your pheasants, you need to make sure they are provided with a building that is draft-free and roughly 200 square feet in size. It can have a dirt, concrete, or wooden floor – this won’t matter much, since you’ll be lining it with litter.
You should make sure that the housing is thoroughly cleaned before your pheasants arrive. This is particularly true if you had other poultry, like chickens or turkeys, living there before, since there are some diseases that can be spread among different poultry types.
A pheasant who is one day to two weeks old needs less than .25 square feet in order to thrive. As your birds age, they will need more and more space – requiring up to four square feet by the time they reach twelve weeks old. Young birds also need a heat source. You can use heat lamps but, unlike chickens, you do not need to use a red bulb.
When your pheasants are old enough to be outside – usually around five weeks of age – you should let them stay out for at least a few hours each day.
You should provide them with around 400 to 600 square feet of outdoor space. The increased activity and cooler outside air will encourage your birds to put on feathers and weight more properly.
During the day, your pheasants will love hanging out outside. They may peck around at greens and bugs or dust themselves. Make sure the run in which you are keeping your pheasants is protected from predators – cats and hawks are particular ones to watch out for. You should also make sure your run is covered because pheasants are much better at flying than other types of homestead poultry!
Each night, you should make sure your pheasants are put back inside the building. They are very vulnerable, as I mentioned, to cold, wet weather, and they also need protection against predators. Since your pheasants won’t have a full body of feathers until they are around eight weeks old, it’s imperative that you are vigilant about keeping them warm and enclosed at night until this point.
Many people raise their pheasants in flight pens. These are essential to help your pheasants learn how to fly and to prevent overcrowding.
Overcrowding can lead to cannibalism and other health problems. To provide your pheasants with enough space, the flight pen should provide each chick with a minimum of 20 square feet.
The flight pen should be built over natural grasses and vegetation. You can plant some cover crops here if it is bare – you will want at least four or five inches of growth before you put the birds out. Do not house pheasants where chickens once were, as they can spread diseases that lie dormant in the soil.
Your flight pen should be built in the shade and offer protection from predators. Make sure you fix holes in the netting as they occur!
Should I Build or Make My Pheasant Pen?
You can buy a flight pen for your pheasants, but these tend to be quite expensive and can be difficult to erect once you get them home. It’s also quite easy to build your own pheasant flight pen to save some money and make it more adaptable to your set up.
A flight pen should consist of about 150 feet of one-inch mesh and six-foot chicken wire with an additional 200 feet of two-inch mesh and six-foot chicken wire for the top (poultry netting can also be used). You will also need 250 feet of No.9 wire (if you don’t use netting). You’ll need ten wooden support posts as well as additional lumber and hinges to build the door.
When you build your pen, secure your wire with hog rings and make sure it is buried at least six inches below the surface of the soil – this should keep digging predators out. The door should have a latch that can be secured against opportunistic critters like raccoons, and the No.9 wire will be used to support the top of the mesh wire if netting is not used.
You can always modify these plans but they should provide you enough space for a 44 foot by 22 foot shelter. Height should always be around 5’6” to allow for flight within the pen.
If you’re stuck, here are some videos to help you get started. The first will show you how to build the frame for your pheasant pen and the second will show you how to attach the netting.
Pheasants can be fed out of plastic gallon founts that you would use for chickens or other poultry. You should feed your chicks on a flat plate when they are within the first few days of life, and then you can use actual feeders and waterers. You will usually need about two or three one-gallon waters and feeders for every 50 birds.
In the wild, young pheasant chicks eat insects during the first six weeks of life. They require their mother to lead them to food. When you’re brooding pheasants, you’ll take care of this for them.
You will need to provide chick feed that is high in protein – at least 27 percent for the first six weeks. You can often use a game bird starter or turkey starter will also work if you can’t find one. Do not feed whole grain.
Pheasant chicks will have a hard time finding their food. Make sure it easily accessible and can be easily located. Pheasants that are raised in captivity often die because they cannot locate the food.
Young pheasants don’t eat a lot, but as your birds age, they will progress to eating about 1 lb per week. You should not use a chick starter for game birds – use a game bird starter or a commercial turkey starter when your pheasant chicks or young.
This must contain protein of no less than 28% protein – more is even better. It should be ground or granule form and it should be extremely fresh.
You do not need to medicate your young pheasants, and you don’t need to do much in the way of healthcare once they get older, either. You should provide a dry, clean environment and overcrowding to prevent most problems. You do not need to use a medicated feed or provide any kinds of vaccinations in most cases.
If you’re worried about deficiencies, you can always add a vitamin and electrolyte mixture to the water. This will ensure that your birds remain healthy and these supplements cost very little.
Like other types of poultry, pheasants require grit. You will want to make sure that this is provided free-choice if your birds are not allowed out on pasture.
Managing Pheasant Behaviors
As with other types of poultry, pheasants have certain behavioral characteristics that you will want to watch out for. Most of these behaviors are harmless, but sometimes, your pheasants may act out in a way that warrants your attention.
For example, feather pulling is just as common in this species as it is in chickens. It is usually not a huge issue, but if it becomes progressed, it can cause cannibalistic conditions. Feather pulling is usually encouraged by overcrowded conditions or poorly ventilated brooder areas.
If cannibalism occurs, either as the result of progressed feather pulling or any other reason, you need to stop it immediately. Pheasants are very vulnerable to missing feathers, and they are apt to die if they get wet while missing feathers.
If you find that cannibalism or feather pulling are problems with your pheasants, consider darkening the living space. This will reduce the likelihood that they will be able to find each other to bully one another. You can also try hanging heads of lettuce from the ceiling, which will provide a valuable source of entertainment. Giving your pheasants more room is always a good way to combat aggressive behaviors, too.
Another common pheasant issue has to do with mothering and rearing chicks. Some people try to hatch pheasant eggs under their mothers. They aren’t really good sitters, and they’re also poor mothers.
Pheasant hens often do not lay with their chicks overnight, even when it’s very cold, which can cause early death. They also have a tendency to abandon their young, leaving them behind to face the elements, predators, or anything else they might encounter entirely on their own.
Therefore, if you want to raise pheasants up from young chicks, you may need to do some extra work – mama won’t do it for you!
Health Problems with Adult Pheasants
In most cases, if you have taken appropriate steps to prevent disease from affecting your flock, you won’t have any problems. Make sure you purchase chicks or eggs from reputable breeders to reduce the risk of disease, and keep an eye on new birds for any signs of disease before you introduce them to the rest of the flock.
There are certain diseases that can kill game birds that are easily spread by wild birds. Protecting your pheasants within a flight pen can help reduce this likelihood.
So that’s basically everything you need to know in order to start raising pheasants for meat. As for us… honestly, we’re not sure what to do with ours. As a matter of fact, yesterday I had a moment of inspiration and decided that I’d free the pair to let them live their lives out in the wild.
Be free, little birds!
I opened the cage, warned them that they’d have to be street savvy to survive, and stepped back to watch them flee. Except they didn’t flee. They stayed put, looking quite content
I tried to shoo them out of the cage but they had no interest in leaving. I realized they probably wouldn’t make it through a night in the woods, so after several minutes of persuading I closed them back up and forgot my idea of letting them go.
We have a friend who would be interested in giving them a home. We might let him take the pair.
What do you guys think? Do you have any experience raising pheasants? Are they worth keeping on a homestead?
updated by Rebekah White on July 30th 2019