So, let’s say that you have the people who are willing to donate time, effort and some cash. Next, you’ll need a venue. Obviously a privately owned block is pretty much mandatory. Further, the block should have enough cover to sustain the birds you wish to release. There is little point in rearing and releasing hundreds of birds into a “dairy desert” (to borrow a phrase), unless cover crops have been planted or are available to the birds. Even with cover crops, hedge rows or trees are preferable to birds such as pheasants which prefer to roost off the ground at night, safe from predators.
With your team and venue in place, you’ll then need to decide on the budget. In the case of Piripiri Pheasant Plucker’s Preserve (as we affectionately name ourselves), each member (8 members) puts in $500, so our annual budget for birds, feed and materials is $4,000. From the start, we set out to rear birds from day old chicks, rather than buy and release fledglings. This in turn requires a more intensive effort and the full time availability of a bird keeper or game keeper. The owner of the land we shoot on is a full member of the party and takes responsibility for the day to day care and management of the chicks from day olds to released fledglings. Do not under estimate the importance and commitment required of this role!
We were very lucky in that members were able to donate time and materials for the establishment of rearing pens, and that we also were able to utilise and extend some existing infrastructure. Our rearing facilities include an old concrete water tank, painted red inside and modified with heat lamps set to a uniform chick sustaining temperature. The importance of the shape of the tank should be highlighted – pheasant chicks just love cramming themselves into corners. When jammed into a corner, the potential for a chick to die of asphyxiation is high … and so they do. In a circular enclosure there are no corners – problem solved. The nature of a pheasant chick is such that it will discover any one of a thousand ways to kill itself. If its feathers get soaked, it will die. If it eats a piece of string, it will die. Another bird will then hang itself on the other end of the same string... and die. It is almost inevitable that losses will be sustained, so that brings us nicely onto the topic of shelter. Our rearing tank is able to be closed with a door, so that in times of cold or wet weather, the birds can be enclosed in their nice warm space. But when it’s warm and dry, you want the chicks to be able to roam and find their feet but to return to shelter quickly. So the tank then opens out into a sheltered shed area (with superb indoor-outdoor flow!) which in turn opens out into the main “recreation area” – the rearing pen. The pen itself is approximately 30m long by 15m wide and 1.5m high, is fully grassed and covered with shade cloth. This provides the perfect area for the chicks to develop their instincts to find food, seek shelter when disturbed and generally grow up.
|Rolling out the grass in the rearing pen|
|Rearing pen prior to completion - tank and shed to left|
If we had chosen to buy fledged birds, the need for rearing facilities would have been removed, but cost per bird increases according to age.
Onto the topic of predators. Lots of animals out there quite enjoy a tasty bite of a chick or 2. Stoats, ferrets, weasels, rats, possums, hawks…. So in order to be ready to release wee charges, you must ensure that the area (including inside the pen!) is predator free. This involves a program of trapping and bait laying. We found that early on the program we managed to catch and kill a number of mustelids, but after the initial population reduction mostly critters such as hedgehogs were captured. So keep on top of the predators as they will continue to show up.
Food and water are the next requirements. Be careful with any type of trough for watering the chicks. They are able to drown easily in a cm of water, so use small stones to let the birds stay above water should they step into the water… further, if you can avoid mud forming around the drinker by placing it on a piece of wood or similar, that is very helpful in avoiding disease. Food sources include mash, crumbles and pellets – we use pellets as they cost less. Avoid whole grain for day olds, after they get to about a month old they are better able to deal with such offerings. In the meantime, the chicks will begin to hunt bugs and worms as they spend more time in the pen and this is where the grass comes into its own as it hold such food sources. The topic of disease is not one I know too much about, however we take care to keep the general environment clean to avoid Coccidiosis which is a protozoan disease that can be brought on by dampness. There are a whole host of nasties that can knock your chicks about…. But I’m no vet so you can research that stuff at your leisure.
|Chicks on the feed|
As the birds begin to age, they can in captivity become prone to some strange behaviours such as pecking and cannibalism. We’ve experienced both; rather, one is symptomatic of the other. It can start as mild pecking and rapidly increase to full scale attacks on the flesh of other birds. Basic rule of thumb here is that if they “see blood” then they’ll kill the subject of their pecking. We have learned that by providing some cover in the rearing pen, along with objects that interest the birds such as sticks, shrubs etc, the problem is much less. Further, immediate removal of a pecked bird is very helpful. In NZ, measures such as beak trimming are not allowed so we have to be more creative in resolving pecking issues.
|Bird distraction branch, note that pen has subsequently been enlarged|
|Immature birds - still ok with game keeper's presence|
|Birds feeding outside release pen, note plumage is not fully developed|
|Rudimentary release pen - works perfectly|
That, in essence explains the “how”, but this post is entitled “Why…?”
The why part is easy. We all love seeing pheasants, we all love hunting pheasants, we all love the elements of putting in time and effort that allows us to share a created resource between ourselves and our friends. This year at least 2 new to pheasant hunting folks shot their first birds. It’s a great feeling to know that the resource created is enjoyed so much. As the years have gone by, our return in terms of birds bagged has increased, but the pressure on the resource has not increased correspondingly; and through wing tagging we are beginning to see an emerging picture of 2 and 3 year old birds being harvested as a greater proportion of the bag. This is very important as it indicates that a sustainable population is being created.
The hunting season is now ended and in a couple of days’ time we enter September, the hunting/fishing lay month…. But September is not unimportant – its when we begin the planning and purchase of next season’s birds. And so it starts again…
|Mick, Mitch & Craig (and dogs) - what its all about!|