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The breeding season, broody hens and pheasant talk

Friday, March 11, 2011

This season is finally underway

Our chooks are laying like ‘little troopers’ producing beautiful, big eggs and now the pheasants are laying too! I love it when the pheasants start to lay …the males display to the females… who pretend not to be the least bit interested! Even our beautiful white peacock is displaying to our washing line while the white peahen snoozes on the barbeque table! This time of year the boys are all out to charm the ladies – especially the pheasants as they fan out their colourful ruffs. The roosters on the other hand don’t seem to bother too much with the courtship routine and just get on with it!

our beautiful white peacock displaying

It is also the time for broody hens - I have moved a fair few already out of our breeding pens and placed them to their horror in the wire ‘sin bin’! We cannot have the girls going broody when they need to be laying eggs! Everything around here needs to earn its keep so unproductive broody hens (if not incubating eggs) need to be made productive again.It does not help just to push her off the nest in the morning thinking that that will do the job. The broody hen needs to be removed entirely from the nest box in the laying coop and placed in a wire cage with no creature comforts other than food and water. A wire cage with a plywood roof will suffice: a little fresh air from all 4 sides will soon persuade her to snap out of it and think about being social again! We remove our girls for 7 to 10 days depending on their devotion to the broody state. We do our best to remove them in the first 48 hours and this quick move helps reduce the time they are out of action. Leaving your hen in the nest box broody all day and all night will only result in her coveting any eggs laid by other hens week after week, losing condition and all the while she will not be producing for you. Please note broody hens do not lay eggs.

The pheasant breeding season is upon us so thought it a good time to ‘talk pheasant’!

The pheasants have come into lay this season a bit later than usual – usually it is middle to end of September that they kick off but this season it has been mid to late October. Probably due to the later, milder winter we experienced.

I just love walking around our backyard this time of year - all the cock pheasants (chinese) are displaying madly to the girls, fanning out their stripped, colourful ruffs or beating their wings in a rhythmic mating dance (silvers). It is a joy to behold. Not only are they doing it in the breeding pens but the pheasants we have released in and around our place are displaying to the ones in the pens. It is wonderful to have the pheasants out free ranging where we can enjoy them. Seeing them under the trees, in the garden and on the lawn is a real treat. We have released more golden chinese pheasants this season and it is great to see the bright splashes of yellow and red in the undergrowth and hear their trill calls. Having the pheasants out free ranging hardly impacts on our trees and garden. Unlike chickens the pheasants do not scratch the dirt vigorously looking for worms and debudding the lower foliage. They seem to be more gentle on mother nature, you would hardly know they were there...other than the odd wee dust bowl...also used by the partridge and the guinea fowl...the pheasants only fertilize and enjoy...causing no noticable damage when having access to total free range. We have found that the ornamental pheasants like the chinese pheasants (goldens and yellow goldens) are very friendly and less flighty to have around than the ringneck pheasants.

The ringneck is the more commonly seen pheasant - commercially bred for hunting and eaten as a table bird. Both pheasants are not indigenous to New Zealand and have been brought here by modern man. The ringneck cocks are bold and territorial and the ringneck hens when released stick to the undergrowth and are very seldom seen whereas the chinese pheasants are more visible and enjoy being out and about. They can be seen sunbathing with wings stretched out on a sunny day or enjoying a dust bath. They golden pheasant hens have been going into our hen houses to lay and more often than not I find a tiny golden egg amongst the hen’s eggs. The chinese pheasants from what we have experienced seem to stay around when released. This might be partly due to the fact we keep breeding pheasants in avaries which keep the released males interested plus we also feed out to the released birds so they are kept well fed and watered and not in need of wandering far for food. We also prefer not release them too young.

We prefer to grow them on and release them one at a time as mature poults around 6 /7 months of age. In the past years we have released mainly ringnecks pheasants. Many of the ringneck hens have gone ‘bush’ and the cocks whilst still immature will hang around but once the breeding season starts the dominant male drives the other males away. The golden pheasant males on the other hand seem to be more tolerant of each other – although still slightly territorial the males can still be seen feeding together in the under growth. What we have noticed is that we have found the lady amherst pheasant cock birds to be dominant over the goldens when out free ranging. The lady amherst are slightly larger in size and with this size comes a slightly bigger ego! One of my young amherst cocks even decided pick a fight with the much larger peafowl. Unfortunately he came off second best!

The ringneck pheasant is the more commonly seen pheasant - commercially bred for hunting and eaten as a table bird
Chinese pheasants are a delight to keep

So if you have never considered keeping chinese pheasants , consider it again - they are a delight and a joy to keep! They are hardy birds and do very well in good sized, well planted aviaries. The aviaries need to be netted over with a soft netting to prevent any broken necks should the pheasants fly up. This rarely happens but a night time prowler can cause the birds too flight and it would be a shame to lose one because they have flown up and broken their necks on a hard netting roof panel. Large, good sized aviaries are important so that the birds have enough space and not over crowded. Our aviaries for our breeding groups are app. 5m square. We plant out our aviaries with large flaxes and good sized pittosporums and other trees.

Pheasants can be hard on aviary plants so the secret is to plant good sized plants, get them established and place stones around the base of the plants to stop the pheasants digging around the roots. Tree rounds and old stumps are points of interest plus we also make manuka teepees/pyramids for our pheasants. These need to be added to or replaced when they become thin. The tepee is essentially cut branches with leaves hanging down so the pheasants have somewhere to hide and lay their eggs. We weave and intertwine the branches together. Our chinese pheasants are not too keen on sleeping in ‘houses’ and prefer to go to the highest branch to roost so a high perch in a sheltered area is good. We use tree branches as roosts for our pheasants. The goldens, yellow goldens and lady Amherst we find do best in breeding groups. One cock birds to 3 to 5 hens. The males can be very active during the breeding season and can be hard on the hens - so more hens to one cock ratio is advisable and will keep him occupied. We place tunnels and plant flaxes for the hens to escape and hide in and around. Please remember one cock per breeding pen is best unless the flight is extensive and well planted.

So if you are considering venturing into having a few of these magnificent birds that are easy to keep there are a few ways about starting out. Either buy in a breeding trio or quartet or look at hatching out some pheasant eggs under a small sized broody hen or in an incubator. Best to use a bantam or silkie hen for this important task as a large sized hen will not do the small eggs any justice and most likely squash the young. Using a reliable incubator with good humidity and temperature control is also a good way to go. We raise our pheasant young in brooder boxes using these new electric heat plates and the results are proving great. Lavender guinea fowlThe fact that they the young poults get a good night’s sleep is much better than a light bulb 24/7 which with pheasants can lead to other issues like pecking. This season we hope to have young chinese pheasant chicks (poults) available for sale up to 7 days in age. They will be sold unsexed. The pheasants breeding season is short. Each golden hen only lays between 15 to 20 eggs for the season. The males start to moult late December and shed all their magnificent plumage…but it does not take long before they regrow a brighter, more dazzling set in preparation for next season.

Comical Guinea Fowl

We have Guinea fowl eggs available too. These comical birds are prolific layers, fantastic grazers and bug eaters. They are great at tick control. Guinea do not scratch holes like chooks and are easy maintenance when free range – which is the best way to keep them. Guinea eggs can be hatched out under broody bantams or in incubators. Remember the incubation period is longer – 28 days.

So happy hatching and enjoy your birds.

Guinea do not scratch holes like chooks and are easy maintenance when free range


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