The information below is only our experience. We are not veterinary surgeons so please bear this in mind and seek help from a vet if you are at all worried.

Cannibalism &
Feather Picking

in Pheasants

Cannibalism can be a big problem with pheasant chicks. Infra red lights can help a little by reducing visibility of any redness as the birds will very quickly start to pick on an injured pen mate. Deep bedding in brooder boxes and chicks pens can also be useful to cover chicks toes as they can be pecked and hauled at ruthlessly as if they were a mealworm, which they look rather like.

The chicks can be horrendously cruel and cannibalism can be extremely difficult to stop once it has started. Overcrowding of pens encourages this behaviour which is likely to start from the natural curiosity of chicks which will peck at everything they see. If the birds are given other things to peck instead the problem can often be averted. Any greens with long stalks could be hung up to attract their attention. Places for chicks to hide and perches for the birds can also make the area more interesting and therefore keep the birds busy and give respite to chicks which might be victimised. It is vital however to keep watch for any sign of a bird being picked on as it takes very little time for a chick to be scalped or killed by the offender. Also if a chick is spending much of it's time in hiding it should be removed and kept with smaller birds as it may not be feeding even if it seems to be unhurt.

Birds can be debeaked (the tip of the beak is removed) to make it harder for them to grip another chick or beak bits can be used for the same reason. These keep the beak open slightly and although the birds may seem uncomfortable with them on for a short while butthey do soon get used to them and they are certainly better than an injured bird. We prefer not to use these tactics but if birds are injuring others it is necessary to do something. If using beak bits it is vital to use the correct size so that the bird is not hurt and the beak can continue to grow properly. They are best as a short term measure only which will hopefully break the bad habits of the offending chick.

Feather picking can be due to poor diet so do make sure the chicks are started off with a good quality feed. At least if you know the birds have a good diet it can be ticked off the list of possible causes. It may also be too much heat as it can irritate the skin so they pull their own feathers and then start on others too. Often it is feather picking which leads to worse things when the culprit sees blood. The colour red certainly seems to attract the birds (they will usually eat red berries before trying others). If we do get an injured bird we spray the injury with terramicin which will help the wound heal. The spray is blue and will stay on the bird for a long time. The blue colour seems to discourage the other chicks from continuing to peck at the injured bird. It may be that it tastes pretty bad too but usually the bird is not touched as long as it has been sprayed.

This is a problem we have to deal with every year but we have found the more space the birds have and the quicker we can get them off heat and outside the better. The birds then have far more to distract them outdoors, whether it's changeable weather, plants and other life in their pens or whatever activity is going on close by, there is more to pay attention to than each other. More than anything else this helps, but do be careful that the birds are not going to chill, they do still have to have heat removed gradually and they can't be allowed to get soaked when their feathers have not had a chance to become weatherproofed. With luck the breeding season will be a good warm one with plenty of sunshine and the young birds will have the opportunity to spend their time dustbathing and chasing midges. I live in hope.

If anyone has good tips for stopping featherpicking & cannibalism in chicks please get in touch we're always keen to hear new ideas.

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