A Year With Pheasants

February

Much of what we do during February is to make sure everything is ready for the coming breeding season.

Our incubation room should be set up with at least a couple of incubators running, so we can use them for our first eggs whenever they are laid. Our other incubators will have already been checked, to make sure they are working, and then switched off again for a few weeks. We will fumigate our incubation room once again just before setting our first eggs. Any spares and accessories, we need, are ordered and on their way or arrived and being set up. This always includes tubing for our humidity modules, to pump water into the incubators. We also like to buy a few extra thermometers, every year. It helps to have plenty of these as it makes it easy to see they're reading accurately if you can compare them, which is of vital importance for a good hatch. Another item we need is an absorbent material to soak up water, being fed into the incubators, to keep the humidity correct. Both Brinsea and r-com sell "evaporating pads" for this job. Due to the fact they become revoltingly filthy, during incubation, with surprising speed, and need changing regularly, a much cheaper option is buying artist's watercolour card which is as absorbent as, and very similar to, Brinsea's pads. If you prefer something washable, a thick interfacing from a fabric shop (the kind used for bodices and hat making, as it has to be rigid enough to stay clipped in place) is excellent. The advantage of the last option is that it will not tear so can be used for the entire season but do be sure to wash and disinfect it often (if you are incubating in batches between each one should be fine).

The next thing on our list, to be ordered, is leg rings. We buy both split rings and closed rings. The split rings are mainly used while the birds are still very young, usually being taken off when we are putting their closed rings on. At the same time the bird's number (a different number is on each closed ring) will be added to our records. We can then be sure we sell unrelated birds. We may also keep back the occasional bird, from selected parents, to keep a particular bloodline going. It basically means we can easily check the family tree of each chick we hatch. It's always a bit of a guessing game at how many of each size of closed rings we will need in any year but we will tend to buy between 450 and 500 in total occasionally having to add a little more later in the season if we don't have it quite right.

There will be some pheasants who are already matched up and in good pens for breeding but many more will be moved this month. Some will have new mates and others will be re-introduced to old ones. Other birds will just be moved to better pens for breeding, possibly to give them more space than they've had since autumn or some good fresh greenery, if their present habitat is in need of a rest. It's important now not to leave birds mixed with different species that may produce hybrids, if they are likely to lay during March. We made this mistake once, assuming our young poults were fine together during February we separated them at the end of the month. However when we hatched a large, strange looking, chick from a small egg, which was definitely laid by a Golden hen, we realised the end of February was too late to move our Golden Pheasants to breeding pens. Luckily we only had the one hybrid chick. The father was a True Silver Pheasant and the resulting progeny was a rather weird cock bird who looked more like a Silver than a Golden cock but with a longer tail, a brown chest, funny looking wattles and who kept trying to display an almost non existant ruff. Definitely an oddity and a bird with plenty of character but it's not something we want to do a second time. We are human and do make mistakes but we make sure we learn from every one of them. Now any birds likely to lay early are the first to be moved to their new homes. All birds are in their breeding pens, with the correct partners, at least a month before there is any chance of them laying.

Although we move birds to give them the best pens available we also like to give the aviaries, in the worst condition, a chance to recover. At this time of year many of our young pheasants, hatched the previous year, have been sold so we have enough space to leave pens empty a while. Once they've been cleaned and dug over we'll let the grass and other plants grow again before birds go back into them. We rotate our birds so that if one aviary was heavily stocked with poults one year the next that pen will be kept for a pair of birds only. We don't want to be encouraging disease by overstocking. Our aviaries are large and often only contain a few birds so this is not normally a problem and we have no intention of allowing it to become one.

The best part of February is planning what we intend to do throughout the coming year. We will make a list of which birds we would like to keep that we don't already have and which species we do have but need new bloodlines of. Will we need to build more aviaries or plant more hedging? There are so many choices... it's just as well there are only 28 days this month and then we'll be too busy with work to think about what else we could add.

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