A Year With Pheasants

May

May has to be the most exciting month at Allandoo. The laying season is now at it's peak. All of our birds will have started laying if not before then during this month. We also have chicks already hatched and many due during the coming days and weeks. No matter how many chicks we hatch every year it is always a joyful event when another new baby hatches.

This month there is noticeable change in the behaviour of the mature cocks pheasants. Since their mates started laying the cocks have lost much of their aggression towards them and the hens are able to wander around easier without the threat of attack.

Now that some of the birds have been laying for a few weeks we can start to gauge how successful we have been with our matchmaking. Compatibility is often a problem with pheasants and it can be very disappointing when every egg collected is infertile. It does help to have a few pairs of each species to swap the birds around if this occurs. Of course this is not always the problem and inbreeding has caused a lot of infertility so we always keep our pairs of birds unrelated whenever possible. Unfortunately there are instances when birds are so rare in captivity that it becomes impossible to have completely unrelated birds and of course there are many times when their genetic history is not known.

We collect the vast majority of our eggs in the evening but if we find broken eggs under a roost we will give that hen longer to lay and collect her eggs in the morning. Sometimes if a hen is disturbed she try to hold off laying and can end up doing so while roosting at night, hence the broken eggs. Of course you could take the perches away but a bit of peace for the birds is usually all that's needed and is the kinder solution. Hens may also get fed up trying to nest when eggs are continually taken from them and start to lay just anywhere. This can be problematic as they are more likely to be broken, pecked at or eaten or just get dirtier due to being trodden on and lack of protection against bad weather. To encourage hens back to the nest a couple of boiled eggs or dummy eggs could be put in place of her own (or of course you can give her a go at being a mum and incubating her eggs).

Incubating eggs can be tricky and we have found it is best to chart the weight loss of each egg. This is a time consuming task with a lot of eggs but well worth the effort. There is a big difference between the amount of humidity needed for species from a high altitude such as the Monals and Tragopans which we incubate with a very low humidity setting and the more tropical species like the Firebacks which need a very high level of humidity.

Our hatchers are all set with a high relative humidity of around 65%-75%. This makes it easier for the chicks to hatch without becoming stuck. We move them once they have had a rest and dried out to our brooder boxes which for a short while will be set at about 36-37 degrees centigrade so as not to chill or shock the chicks. In the hatchers we use rubber or foam matting so they don't slip about and afterwards in their brooders for a few days we use rough cotton towels so they can easily see food crumbs and once again their feet can get a good grip. Once we can see all the chicks are eating well and their legs are strong we can move them to new, clean boxes with wood shavings as bedding. They will stay in these boxes until they start to need a bit more space. This can depend a bit on the species but usually by the time the birds are three weeks old they are moved into larger quarters which are their first proper pens. They will still stay indoors with heat lamps, gradually raising these and then switching them off for a time before they young poults are ready for the outdoors. This is normally around 6 - 10 weeks of age but as we judge each bird separately it can vary and our decision is also weather dependant. Once in the outdoor aviaries they stay here until they are sold usually from the age of three - eight months.

For the first few days after the chicks have hatched we feed them egg yolk, cooked but still fairly soft, as well as their chick crumb. We have been doing this for a good number of years now and have found it gives them a great start. The chicks seem more eager to eat the egg than the crumb and it is a rarity to have a problem due to a chick not eating. After the first few days all the chicks manage fine on the dry crumb

We are regularly asked if we sell eggs, but we feel that we would be failing in our job, to do the best we can for our birds, if we did not try to rear them ourselves and give them the best chance of survival that we can. Therefore we only sell our birds when they have grown into strong, healthy, poults and not before.

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