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An Introduction to Raising Pheasants ft. Chris of MacFarlane Pheasants

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Show Notes

Join Nicole as she discusses raising pheasants with Chris of MacFarlane Pheasants in this week’s Backyard Bounty podcast.

What You’ll Learn

  • Why you should consider raising pheasants
  • The nutritional needs of pheasants
  • Why you should not raise pheasants with other birds
  • Housing needs for pheasants

Our Guest

Chris grew up in a small town in North Central WI. and has a double major in Wildlife Management and Biology from the University of WI Stevens Point. He started working at MacFarlane Pheasant in 1998 and has seen all aspects of the business. In addition to being an avid outdoorsman, Chris truly enjoy his job with something different every day and he finds there is always something new to learn.

MacFarlane Pheasant is the largest pheasant farm in North America and will hatch over 2 million chicks each year. They raise 400,000 pheasants for release, 180k for food. Additionally, they raise 60k French partridge, 40k Hungarian partridge, and 20k chukar partridge.

Their chicks are sold internationally, and mature birds are sold across the US and Canada.

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Announcer: 0:01

Welcome to the Backyard Bounty podcast from, where we aim to educate and inspire you by sharing practical information to help your homestead thrive. And now, here's your host, Nicole.

Nicole: 0:16

Hello, everybody. And thank you so much for joining me for another episode of Backyard Bounty. I'm your host Nicole, and today I'm joined by Chris from McFarland pheasants and today we are going to talk about, of course, raising a pheasant. So, Chris, thank you so much for joining me today.

Chris: 0:31

Yeah, you're welcome. It's a pleasure to be here.

Nicole: 0:33

Yeah, I'm excited to talk about raising pheasants. It is something that I've done. I currently have some pheasants, I've raised ringnecks, I'm also an avid hunter. So this is something that I'm pretty excited to talk to you about. But before we dive into all of that, can you kind of give us some information about the hatchery and your background working there?

Chris: 0:54

Yeah, I've been working at the farm now for 22 years, and I've done everything from raising the chicks, to the mature birds, the breeders for the hatchery, so I've done pretty much everything over the course of those years. So I've seen it from egg all the way through the whole cycle. So it's been a pretty interesting journey too, to say the least. You know, when I I first started I thought, yeah, pheasants, you know, feed water, that's got to be pretty, pretty easy. And then I'm still learning to this day. So it's, it's quite interesting.

Nicole: 1:25

Oh, I'm sure. So with your experience on kind of all of the angles, where are you now? And which area do you enjoy the most?

Chris: 1:34

Right now I oversee the logistics side of things, because I have the background in everything I can, you know, making sure we have enough breeders to get enough eggs to make sure we have enough chicks to make sure we have enough birds for the hunting season in the fall. So currently, that is my role overseeing you know, the whole yearly cycle of the pheasants. And I have to say you know, I certainly enjoy working in the hatchery and the day old chicks. It's just something it's it's pretty rewarding.

Nicole: 2:02

Sure, I bet. So how many birds do you hatch a year or a month? Or, I'm not sure you know?

Chris: 2:10

We hatch about 2.2 million chicks every year.

Nicole: 2:14


Chris: 2:15

The bulk of that would be done in the summer months, April through July would be the bulk of the ringneck type things, but we do hatch yearround especially our White Pheasants that we use for dress products.

Nicole: 2:28

Gotcha. So you mentioned the ringnecks and the dress products. So hunting and apparel, I assume, and then what else do you guys raise pheasants for?

Chris: 2:38

We raised them for like as dress birds, smoked birds, table birds, meat birds, that kind of thing. We raised about 150,000 a year pheasants for that purpose. They're actually unique in the regard that they're white. And they're not you know what you think of as a typical pheasant, they they won't have the dark pin feathers and are a lot more appetizing on the table than the regular ringnecks.

Nicole: 3:02

And then do you sell their feathers as well or any other like byproducts of the bird?

Chris: 3:08

The one the white pheasant we sell everything except the feathers. Actually, we use everything from the feet to the bones. We are starting a new dog food, pet food type adventure, and we are able to utilize pretty much the entire bird in that regards.

Nicole: 3:26

Interesting. And one thing that I thought was really interesting when I was looking at your website was that you ship the chicks worldwide, which I mean, there's logistical challenges just get a bird state to state. And so I thought that was really interesting. Do you just have the one hatchery or do you have multiple locations around the world?

Chris: 3:46

No, we just have the one hatch where everything comes right out of Janesville, Wisconsin and certainly, you know, nowadays with the red tape that's involved with getting them you know, out of the country, there's certainly a challenge in that respect. You know, shipping the birds themselves is actually quite easy. Birds can live on their yolk sac for three days without any food and water and we can get them to their destinations, you know, usually overnight, so shipping them is not the problem. It's the red tape in shipping them across, you know, other countries.

Nicole: 4:15

Sure. Well, interesting. So with that being said, what are some reasons that the individual you know, backyard hobby farmer or that kind of person? Why would they want to raise pheasants? I know that I've had them just for entertainment and to let loose, but what do you typically see is reasons that people would have them?

Chris: 4:35

A couple of reasons that I've seen over the years one would be they're just looking for something to do, you know, occupy their time they have they love to hunt and it's a way to train their dogs and get out and enjoy the hunting experience kind of in the non hunting season. Certainly hunting preserves, you know, would raise them for that reason to release in the fields and then go hunt and I've people will even raise. For me, I've even seen people were even for pets, like you said, they just like to have them around like to see him around and they release them and they just kind of hang around the yard and come and go as they please.

Nicole: 5:09

Yeah, I think they're gorgeous birds and I I've always enjoyed them hanging around. I don't know that if you would know the answer to this, but is there any, like legal restrictions that you know of as far as folks letting them loose on on purpose?

Chris: 5:25

There is there's a certain number, I don't know what that number is, you would have to have a game farm license to release them for whatever purpose that you have. And I know that it's up to the individual to know what they are responsible to have, you know, we don't have to check papers on anyone that's to say they would have to be responsible for the numbers and any permits that they would need.

Nicole: 5:46

So when it comes to, to raising the pheasants, I thought we could talk a little bit about the actual like getting chicks and raising them. But before going into that in more detail, can you raise pheasants with chickens? And what kind of housing requirements do they need?

Chris: 6:04

So I never recommend raising presence with chickens or turkeys or really any other type of game birds at all. Pheasants are a wilder bird, especially than a chicken or even a domesticated Turkey. The chickens can give the pheasants you know, diseases that the pheasants are not immune to and vice versa, the pheasants can get the chicken sick as well. So it's better to really keep them apart, not raise them together and even to take it a step further keep them separated, you know, where they can't intermingle between pens that are right next to each other, you know, where they could touch each other. You want to keep them as separate as you can.

Nicole: 6:39

Would that be Blackhead and other diseases?

Chris: 6:42

There was a lots of different other scenes. blackhead is certainly one of them, but they can, you know, transmit other things, you know, cholera or, you know, even coxy osis some of the common diseases like that.

Nicole: 6:53

Sure. And you mentioned not having them with turkeys and things is that because of the disease as well.

Chris: 7:00

Yeah, twofold. One is the disease reasons and to the nutritional requirements would be different. You can't feed them both correctly at the same time.

Nicole: 7:07

Sure. So what are their nutritional needs?

Chris: 7:10

Yeah, well, when they're younger, they will need a higher protein and a higher energy diet, that's when their immune systems develop. And then they're developing the quickest. And typically, it'd be a 28 or 30% protein level. Once they get outside, they can go into a grower type ration and tell they're about 18, 19 weeks old, which is considered a mature pheasant. And after they are fully mature, they can go into maintenance ration, which is a lower protein about 14% protein, lower energy, lower calorie diet keeps the fat off and keeps them lean.

Nicole: 7:46

And is that something if you're planning on keeping them kind of do long term as pets that they can just stay on that for the rest of their life?

Chris: 7:54

Yeah, that maintenance type ration? Absolutely. And again, if you're keeping them for pets, you know the other thing, they're there, they're out and about too, they're probably eating bugs and worms and everything else that's, you know, out and about, you know, but for the purposes of raising feathers commercially, it's important to keep having the right nutrition for the birds.

Nicole: 8:12

So kind of looking at the housing again. You know, I was really surprised because I've I've had lots of different birds. I've had guinea fowl, and I've had I still have some red golden pheasants and stuff, I was really surprised at how much fly deer and I guess more wild The ringnecks were I don't really know why that was a surprise to me, but but it was. So what is an ideal confinement pin for them, especially if you're wanting to keep them more on a long term scale?

Chris: 8:41

Well, yeah, I think you hit it on the head is that they are a wilder bird, which makes them more aggressive. So if you're wanting to, you know, keep them together, you need to give them more room than you would a chicken or something because they're not as fast as a chicken and they'll get aggressive and they'll fight each other and, and cause all kinds of problems. So you're penning in and of itself should have some kind of cover and it whether it's corn or weeds or some kind of you know, place they can, you know, get out of the sun, the wind, that kind of stuff. And if you're going to not put any kind of anti pick device on the birds at all, you're going to need to give the birds about 50 square feet of room for every bird that you have in the pen so you can kind of do the math and figure it out. But if you are putting an anti pick device on the birds, which kind of keeps them from seeing and picking on each other as much, you can get away with about 25 square feet for birds, so about half density.

Nicole: 9:32

Okay, I accidentally let one of my hands loose because I didn't know that there was a hole in the roof netting. So I imagine that's that's probably an important aspect.

Chris: 9:43

Yes, I've had a few holes over the years. Yeah, they just they they seem to find that fence. Pheasants are interesting characters. They spend their whole life trying to figure out how to get out of the pen and once they get out they find the rest of their time getting back in so interesting.

Nicole: 9:58

I guess I haven't had that, that same luck. Like, once mine got out, it was gone. So I guess with that being said, if you are wanting to let them loose, I mean, obviously, they're not going to be like free range chickens where you can let them out and, and then put them away at night. But do they tend to stay close?

Chris: 10:18

They will especially if you've got the food and water, they're I mean, they're, they're smart they can get, you know, habituated just like anything else they know where the food and the water is. You know, I even know people that you know, blow a whistle and the pheasants come back because they know it's that's feeding time. So it really depends on what you're trying to do. If you really want them to survive, the best thing is to just put them out there and not have the feed the water source and let them find it on their own is the best advice I can give.

Nicole: 10:46

So they can typically survive pretty well outside of confinement?

Chris: 10:51

They can survive just fine. Pheasants are very hardy, they can, they'll have no trouble finding the feed or the water. Even if there isn't a pen, they won't have any trouble finding feed water, that will be not the issue. The issue would be predators. You know, they it takes a couple times for them to, you know, near misses by a hawk, you know, before they realize that, hey, this Hawk is a problem, you know. So it's really predators that would cause the problem not so much the hardiness of the birds or finding food and water.

Nicole: 11:17

So you mentioned the anti pecking device. And I have heard stories about them being pretty cannibalistic. But I've also heard that being an issue when raising chicks. So I was wondering if we could talk more about kind of the process of raising chicks and how much space that you would need for something like that?

Chris: 11:37

You know, so for chicks, to raise them from zero to six week inside of a building, you need about 1.6 square feet for every chick that's in that barn. And you can kind of, you know, do the math based on that. If you start putting more chicks than that, and they start to get aggressive, they start to pick on each other, you'll find bear backs and wings picked up heads. And it can cause problems just like it wouldn't immature birds, chicks will start to get aggressive, you know, after the first week. So you really need to keep an eye on them, you can kind of keep the aggressiveness down. By turning the lights down, keeping it a little darker in the room, maybe using red lights, that seems to keep them a little bit calmer. And once the birds hit to be about four and a half or five weeks, you can put that anti pick device on them. And that will pretty much you know keep them from picking at that point in the bar. It's no they will still pick with that anti pick device. And just to be clear, if you put them out at like 10 square feet outside out in the pens, they will they can still pick, but it greatly reduces the damage they can do to each other.

Nicole: 12:39

Gotcha. And so with raising chicks, I know that you touched on their nutritional needs, but I assume that the temperatures and things are probably similar to chickens. As far as like the brooder temperatures?

Chris: 12:51

I'm not as familiar with chickens. To be quite honest, I can tell you that when you first start the chicks when they're day old, you're looking for about 90 to 100 degrees right under the brooder would be the typical thing. And as the birds get older, I believe you can drop the temperature much quicker on the pheasants because I think they're a little bit harder your bird. You know, the big thing is you would you want to get the temperature down to what it is outside before you move them outside. It's gonna cause problems.

Nicole: 13:16

And what about hatching eggs or breeding the birds in captivity? I guess starting with hatching eggs, are eggs easily hatched in kind of the residential setting or are they kind of more difficult to hatch?

Chris: 13:30

No, they're easily hatch to you. They're required just like anything else, a certain temperature and humidity. And as long as that's all constant, they hatch fairly well. You know, what kind of hatch rate would you be looking at? Probably in the neighborhood of 80% of the eggs would hatch.

Nicole: 13:49

Oh, okay.

Chris: 13:49

So it's a fairly high number.

Nicole: 13:51

Yeah, that's pretty good. And what about then breeding do they breed in captivity and if so, do they? Will they sit on their own eggs or is it kind of something that you would need to take take the eggs and incubate yourself?

Chris: 14:02

No, we would pull them and incubate them myself. So for pheasants or colony breeders, so we will put one rooster for every 10 hands in a pen. And that is enough to keep the all the eggs fertile. You get more than if you put one rooster for every eight hens, you know that rooster will start beating up on the hens a little bit and you get you know, 12 or 14 hens for every rooster and they're just they're not fertile and they just can't keep up and a lot of infertile eggs, so they're colony breeders and we need we go in there and pick them up four to six times a day. And we're always collecting the eggs. It keeps the broken number of broken eggs down. It's not saying you don't get a brooder hen, a broody hen every once in a while it tries to sit on her eggs and protect her eggs and happens once in a while but generally it's not a thing.

Nicole: 14:49

So can you have multiple roosters in with the hands or does that cause an issue?

Chris: 14:54

No, no, that's not an issue and it's actually kind of neat to watch because if you have a pen of 300 hens, and put 30 roosters in there, all roosters have their own territory and you can see them and if another rooster walks into the territory, they get all puffed up fighting and, and you know, that's that "This is my territory", the hens coming there, that's the ones they breed. It's kind of it's very interesting to watch.

Nicole: 15:17

Okay, I don't imagine you know, most people are able to experience that many birds just due to square footage restrictions. You know, it's hard for most people to have a big flight pen or something like that. But so what are some sort of, like beginner mistakes or common questions that you guys hear when folks are getting into raising pheasants?

Chris: 15:36

I think the common mistake is that they would treat a pheasant like they would a chicken or or some other domesticated bird. And it just it doesn't work with the nature of a pheasant you have to treat it differently. It's a unique animal or a unique bird that has to be treated as such. And you know, most of the problems that that I help people with it would be you know, they're trying to feed it like a chicken or they're trying they got too many birds in the pan. So that's probably the most common mistake is just people don't realize that it's a wild it's a wild bird and it needs to be treated like that and arrays like that's such.

Nicole: 16:10

That's definitely something that I experienced too. It just didn't click with me when I first got them and so I definitely had to make some some adjustments as we went along with them but they are definitely a fun bird to raise. I've enjoyed having them.

Chris: 16:25

Yeah, absolutely. I can't tell you over the years that especially with pheasants, I don't want to say they take care of themselves but if you watch them they will tell you what's wrong with them. And I've really enjoyed it over the years just learning that aspect of it. You know, the birds are hot, how do they act? They're cold. How do they act? When they're not quite feeling well? How do they act? How do they look? And if you're really paying attention to those little things it makes life so much easier when you're when you're raising the birds if you if you can really hone in on what the birds are telling you it makes things so much easier.

Nicole: 16:57

Yeah, that definitely makes sense. I know that I'm able to do that with the with the chickens. Now I assume that with the pheasants, that's something where you just kind of would need to be around them more and learn their their mannerisms and to know when they're not acting normal.

Chris: 17:12

Yeah. So when it just comes with time, you're that's exactly it. It's not something you can teach your feel, which is, you know, you can point it out when you see it, but unless you're around them and know how they act normally it's pretty subtle.

Nicole: 17:23

Sure. So obviously your pheasant farm supplies pheasants to those that would like to raise them. So can you give us your websites and tell us about the products that you sell as well?

Chris: 17:36

Sure. Our website is pretty simple. It's just one that kind of sits at any fee. You type in to the web browser ours comes up I think it's first it might be second but it will it will pop up. And on our website we have got everything on there from buying day old chicks to mature bird quotes, how to build flight pens, there's a lot of videos on there. And I'm just how to videos, how to peep birds how to build a pen, why we do what we do. And it's very informative for you just want to get in there and dig around a little bit you wouldn't be able to see, you know, a lot of what it takes to to raise pheasants commercially. So there's a lot a lot of good information there. We sell dress birds smoke birds, we have pheasant pot pies. Recently we've we've gotten into pheasant brats, which are excellent along with pheasant snack sticks. And we have also just launched a brand of dog food and pet treats that are quite interesting as well.

Nicole: 18:39

Wonderful. And of course we'll put a link to that below and and I assume that if somebody is looking into getting birds, and they have some more specific questions than kind of the overview that we covered here that they can reach out to you guys as well.

Chris: 18:53

Absolutely, all of our contact information is on the website. My contact information is on the website. And certainly someone could feel it would feel free to call as well. You know, we supply anyone who wants 30,000 birds up to three birds, so it really doesn't matter.

Nicole: 19:08

Wonderful. Well, Chris, I appreciate it. Thank you so much for talking with me today!

Chris: 19:13

Thanks, Nicole. I appreciate it.

Nicole: 19:14

And for those listening thank you so much for joining me for another episode and we'll see you again next week!

Announcer: 19:19

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