There are many different varieties of pheasants, and their names seem to be related to their native homelands in Asia, such as the Chinese ringneck and Mongolian, Szechwan, and Japanese pheasants. The common English pheasant also originated in Asia. It was brought to Pennsylvania from England and released in Lehigh and Northampton Counties. These birds bred some of the forebears of today's pheasants, which are from mingled bloodlines and bred to survive in our environment.
As with any business, pheasant producers need to research markets before starting production. There are four major markets for pheasants: hunting preserves, gourmet food markets (mostly restaurants), private individuals who buy live birds for custom slaughter, and individuals who want to restock birds in the wild. At present, there are approximately 20 commercially regulated and 200 privately operated hunting preserves in Pennsylvania. Their names and addresses can be obtained from the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Since very little information is available about other markets, using them requires time, research, and development.
One of the most practical ways to get started is to begin with a flock of 200 pheasants and use existing facilities when feasible. A production unit of this size allows you to learn the necessary production and marketing skills without making a large investment. Investment costs are limited to water troughs, feeders, a heat source, a flight pen, and a brooder house.
Hatching and Rearing Young Birds
Start with either eggs or healthy day-old chicks from reputable dealers. Before obtaining eggs or stock, make sure that the breeders are free of diseases such as Salmonella pullorum, Salmonella typhoid, and Mycoplasma. Dealers can obtain information about these diseases from the Penn State Department of Poultry Science.
If you purchase eggs, they must be kept in a clean environment at an ambient temperature of 55° to 65°F prior to setting. You can hold eggs for a week to 10 days before hatchability is decreased, but setting the eggs within three to five days after they are laid is best. If you purchase or build an incubator, it should be well ventilated, able to turn the eggs easily, made of good insulated material, and easily cleaned and disinfected. It should also maintain a temperature within 0.25°F and supply 60 percent relative humidity. Set only clean eggs at a temperature of 99.5° to 100°F for 23 to 25 days. Turn the eggs at least two times each day. Many producers mark small groups of eggs on one side to note when they have turned the eggs. For a larger number of eggs, you will need an automatic or manual egg turner. After the hatch is completed, remove the chicks and hatch residue, then thoroughly clean and disinfect the incubator.
The first two weeks are critical in assuring chicks get a good start, so advance planning is very important. Make sure all water troughs, feeders, and heat sources are working before the chicks hatch. Place the young chicks in a warm environment that has feed and water readily available. Since chicks are unable to regulate their temperature for the first 10 days, a properly managed heat source, such as electrical lights, heat lamps, propane heaters, or kerosene heaters, is necessary. Select the most efficient heat source to obtain the best results for your housing situation. Set the room temperature at approximately 88°F with a temperature of about 95°F right under the heat source. Make careful observations about the birds' behavior. Increase the temperature if you observe huddling or decrease the temperature if the birds seem to be driven away from the heat source. Gradually decrease the room temperature each day (5°F per week) until reaching approximately 70°F at four weeks of age.
You can effectively brood pheasants in colony cages, but be careful not to leave them in the cages too long or the quality of their feathering might be affected. Maintain the density of the cages at about 2 square feet per bird for the first 6 weeks, and then expand it to 10 to 15 square feet per bird for 6- to 12-week-old birds. Round all corners of the initial brooding area with cardboard or wire to prevent loss of birds from smothering. Chicks are very active and tend to crowd when a loud noise or other disturbance scares them. This can be fatal in commercial confinement situations, and rounding corners eliminates a place for the chicks to crowd.
The way you rear the birds will depend on which of the three marketing options you choose: hunting preserves, meat markets, or shooting preserves that sell excess birds to restaurants, processors, or others. For hunting preserves, which want smaller, faster-flying pheasants, move young chicks to flight pens that provide 10 to 15 square feet per bird. To shelter the birds from humans and protect them from predators, plant vegetation inside the pens, cover the tops with mesh, and bury chicken wire along the base of the sides. Most hunting preserves prefer to purchase the birds at 12 to 13 weeks of age.
If the birds are used for meat, move them to a confined facility with less light and controlled temperature. This will reduce bird activity and cannibalistic tendencies as well as improve feed conversion. Manage the controlled environment to ensure adequate ventilation and feed and water availability. Because these birds will be used for meat, anything that will damage the carcass quality will lower meat yield and the price received.
Selected strains that have been developed strictly for meat production include the jumbo ringneck and buff ringneck pheasants. These birds should have their beaks trimmed or have specks/bits applied to their beaks. Meat-type birds do not need flight pens for exercise. Until you sell them, keep the birds in a space with a wire floor, allowing 5 square feet per bird.
Because of the industry's limited size, few medications have been approved for use in pheasant production. Biosecurity and sanitation are necessary to prevent the outbreak of disease. Biosecurity involves isolating separate age-groups of birds, restricting all human access to the buildings, keeping the buildings clean, and properly disposing of dead birds. Isolate all birds entering the flock for one month prior to contact with other birds to prevent the introduction of disease organisms.
Included in this publication are two sample budgets that summarize the costs and returns of purchasing 200 birds and needed equipment, using existing buildings and equipment, and investing in a flight pen or brooder house. These sample budgets should help ensure that you include all costs and receipts in your calculations. Costs are often difficult to estimate in budget preparation because they are numerous and variable. Therefore, think of these budgets as an approximation, then make appropriate adjustments using the "Your estimate" column to reflect your specific situation. More information on the use of crop budgets can be found in Enterprise Budget Analysis.
You can make changes to the interactive PDF budget files for this publication by inputting your own prices and quantities in the green outlined cells for any item. The cells outlined in red automatically calculate your revised totals based on the changes you made to the cells outlined in green. You will need to click on and add your own estimated price and quantity information to all of the green outlined cells to complete your customized budget. When you are done, you can print the budget using the green Print Form button at the bottom of the form. You can use the red Clear Form button to clear all the information from your budget when you are finished.
Sample Budget Worksheets
Initial resource requirements (meat birds)
- Eggs: 200 X $0.90 = $180
- Buildings and equipment: $2,200
- Equipment: poultry feeders,* poultry water troughs,* brooder stoves, and coops for transportation
* For both chicks and mature birds
Initial resource requirements (flight birds)
- Birds: 200 x $0.90 = $180
- Buildings and equipment: $2,000
- Equipment:poultry feeders,* poultry water troughs,* brooder stoves, and coops for transportation
* For both chicks and mature birds
For More Information
The Game Bird Bulletin
510 Union Street
P.O. Box 250
Millersburg, PA 17061
The Game Bird Gazette
Allen Publishing, LLC
P.O. Box 171227
Salt Lake City, UT 84117
Pennsylvania Game Breeders Assn.
94 Hidden Hollow Road
Trout Run, PA 17771
Pennsylvania Game Commission
Bureau of Wildlife Management
2001 Elmerton Ave.
Harrisburg, PA 17110
American Pheasant and Waterfowl Society
W2270 U.S. Highway 10
Granton, WI 54436
Northwoods Office Center, Suite 39
2215 Forest Hills Drive
Harrisburg, PA 17112-1009
North American Gamebird Association
P.O. Box 2105
Cayce-West Columbia, SC 29171
Prepared by R. Michael Hulet, associate professor of poultry science; Lynn F. Kime, extension associate in agricultural economics; and Jayson K. Harper, professor of agricultural economics.
This publication was developed by the Small-scale and Part-time Farming Project at Penn State with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Extension Service.