Then they were too big for the rabbit hutch. And this was the part I was really worried about. How was I going to keep 18 pheasants in my back garden until it was time to take them to their release pen?
After various discussions, J offered to convert our open fronted bike shed into a pheasant pen. As before, the plan was to do it as cheaply as possible. I wanted a door so that I could get in and out, and J decided on making a frame to fill in the front so that we could take it out and maybe use it another year.
Unbeknownst to us, my parents were taking an old shed apart and on helping them move it we found out they were discarding the front including the doors. We snapped it up, initially thinking the hinges would be all we used; in the end a whole door was taken as a starting point.
The thing we quickly realised was that the bike shed (which is actually just a lean-to) was totally wonky, and making a straight frame fit was more awkward than it sounds.
J did an excellent job, using an old pallet that I’d stripped down to make slats, and squaring off everything as best as he could. I had chicken wire left over from making the duck nesting tube which ended up being exactly the right width for two strips to fill in the gap. A strip filling in the top and some plant fencing to create a barrier at the bottom for me to step over when going in and out completed the frame.
Two old bedroom cupboards were being stored in there awaiting the reopening of the tip, and they seemed ideal for places for them to hide in. J drilled out a hole in the top for me to pass a plug through so the brooder (heat plate) could come with them from the rabbit hutch.
I’d learnt just how much poo comes out of pheasants, and I wanted to clean out the shed after they moved on, rather than have the dirty straw fall through under the deck, so I managed to cover up most of the deck using an extremely large cardboard box and an old side of a wardrobe. This left about 8 inches of exposed deck right at the front. This came to be important later.
I mentioned in my last post that the drinker came apart by twisting the bottom off, and that I had a few incidents with this.
About a week after the chicks had moved home, I picked up the drinker, clearly not carefully enough, and moving towards the door, I must have swung or twisted it. The bottom dropped off and a cascade of water hit the deck. Thankfully, it landed on the part where I hadn’t covered up the floor and so it wasn’t such a big deal…but what if it had landed on the cardboard?!
J trimmed the cherry tree so the birds could have some perches and cover, and they seemed to really like that.
This was the easiest stage of looking after them; I checked on them, topped up food/water as required and occasionally removed the dirty straw and added more.
I initially ran the brooder off an old car battery connected to a solar panel and inverter, turning it on at night and off again the next morning. But the inverter was quite loud in telling me there wasn’t enough power, so I switched the brooder to a heat bulb (a new one, that actually seemed to do the job). However the second night with that I went out to turn it on about 10pm, and the pheasants were all settled down and seemed to have no inclination to move under it! So it stopped then and they seemed quite happy.
As they grew bigger, the pheasants also got feistier with each other. I mentioned in my first post that pheasants don’t seem to want to survive. One of the things they do, if you don’t take steps to prevent it, is pull out each others feathers, possibly leading to cannibalism. Obviously something you want to prevent at all costs. Thankfully there is a cheap and easy solution: bitting them (yes that is spelt correctly).
Rob, the friend that started me down this route, came round with a tool that fits bits to each pheasant; it takes less than a second for each bird. A bit is a curved piece of plastic that fits in their beak preventing it from completely closing. They can still eat and drink freely but they can’t close it tightly enough to pull out the feathers of other birds. These are then removed equally quickly and easily when moving the birds to the release pen. It gave them almost instant relief from the bullying.
The only problem with the pheasant shed was that they didn’t have direct outdoor space which meant they didn’t ever get rained on. While initially that’s a good thing as they aren’t waterproof to start with, eventually they needed a shower to encourage their natural oils to come through. This was done briefly and occasionally with a hose! They got all fluffed up when it ‘rained’ on them, and were quite funny to watch!
And then it was time for them to move home again. I put it off as long as possible but they really need the outdoors to learn how to look after themselves in the wild. So I had an interesting time catching each one, removing the bit and popping a ring on its leg. I borrowed a game crate from the shoot to transport them in. It has a sliding top to put them in through, and then you close it up quickly so as not to have others jump out. At this point they were quite adept at flying and were somewhat difficult to catch. The easiest place was when they hid in a cupboard and I could trap them!
Obviously it couldn’t be that straightforward, and one escaped again. And because that one had already been caught it was not going to allow it to happen again! It was the last one into the box, but I got there eventually.
The release pen had been made a few years ago, and has a netted roof, so they weren’t able to fly off straight away. They really like having straw down especially just piled up so they can spread it out themselves. A lid went on the next size of feeder to keep the rain out, and a new larger drinker was ordered when I found the galvanized steel ‘drinkers’ were actually feeders and couldn’t hold water.
There was an early escapee, I think through a gap where the door closed, but it was still relatively young and allowed itself to be caught against the pen while it was trying to find its way back in.
The pheasants were now more at risk from predators – badgers and foxes in the pen, buzzards out of it, so a double layer electric fence was set up round it.
I wanted to keep them in for as long as possible, but as the roof was netted there came a point when I needed to add a pop hole. This is a hole big enough for pheasants to get in and out, but not so big that predators can’t follow. As I have mentioned before, pheasants aren’t the cleverest of birds so they need to be kind of funnelled in, else they’d just walk past the entrance. J kindly made me the tunnel to go with a fox gate I bought.
Theres a bit of board in the middle that makes them turn in.
For the first week or so they were clearly coming in and out, roosting in the pen overnight and adventuring about in the day. I found a group of them heading back from a reasonable distance!
But now they are mostly grown and they are coming back less. There is plenty of undergrowth and natural food for them, on top of the pheasant food that I still put out. I hear them occasionally but mostly am just having to hope for the best.
I am putting down straw around the wood, which they like, and there are feeders all the way round which will be filled with wheat for both the wild and the home bred pheasants to make sure they have food throughout the winter. But really, this is the end of my experiment of growing my own pheasants. It was fun, and I think I did ok – I didn’t lose any of my 18 which I’m really happy about. I’ll just keep watching on the trail camera for pheasants with a leg ring on.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this mini-series – feel free to comment below.