It is believed that pheasants were introduced into Europe from China in about 1300 BC. They were brought to Britain in 1050 AD and transported to the United States in the 18th century. Pheasants are often raised for autumn and winter shoots, particularly in the United States, the United Kingdom and some European countries, especially those in Eastern Europe. It is an expensive sport and membership of a shooting syndicate in the UK may exceed ten thousand dollars per season, but this may also include generous hospitality before and after the shoot. Part of the reason for this high cost is that pheasants grow slowly and are expensive to raise. Although not native to these regions, the ring neck pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) is still found in the wild, in part because some of those raised for shooting will escape.
There are very few commercial pheasant farms in Australia and information on farming practice is scarce. It is estimated that the value of the industry is not more than $600,000 per year. Pheasants, in pens of 40 to 50, are mated about four weeks before the breeding season starts.
They lay from October to January for two seasons although the rate of lay is lower in the second season and production peaks in November. Average egg numbers per hen are about 50–60 per season. The eggs are incubated for 24 days and brooded for at least three weeks depending on the weather. They are then kept in enclosures each of about 60 poults with access to a grassed pen at around 4 weeks of age. Early mortality at three to five days is usually due to chicks not eating (starve outs). Some common diseases encountered include rotavirus, coccidiosis and gape worm, particularly if the pasture is not rotated.
Disease outbreaks may depend on weather conditions but a coccidiostat is usually incorporated in the early diets. The chicks are first given a very high protein, crumbled diet (27% crude protein, CP). At 14 days this is replaced by a small pellet (23% CP) to 28 days, then a poult pellet (20% CP) to slaughter age. These diet specifications more or less correspond to those of turkeys, so turkey diets are often fed to pheasants. Feed conversion is approximately 4.5 kg feed per kg of live weight gain. During the egg laying season pheasants are given a breeder diet which is then changed to a mainly all grain maintenance diet in February.
Pheasants are killed at 16 to 18 weeks and at a weight that yields a dressed carcass of about 1 to 1.5 kg. Only first season pheasants are used for whole bird sales and the two-year-old birds are processed into sausages. Their meat is a little on the dry side as pheasant meat has little fat, but this can be altered depending on the recipe and cooking method.
Information kindly provided by Dr. David Farrell
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