One of the most common pieces of advice given to novice bird dog trainers is to get their dogs on birds as early and as often as possible. However, seasonal regulations and time restrictions often limit the number of wild bird encounters a hunter can produce. The solution—pen raised game birds. Here’s a brief guide on how to raise your own.
Before you start raising game birds, consult your local Department of Fish and Wildlife. Some areas require a game breeder’s license to keep and raise game birds. Regulations on releasing birds once they are grown also vary from state to state. Proper planning will keep you out of trouble down the road.
Choose a Species
The three main species of pen raised game birds are quail, chukar, and pheasant. Pheasants require the most room and feed, but also provide more meat at the end of a successful hunt.
Set Up Your Brooding Pen
Your brooding pen should be located in an enclosed building. Clean and disinfect the area before your chicks arrive. Put down chopped straw for bedding. Use cardboard to make a draft shield 16 inches tall around the brooding area. Install one 24 inch feeder and a one gallon waterer per 50 birds. Install a heat lamp 18 inches above the floor of the brooding pen and you are ready for your chicks.
Raise Them Up
First time game bird growers should start by buying day old chicks from a reputable game breeder to ensure quality and eliminate the time consuming process of hatching eggs.
When your chicks arrive dip their beaks in water and place them under the heat lamp. Monitor the chicks closely to determine if your heat lamp is positioned correctly. If the chicks bunch up under the lamp, they are cold and the heat lamp should be lowered. If they spread out around the edges and pant, the heat lamp should be raised.
Chicks should be fed a game bird or turkey starter feed mix with a minimum of 30% protein. Give your chicks fresh water twice daily and monitor feed levels to ensure that food and clean water is always available.
The Outside Runway
An outside runway should be attached to your brooding building. The structure should be 10-12 feet wide by 40-50 feet long. Sidewalls should be covered in galvanized chicken wire buried at least 12 inches deep. This will stop predators from digging into the runway and game birds from digging out. The top should be covered with 1 inch poultry netting to keep your birds in and hawks and cats out.
Game birds should be given daily outdoor time starting at five weeks of age. On warm days, mist your birds with a garden hose. This will help activate the oil and preening glands so your birds are ready when they face a real rainstorm.
Run the birds back inside each evening, particularly on nights when you are expecting wet or cold weather.
The Flight Pen
Adult birds should be housed in a flight pen prior to their release. The pen should offer protective cover like milo, rape, or sorghum to give your birds places to hide and begin adapting to the natural environment.
Your flight pen should be large enough to give your birds adequate room (2 square feet/bird for quail and chukar, 15 square feet/bird for pheasants) and be fully enclosed like your outside runway.
Let Them Go
Birds can be released at the beginning of hunting season or on the day of the hunt. Place them in an area that offers high quality cover and food and survival rates will increase, but extensive habitat work is required to rebuild a native population of game birds and released birds should mainly be considered as hunting opportunities.
Whether you have a new bird dog you’re training or you just want to improve your chances of upland success, raising your own game birds may be right up your alley.