Last year, Brian Klein and Fairah Ramsey took over the MacFarlane Pheasants French Redleg partridge brooding program. Notoriously finicky, something—or a lot of somethings—had to change about how we had raised the birds, which have always had a higher mortality than our other gamebirds. “I just went into it not knowing anything, and listened to what everyone was saying,” Klein says. He makes it sound simple, but there were three major changes the pair made, all of which have contributed to the lowering of mortality in the chicks this season. Here’s what they did.
First, Klein says to treat the birds like they’re afraid of the dark. What this means is that by manipulating the lights, you can prevent the birds from congregating in areas where the threat of piling is heightened. In the brooder rooms, they removed the light bulbs from the corners. The birds, avoiding the darkened corners, concentrating themselves toward the center where there was more space. Voila, a drastic reduction in incidents of piling.
The next thing they did was flip the common practice of ceiling lights and brooder lights on its head. At the time he took over, we’d traditionally used the lights in tandem and gradually weaned chicks off the brooder lights to only the ceiling lights. Klein reversed this on the advice of a local grower, and sure enough, it’s also contributed to the lowering of the incidents of piling.
Finally, Klein and Ramsey updated the feed system. French Redleg chicks are about a third of the size of pheasant chicks, yet until just recently both species were using the same feed system. The partridge chicks would climb into the feed tubes through the connected feed pans, get themselves stuck, and die in alarming numbers. There were hundreds of dead birds in the first week. What they did was remove the pans, which allowed the chicks to get into the system, and replace them with feed trays that have a 10-inch space between them and the feed lines. It’s prevented the birds getting into the lines and reduced mortality rates substantially.
Klein jokes that the reason he and Ramsey have been so successful with the French Redlegs is because “I refuse to do worse than other people.” But after he stops laughing, he says it’s had a lot to do with a couple lucky breaks. It was a brochure that gave him the idea to modify the existing feed tubes. A grower just happened to stop by the week before the first batch of chicks were slated to hatch that gave him the idea for the brooder and overhead lights. “I basically took everything I was afraid of and changed it,” he says. “I listened to what everyone was saying.”
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