Raising Game Birds For Release
If you hunt game birds, raising them with the intent to release them into your area can be an essential part of your sporting operation. Having a known population of pheasant, ducks, quail, chukar, and other sporting birds can be a valuable tool to keep your bird dog in shape, your marksman skills sharp, and may even allow you to bag a few more birds for your table.
The first thing you need to know about raising game birds that you intend to release is the laws in your area regarding it. In many states, a license may be required to own and raise animals intended for release. Check with your state’s Department of Wildlife to verify the regulations that may apply.
Ringneck pheasants are perhaps the most popular game bird that is raised specifically for release into the wild. Bobwhite quail and chukar partridge are the next most popular. Because of the risk of diseases common in turkeys, it is no longer legal in Ohio to raise and release any turkey species into the wild. Again, check with your state for current laws.
Raising game bird species that you intend to release will be much like raising chicken chicks or poults that you want to keep captive for eggs or meat. One difference may be that you may want to reduce as much as possible any handling by humans so that the game birds will be less likely to imprint on people. When they are grown and released, you may still notice that they hang around and show less fear of humans, even with limited handling. But generally, within a few days, they will move further into the land in search of other food sources.
Game birds require a much higher level of protein in their diet than chicken chicks do. From day one, feed these game birds a 30% game bird starter. After six weeks of age, you can switch to a game bird grower feed with 27% protein. For pheasant chicks, standard chick feeders and waterers will suffice. But for quail, use unique feeders and waterers designed for these much smaller chicks. Quail chicks may drown in the waterer trough if it is too big for them.
Cannibalism can be an issue among game birds, especially if you do not feed them a higher protein feed. Watch closely for any signs of aggression. If you do notice aggression, take action immediately. Try darkening the brooder room, use blinders or peepers on the chicks, or even beak trimming to curtail any pecking that may lead to cannibalism.
When to Release: 8 Weeks Versus Adult
There are two main opinions about at what age to release game birds. Raising and releasing 8-week old birds means that you can raise and release a larger number of birds per season. However, research suggests that less than 10% of those birds will survive to produce progeny of their own. The main reason for this low long-term survivability is predation and initial imprinting on humans which results in a lower ability to forage for themselves.
Raising and releasing fully grown birds in the following spring can generally result in a better return for your effort. As long as you can provide ample housing with a flight pen that has plenty of brush for cover, your game birds will overcome their imprinting and be more capable of defending themselves against predators and finding their food, water, and shelter.
Raising game birds for release into your area may help boost bird populations, help you train a hunting dog, and provide hunting opportunities for you. Do you have experience with raising and releasing game birds? If so, leave us a comment below and tell us about it.
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