It’s been a month since my silkie x sussex bantam had her dramatic hatch of pheasant chicks. Of the thirteen eggs she sat on, nine hatched. She killed two on their first night, leaving me with seven. Over the past four weeks, one died when it got stuck under a tussock of grass which she presumably scratched over onto it, and another died when it managed to escape from the run and then couldn’t get back in again when the rain started. So now I have five pheasants, and they’re doing extremely well.
It strikes me that it’s very easy to have hens rear game birds, but having only ever done one clutch under one bird, I’m not in a position to say. It’s certainly true that the hen does all of the hard work, brooding them, teaching them to eat and drink and sheltering them from rain, but whether doing it on a large scale would cancel out these benefits is a different question. It’s obviously cheaper to incubate pheasants and raise them artificially, but as I’m finding from my catastrophic attempts to hatch and rear grey partridges artificially, the difference between the two techniques is not black and white.
One by one, my partridge chicks have died. No single cause is responsible; some have died from bacterial infections and illness, others from being picked on by the strongest ones. Grey partridges are clearly very difficult to rear artificially, and I have no doubt that many of the birds I hatched in an incubator this spring would have survived if they had emerged under a hen. Of the 48 partridge eggs I set this year, I have no survivors. All very well, more than 30 of the eggs were either clear at full time or didn’t hatch, but such bad survival rates don’t say much about artificial brooding (or, to be fair, my husbandry). The only partridges I have now are the poults at nine weeks, which are as easy as pie to look after.
This is why I’m so keen to learn to hatch all of my birds under poultry – not only do the hens make a solid bird that is better suited to life in the wild, but they also take so many of the difficulties out of the rearing process. I’m never going to be producing black grouse or grey partridges in large numbers, so I can afford to go for quality over quantity. Fortunately, quality on a small scale is also simple and totally fascinating…