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July 29, 2014
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Raising wild gamebirds; A lesson in caretaking

Hundreds of day-old pheasant chicks arrived at Sullivan County’s Cornell Cooperative Extension office from Reynolds Game Farm near Ithaca, NY early in May, where ag educator Michelle Lipari helped distribute them to 4H members and others who will raise them during the summer. The adults will be released in the fall in time for hunting season.
Contributed photos


“Back when we first got the chicks [from CCE], they’d fit in the palm of my hand.” Erin remarked. Sadly, this year, the Denmans lost more than a dozen of the 27 chicks they received, the first time this has happened to them. It turned out that the temporary storage bin they were in was too tall and the two heat lamps used to warm the tiny chicks were too far away from the babies to do the job. When they realized the problem, the changed to a different pen and things turned around quickly. “When they’re that small, they’re very sensitive to cold temperatures,” Erin explained. “Now, after two weeks under the lights in their new container, they’re healthy again and running around.”

The Denmans take great care not to handle the birds except when they clean the small pen. As Kathy pointed out, “They are wild birds, and we are going to release them into the wild,” so as caretakers, they don’t want the birds bonding with them.

At around five weeks, the Denmans will move the pheasants from their indoor container in the basement to a large pen outdoors, well fortified to keep out predators. After 18 weeks, they will set them free into the wild. “For one week after we release them, I put out some food, but I dwindle it a little bit every day, until they go off on their own,” Kathy explained. From time to time over the years, the family has seen some of their pheasants living nearby in the open.

In the Town of Liberty, the Kratz family—John and Tara and their three boys, ages 6, 10 and 13—are embarking on their first year of raising day-old chicks. Dustyn is the primary caretaker. “I’m really interested in animals,” he said. (The family raises chickens, ducks and rabbits, and they have a hedge hog, a Guinea pig and two lizards.) Dustyn said he learned a lot about how to raise the pheasants from taking the educational class CCE offered this year. Like the Denmans, the Kratzs lost some of their chicks—eight of the 30 they got from CCE. Without the class, Dustyn contemplated that he might have lost more.

At CCE, Agriculture and 4H Educator Michelle Lipari explained that the class was designed both to teach how to care for the chicks and to give the students confidence.