Hens start laying in spring. An early or late start depends on the strain and age of hens, weather conditions, methods of housing, feeding and general husbandry practices.
If conditions are favourable, some strains of birds will start to lay in August, while others may not start until October. It is best not to breed from hens younger than 8 months because they take longer to come into production and they lay fewer eggs. As a general rule, chicks hatched after March will not be mature enough to breed that year. In an established flock, select breeding hens from chicks hatched early in the season.
If the late winter and early spring months are warm, hens will mate and lay earlier. Housing them in intensive conditions protects them from cold weather which would delay egg production. Feeding a well-balanced breeding ration and adopting good husbandry practices, such as control of internal and external parasites, will also help pheasants lay earlier in the season.
In trials conducted at the former Agricultural Research Institute at Seven Hills in 1975–79, egg production per hen increased by 19 eggs in 3 years (see Table 1). Whilst this increase is significant in itself, it is equally important to note that the number of broken eggs fell by 24%. 'Broken eggs' refers to eggs whose shells cracked or broke in the breeding pen and those completely unsuitable for setting in an incubator because they would fail to hatch. Because of the increased number of eggs laid per hen and the decrease in broken eggs, 28 more eggs per hen were available for incubation. Seasonal conditions in breeding seasons did not vary much from year to year; in fact there were no major changes in management practices. However, husbandry operations were modified as a result of experience gained, and this no doubt contributed to the improvement in performance.
Genetics is a major contributing factor to increased egg production. Hybrid vigour (heterosis) occurred in 1978 because two genetically unrelated lines were crossed. This indicates the importance of using crossbred females in a breeding program. However, egg numbers could fall in a subsequent generation. Unfortunately, due to lack of facilities, the two lines could not be kept separately as should happen in a breeding program.
|Total No. of eggs laid per hen (av.)||41||44||45||60|
|Percentage of broken eggs||30.4||22.9||8.0||6|
Because the egg-laying season only extends over a few months, production costs are high and so all eggs laid should be given a chance to incubate. Collect eggs at regular intervals and as often as possible during the day. Hens will lay their eggs on the ground in a compound, or on the floor in a building. Reduce egg breakages by providing shelter to encourage laying in central locations.
Most eggs from hens raised on good deep litter will be clean, but eggs from hens raised under range conditions can be dirty. Clean dirty eggs to remove caked mud and manure by gently rubbing them with steel wool or fine sandpaper. After cleaning, store them at about 15°C and about 75% humidity. Storing eggs longer than 10 days will lessen hatching performance. For best results, put regular weekly settings in the incubators.
Using artificial lighting to adjust poultry egg production is an accepted commercial practice. As a rule, lights have not been used in the pheasant industry, but trials by the former NSW Agriculture (now NSW Department of Primary Industries) showed that wherever practical, artificial lighting should be used.
Where housing is intensive, the installation of artificial lights is usually possible, but there may be some difficulty with range conditions where light intensity required is 10–15 lux at bird height. This can be achieved by providing a 60 watt lamp approximately 2.5 m from the ground for every 18 m2 of floor space. Lights should be used to provide a constant daylength of 15 hours. Because in the southern hemisphere natural daylength increases until the end of the year and then starts to decrease, houses and yards should be lit from 1 January (see Table 2).
The lighting circuit should be fitted to an automatic time switch, adjusted fortnightly to simulate the required daylength. As pheasants are excitable and might react to the sudden shock of lights being turned on before sunrise, it is better to extend daylength into the evening hours. Both morning and evening lighting can be achieved with time switches fitted with a double set of arms, and this is ideal. To maintain the correct light intensity at bird height, lamps must be kept free of dust, and burnt-out ones should be replaced immediately.
|Morning light||Evening light||Morning & evening light|
Unfortunately, pheasant eggs do not hatch as well as other poultry eggs in modern forced-draught incubators. Hatching results are much better using broody hens or still-air machines. With a commercial operation, using brooding hens is completely out of the question and still-air machines need much more attention and labour than automatic forced-draught incubators. Some types of forced-draught incubators give better hatching results than others.
The normal time of incubation for ‘True’ pheasant eggs is 24–25 days. The actual time will be governed by factors such as age and method of storing eggs, and management of the incubator, in particular its temperature and humidity.
The manufacturers’ recommendations for operation of incubators should be followed at all times. As a guide, forced-draught machines should operate at a temperature of approximately 37.5°C during incubation.
Correct humidity control is essential for pheasant eggs. The humidity should be approximately 65% (30.5°C wet bulb) for the first 21 days of incubation, and should then be increased to 90% (34°C wet bulb) until hatching is completed. Humidity readings can be obtained using a wet bulb thermometer.
If high humidity is not maintained at hatching, the chick will have difficulty penetrating the membrane of the shell which will be too hard and rubbery. Keep moisture trays filled with warm water at all times and increase humidity at hatching time by hanging wet hessian in the incubators, or by using automatic misting sprays in the cabinet of the incubator.
Eggs must be turned regularly during incubation to prevent the embryo from sticking to the shell. The more frequently the eggs are turned, the more chickens will hatch successfully. Some incubators are fitted with automatic devices to turn eggs every hour.
If the eggs are turned by hand, they will probably not be turned during the night. It is important that eggs do not spend two consecutive nights on the same side. To avoid this, turn the eggs at a vertical angle of 90° an odd (not an even) number of times during the day. Don’t set and hatch eggs in the same machine unless they are all at the same stage of incubation.
Table 3 shows the hatching results obtained in the trials at the former NSW Agriculture Research Station at Seven Hills. Even though fertility has increased to 83% this is still considered, in economic terms, to be too low. Because males fight when housed intensively it may be better to use a mating ratio of 1:8 rather than 1:6. But individual males cannot be replaced during the breeding season because new males will be killed by the remaining males in the pen.
In 1978–79 there were only six hatchings, the highest of the six hatchings being 56% of all eggs set. During this hatching period, oxygen was fed into the incubator but with very little control of actual quantity. It appears, however, from this hatch, that with the type of incubator used, oxygen may play a major part in improving not only the number of chicks hatched but also chick quality. Hatching time was also considerably reduced.
|Year||No. of hatches||Total No. of eggs set||Fertility (%)||Failed to hatch (%)||Hatchability (%)|
* Former Agricultural Research Station, Seven Hills
Good hygiene reduces the risk of incubation diseases. After each hatch, clean all incubator trays thoroughly and fumigate incubators with formaldehyde gas for 10 minutes. Also fumigate eggs with formaldehyde gas immediately before they are transferred to the hatching incubators at 21 days.
Formaldehyde gas is produced when formalin and potassium permanganate react. For each cubic metre of incubator space, add 35 mL of formalin (40%) to 25 g of potassium permanganate in a heatproof container. As formaldehyde is a dangerous gas, open doors and windows before entering the hatchery after fumigation. A proper respirator mask with suitable gas cartridge filter should be worn if at risk of exposure to formaldehyde gas.
ALWAYS READ THE LABEL
Users of agricultural (or veterinary) chemical products must always read the label and any Permit before using the product, and strictly comply with the directions on the label and the conditions of any Permit. Users are not absolved from compliance with the directions on the label or the conditions of the Permit by reason of any statement made or not made in this publication.