The Ring-necked Pheasant has seven subspecies, and is the bird that does best in captivity. Other wild fowl have an even lower survival rate.
Unlike chicken, which require specialised feed, pheasants forage on soil, weeds, and insects such as grasshoppers. They therefore need a greater area with plenty of trees and shrubbery, and cannot be crammed into sheds like chicken in broiler factories.
Also unlike chicken, pheasants need to fly, which means the enclosures need sky-nets. A fully-grown pheasant weighs up to two kilograms, and is ready for sale at 6 months for Rs2,500 each. Females begin to lay eggs from nine months.
Nepal’s pioneering pheasant farmers warn that the business is not as easy as poultry, the return on investment is not as assured, and insurance is an issue. They say pheasants are still protected species, and government policies do not make a distinction between wild and farmed birds.
Nirmal Nepal of Tulsipur invested Rs10 million to buy 1,000 pheasant eggs from Belgium four years ago. But because all his knowhow came from watching YouTube tutorials, he lost half of his chicks to the cold.
“I was inexperienced and did not know enough in the beginning,” admits Nepal, whose flock has now grown to 10,000 pheasants.
Ironically the success of independent pheasant farmers across Nepal has also brought down the price for chicks. Newly-hatched chicks now sell for only Rs500, down from Rs1,500 four years ago.
“I used to get orders from as far away as Ilam and Doti, but I have stopped selling them. It’s just not worth it,” says Nepal.
According to the Company Registrar, there are nearly 8,000 commercial poultry farms across the country, and only four of them are formally registered to raise pheasants.
What would help would be trainers and professionals specialising in pheasant farming. Veterinarians tend to treat pheasants like they would chicken, even though the two species are completely different.
“There is neither feed nor required medical resources for pheasants in the market,” says Baburam Shrestha, a farmer in Butwal who trained to raise poultry in France and Italy and is now also raising pheasants.
“Production has increased with the increase in pheasant farmers, but the market is still limited,” adds Shrestha, who also complains of falling prices for both chicks and meat.
“Although it might look like business is profitable, that is actually not the case yet.”
Shrestha has had to improvise as he goes along, experimenting with different types of pheasant feed after he was unable to find a supplier for the proper product. Other pheasant farmers simply feed their birds what they give their chicken.