SHERIDAN — The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is alerting pheasant hunters that there will be fewer birds stocked on walk-in areas and public land in northern Wyoming this fall, including Sand Mesa, Ocean Lake, Bud Love and Yellowtail Wildlife Habitat Management Areas, due to a disease outbreak at the Sheridan Bird Farm in spring 2021.
In spring 2021, pheasant eggs were collected resulting in approximately 18,800 healthy chicks being hatched and placed into brooding facilities. However on Memorial Day weekend, Sheridan Bird Farm Supervisor Darrell Meineke noticed some chicks acting unusual.
Meineke and WGFD wildlife veterinarian Samantha Allen collected pheasant chicks for disease testing. Resulting lab tests confirmed that enteritis was the culprit, caused by a bacterial infection. This contributed to the pheasants developing rickets as well.
In this case, a bacterium called Salmonella (from group E) was identified. Salmonella is one of many common bacteria that inhabit livestock and poultry areas but can suddenly erupt and cause illness in young animals. It is treated with common antibiotics and Vitamin D to strengthen the immune system. Once its presence was confirmed, all the pheasants were immediately placed on medications and supplements.
“My staff and Dr. Allen worked long and exhausting hours to determine what was causing this health issue in the pheasant chicks. Large-scale illness is something we work hard to prevent,” Meineke said. “Unfortunately, with the outbreak discovered over the holiday weekend, we struggled to find an open lab and this curtailed our ability to test and react as quickly as we wanted.”
After several weeks, the loss of pheasant chicks was significant, with Meineke estimating one-third of the chicks succumbed to the disease.
“In the 84 years Sheridan Bird Farm has raised pheasants, there have only been a few outbreaks like this,” Meineke said. “During my 26 year-tenure, I’ve never been so sad and disappointed. We take great pride in raising and releasing as many pheasants as possible for the hunters in Wyoming. It was a hard year for us and we learned a lot. I can’t thank our veterinary and lab personnel enough. It certainly could have been worse, but changes have been made to make it difficult for this to happen again.”
Sheridan Bird Farm’s remaining pheasants have recovered well and are healthy. Bird farm staff have begun stocking birds at 11 locations on a rotating weekly basis and will continue for the duration of pheasant season. However, the number of birds released at each stocking will be reduced.
The salmonella outbreak is not a human health concern for this fall’s hunters, but hunters are encouraged to practice safe handling and hygiene practices, such as wearing plastic gloves when handling birds or other wildlife, to help prevent transmission of other potential zoonotic diseases.
WGFD’s Downar Bird Farm near Torrington experienced no disease outbreak this year and approximately 18,000 pheasants will be released this fall on public hunting areas in the southern part of the state.