Between 2005 and 2007, data were collected from game farms across England and Wales to examine the effects of the use of bits on the physiological condition and behaviour of pheasants. On each site, two pheasant pens kept in the same conditions were randomly allocated to either use bits or not. The behaviour and physiological conditions of pheasants in each treatment pen were assessed on the day of bitting and weekly thereafter until release. Detailed records of feed usage, medications and mortality were also kept. Bits halved the number of acts of bird-on-bird pecking, but they doubled the incidence of headshaking and scratching. Bits caused nostril inflammation and bill deformities in some birds, particularly after seven weeks of age. In all weeks after bitting, feather condition was poorer in nonbitted pheasants than in those fitted with bits. Less than 3 per cent of bitted birds had damaged skin, but in the non-bitted pens this figure increased over time to 23 per cent four weeks later. Feed use and mortality did not differ between bitted and non-bitted birds.
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