Grouse are popular game birds. Approximately the same size as chickens, they are easily identified by their feathered nostrils and legs, which are feathered on the toes. Though many have tried to raise grouse domestically, only a few people have actually achieved any measure of success. The difficulty seems to be in the replication of the natural living conditions, which have evolved to enable the birds to survive in relative isolation. Not a good choice for beginning bird breeders, the grouse (particularly the Ruffed) can be raised in captivity if you're willing to do a bit of extra work.
Construct or purchase two buildings for your grouse-raising operation--one for hatching and housing the young and one for adult grouse. Juveniles should be kept off the ground to avoid unnecessary contact with possible parasites, soil-borne bacteria, rodents and potentially harmful insects. Adults can be placed upon clean ground that has not been used in recent history for the care and keeping of any other live birds.2
Purchase your pens. Juvenile grouse require pens that are 4 feet long and 2 feet wide with bottoms covered in inch by inch galvanized or plastic-coated wire. This will allow for easy cleaning of waste products. Pens should be located at least 3 feet off the ground to discourage potential predators.3
Cover the floor of the adult enclosure with 6 inches of clean sand as this will discourage many of the earth-borne vectors from carrying parasites and harmful bacteria into the building. Install plenty of perches, nesting boxes, feeders and water dispensers. Install partitions so it will be easy to separate the males and the females and then cover the entire structure with a solid roof to protect both the birds and their food supply from weather. Part of the adult structure should be enclosed with chicken wire while part of the structure should have solid walls, giving the birds a choice of where they would like to spend their time.4
Feed young birds commercial game bird food specifically formulated for growing chicks. Line the feeding dish with paper towels and sprinkle the food across the tissue. As the chicks move past the towels, the paper will shift a bit, shaking the food slightly. This will attract the attention of any nearby birds and they will snatch the food, thinking it is alive. Within two weeks all of the chicks will eat from the feeder without the use of the paper towels.5
Supplement the diet of your grouse by offering the occasional handful of nuts, leafy greens, chopped dandelions, mealworms or pieces of fresh fruit, but be careful not to go overboard as this can actually harm their health.6
Watch your grouse when they reach sexual maturity. You will observe an elaborate and impressive set of courtship rituals from sunrise until sunset, particularly on the part of the males. Search your females for the hens that have been busy scratching out a nest in the sand. Place a female who seems ready into the established ''home turf'' of a strutting male, but do not leave them unsupervised as the female may violently reject the male, in which case you should separate them and try another hen. If the male is not rejected, leave the pair together for a few hours.7
Wait one week after what you believe to have been a successful mating. The hen will begin to lay eggs at the rate of one to two per day if the courtship went as planned, until the clutch reaches between 5 and 12 eggs. The hen will then sit on the clutch for 21 to 30 days, when the eggs hatch into chicks. You should remove the eggs a few days before they are due to hatch and place them in an incubator to reduce the possibility of the chicks coming into contact with any parasites the mother may be carrying.8
Place the babies in a high-walled wading pool or large box lined with clean paper. Keep the newly hatched grouse warm. They do well at approximately 95 degrees F. The temperature can be gradually lowered by 5 degrees per week to help the babies acclimatize.9
Clean the paper the babies are being kept on three or four times a day until they have grown enough to be moved into their wire-bottom pens. Also, check the chicks feet each day to ensure there is no build-up of waste products clinging to the foot. If you do find manure on the bird, simply wipe it away with a bit of damp paper towel.10
Separate the grouse and move them to the adult building when they reach 4 to 5 months of age and their respective genders are easy to identify. A number of females can generally live together or with one male among them, but any surplus males must be moved out of the flock, or the flock must be sub-divided to avoid bouts of aggression among the birds.