The Secrets of Raising French Redleg Partridges

Last year, Brian Klein and Fairah Ramsey took over the MacFarlane Pheasants French Redleg partridge brooding program. Notoriously finicky, something—or a lot of somethings—had to change about how we had raised the birds, which have always had a higher mortality than our other gamebirds. “I just went into it not knowing anything, and listened to what everyone was saying,” Klein says. He makes it sound simple, but there were three major changes the pair made, all of which have contributed to the lowering of mortality in the chicks this season. Here’s what they did.

First, Klein says to treat the birds like they’re afraid of the dark. What this means is that by manipulating the lights, you can prevent the birds from congregating in areas where the threat of piling is heightened. In the brooder rooms, they removed the light bulbs from the corners. The birds, avoiding the darkened corners, concentrating themselves toward the center where there was more space. Voila, a drastic reduction in incidents of piling.

The next thing they did was flip the common practice of ceiling lights and brooder lights on its head. At the time he took over, we’d traditionally used the lights in tandem and gradually weaned chicks off the brooder lights to only the ceiling lights. Klein reversed this on the advice of a local grower, and sure enough, it’s also contributed to the lowering of the incidents of piling.

Finally, Klein and Ramsey updated the feed system. French Redleg chicks are about a third of the size of pheasant chicks, yet until just recently both species were using the same feed system. The partridge chicks would climb into the feed tubes through the connected feed pans, get themselves stuck, and die in alarming numbers. There were hundreds of dead birds in the first week. What they did was remove the pans, which allowed the chicks to get into the system, and replace them with feed trays that have a 10-inch space between them and the feed lines. It’s prevented the birds getting into the lines and reduced mortality rates substantially.

Klein jokes that the reason he and Ramsey have been so successful with the French Redlegs is because “I refuse to do worse than other people.” But after he stops laughing, he says it’s had a lot to do with a couple lucky breaks. It was a brochure that gave him the idea to modify the existing feed tubes. A grower just happened to stop by the week before the first batch of chicks were slated to hatch that gave him the idea for the brooder and overhead lights. “I basically took everything I was afraid of and changed it,” he says. “I listened to what everyone was saying.”


The Secrets of Raising French Redleg Partridges

Brian Klein



The Secrets of Raising French Redleg Partridges

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Pheasant: The Other, Other White Meat

Pheasant meat has long been known for its health benefits, and MacFarlane Pheasants has had a long, healthy business in it. But that doesn’t mean we’re just going to sit around, resting on our laurels. We’re eager to expand our already large pheasant meat business.

As it stands, MacFarlane Pheasants pheasant meat and meat products are distributed nationally. You can also find our whole pheasants in Whole Foods (get it?) across the country. Of course, the full range of our products are available online, and then there’s our retail store in our hometown of Janesville, Wisc. There are numerous ways to find our products, wherever you might be, along with numerous products. Whether it’s tailgaiting or fine dining, pheasant is always appropriate.

In some ways, the pheasant meat business has a natural advantage to raising our hunt birds. The variety of pheasant used for meat are the White Pheasants which we grow year-round. While the numbers may be much lower—we raise around 180,000 white pheasants every year, while our gamebirds are around 1.5 million, with a million of those being day-old chicks—the demand is steady. When the season ends in the gamebird sector, there’s still work to be done with the white pheasants.

But there are some challenges. Part of the job of raising birds for meat involves genetic selection for future generations of birds—a vital role for our future in the meat industry, which has grown consistently every year. Another difference is our staff’s key role in the artificial insemination of the birds. For birds destined for our tasty food products, we take matters into our own hands versus letting nature take its course with the gamebirds. This allows us to make sure inbreeding does not occur.

The biggest obstacle we have now in expanding our business is space. More barns are needed to house the additional birds. We’re actively pursuing both the land as well as planning out the barns that they’ll be housed in. This year is set to be the largest meat-producing year in our company’s history, but our sights are set on the future and where we’re headed to next.

Pheasant: The Other, Other White Meat





Pheasant: The Other, Other White Meat

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Management Is The First Step When Your Birds Are Not Quite Right

As caretakers of our birds, it is second nature to want to act fast when it comes to sick birds. Our first step to address the issue is through management. As an example if there is a flock of young pheasants that are showing signs that things aren’t quite right, our management team’s first response here would be to turn the heat up a few degrees, and top dress the bedding in the barn with new bedding. We also have established a number of best practices (bio-security) to ensure that if we do have ill birds, we don’t infect healthy birds. There’s the temptation to medicate, especially when the barn next door has caught something and their neighbors seem like they’re on the verge. But our first and second responses don’t include medicating and here’s why.

Even with careful biosecurity measures, birds still can get sick. One of the most common culprits is E. coli. Our breeding hens lay their eggs outside, and if eggs are laid during a rainy period, eggs can get contaminated. We do our best to keep the laying huts strawed, and we collect eggs up to six times a day and the collected eggs are washed in a “state of the art” egg washer, but a few eggs still can be contaminated. When eggs hatch, and if the chicks encounter most any type of stress, E. coli can emerge to challenge the health of the chicks.

First of all, we do not administer anti-biotics to our birds prophylactically (i.e. in advance to prevent disease). If we do have sick birds, the first thought would be to medicate. But we don’t medicate and the reasons we don’t is simple: usually changing the management of the birds most effectively will address the problem and also by over medicating, E. coli could just get stronger. For the same reason that you don’t blast your child’s system with antibiotics at the first sound of a sniffle, a pre-emptive strike only helps bacteria develop immunities to current drugs, meaning their efficacy is lessened over time. What’s bad for us is also bad for the poultry industry.

Refraining from medicating birds that don’t yet need it is part of basic bird protocol. Yes, pharmaceutical companies are turning out new medications to combat some of today’s most insidious diseases. But part of being good stewards as well as good businessmen is knowing when to treat and when to wait and see.

Management Is The First Step When Your Birds Are Not Quite Right







Management Is The First Step When Your Birds Are Not Quite Right

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The MacFarlane Pheasants Employee Exchange Program

A pheasant farm changes with the seasons. For example, after MacFarlane Pheasants hatches our final Ringneck chicks of the year in August, we then ramp up for the adult bird season. So what happens to all those hard-working brooder and hatchery managers? They move to other departments to assist in new roles. A pheasant farm is only as versatile as its employees, and how we allocate our most valuable resources has helped us continue to grow and become more efficient.

Employees switching departments is in its simplest form just makes good business sense. While we could hire multiple part-time employees to cover these seasonal roles—and we still do hire a number of seasonal employees as needed—it’s much simpler and cheaper to fully utilize the employees we already have. The paperwork is less, and it allows us to ensure quality work as the employees themselves have already been proven.

But the real benefit is enjoyed by the employees themselves. If we can solve staffing needs while also offering existing employees more hours, it’s a win-win for everyone. After all, why take on a second job when there are opportunities with the first?

Some examples of this include one employee that works in our food processing department but also moonlights on the farm catching the birds to take to the plant. He sees the birds from their most vibrant through the process of preparing them for some of the most fancy plates in the U.S. Another: one of our managers in food products and shipping also works with our pedigree program, which continues to refine the MacFarlane pheasant.

But of all the positions at MacFarlane Pheasants, no department is a better example of this exchange program than in the office, where each employee is trained in each other’s jobs. Our staff is constantly coming and going for trainings and national business travel, and because of our office staff’s versatility, the ship continues on its course without interruption. It proves that a farm can run like a machine.

Moving employees from their highly specialized jobs to new departments does require a certain break-in period. After all, learning a new job takes time. But the transition is made easier by the quality of our employees. The bird business isn’t a simple one, and our employees find their way to us through some of the best colleges in the U.S., making their acclimation to a new job much more abbreviated than you’d expect.

The reality of a pheasant farm is that there will always be busy, near-overwhelming seasons in one department followed by a hibernation of sorts. How we handle these slack times, allocating our employees to where they’re most needed, just makes good business sense for us and them.





The MacFarlane Pheasants Employee Exchange Program

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That Pheasant Farm on the Edge of Town

MacFarlane Pheasants may be the country’s largest pheasant farm, but we’re still a local business in our community of Janesville, Wisconsin. Our deep hometown roots tie us in with our legacy and history even as we’re continually looking forward. Our involvement with our community is something we never take for granted. Here are a few ways we’re able to say hello.

One of the ways we most often interact with our neighbors is over the phone. Often they’re calling us to report pheasants they’ve seen, thinking they’re ours! So we take a truck out to investigate the loose fowl. Sure, on occasion the birds are ours, and if that’s the case we bag them up and take them home. But often they’re just local, wild birds. We’ve always appreciated the thought that our neighbors are so considerate of our business that they’re willing to ring us up in case of escapees.

Another way our community gets to peak behind the veil is through our retail store in Janesville. In our store we offer the full range of our pheasant products, which are perfect for fine dining or light snacking. We also offer a variety of exotic game meats that we’re able to acquire through our distributor. If you’ve ever been curious about where you can find boar meat for that family dish, we know where you can find it.

Finally, our farms are always accessible through a guided tour. We often host school groups throughout the year, along with Boy Scouts and other community members. The tours are led by MacFarlane office staff and wind their way through the barns and pens for an educational and enlightening look at where the magic happens. We average one tour a week, and if you’re interested, just give our office a call a few days in advance. Tours are free and a great experience for both children and adults.

There’s nothing routine about the day-to-day work at America’s largest pheasant farm—and we do mean farm. “We’re not a factory,” says Art Schumacher, MacFarlane’s maintenance and transportation manager. There’s always something new and different, and we’re always excited to share it with our community.


That Pheasant Farm on the Edge of Town

Art Schumacher






That Pheasant Farm on the Edge of Town

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Out With the Old…

Well, it is official. As of yesterday morning, our “White House” is no more.  The brooder barn that we had been renting, and playfully named the “White House,” was torn down.  The neighboring John Deere business purchased the building/land and gave us ample notice that they were not going to keep the building.

We had rented the “White House” for the past 5 years. During that time, we re-wired and installed new ventilation in the 30 X 330 building.  We used the building as our brooder barn, and each year housed as many as 70,000 birds during peak season in it.

We are currently in the building process of our own brooder barn here on the farm, and will be keeping you updated on the progress of it!
Out With the Old…


Out With the Old…

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Pheasants Without Borders

Because of MacFarlane Pheasants’ location in Wisconsin and because of our role as the largest pheasant farm in the United States, we have many customers in Canada. But sending pheasants abroad isn’t as simple as just slapping extra postage on their crates. In order to connect our customers with their birds it takes a village’s worth of paperwork, a familiarity with Canadian culture, and help from a variety of national offices on both sides of the border.

Right now MacFarlane Pheasants is in our busy adult bird season. Before each order, has been shipped off, it goes through an internal audit to ensure the price we’ve quoted our customer and the number of birds they ordered matches up with the invoice. We also ensure that health certificates are correct and add-ons like feed are included. But after all this, our international orders still require a variety of clearances before they’re shipped off to Canada.

Once our initial audit checks out, we begin to arrange the birds’ international health certificates, which require the cooperation with both countries’ governments. On the U.S. side, we contact the Wisconsin Federal veterinarian, who gives his seal of approval. It’s emailed to the Canadian veterinarian, and then to the broker, who acts as our intermediary to take the birds through customs. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife representative also is included in the loop to sign off. In the end, each international order requires about six more pages of documents, many of which require the go-ahead from state and country representatives.

We have such a vibrant business in Canada that we’ve gotten to know these respective institutions’ representatives pretty well, or as well as you can through email. This works in our favor, especially with the Canadian side, since their holidays do not always match up with the U.S. For instance, Canada’s Thanksgiving is on October 13, and since it’s a national holiday, offices are closed. Our paperwork has to be submitted prior to this date to ensure that our customers get their birds as scheduled. We’re lucky to have such a great Canadian vet, who helps keep us abreast of these international differences.

Every day, we audit four to 10 invoices, with anywhere from 10 birds up to 3,000+. Add to this workload the fact that a few of our Canadian customers have weekly deliveries, meaning that this process must be repeated and without error. There’s not time enough to correct mistakes, so everything must go according to schedule, regardless of what country or state our customers reside. We’ve become deft at navigating these international waters through the skill of our employees and the help of government officials both regionally and internationally.
Pheasants Without Borders


Pheasants Without Borders

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Pheasant Security Is Job Number One

To be clear, MacFarlane Pheasants is far from a gamebird prison. Actually, as America’s largest pheasant farm is more like an exclusive gamebird resort, and part of that resort’s amenities include ensuring our guests’ stay is safe and secure. That’s why we make sure nothing is amiss with regular and frequent security checks and farm checks.

Security checks happen around 8:30 at night, seven days a week. Three different employees, each alternating days, go by the pens and buildings, hand-checking to make sure doors are closed and locked and nothing is amiss. They’re also checking to make sure all the outside lights are lit. It’s a thorough process; each check takes around two hours despite the fact that the employees spend about half the time in the vehicles conducting additional visual assessments.

The main purpose of this is to ensure that no one breaks in. While it’s not an often occurrence, we’ve been in business for more than 80 years, and these type of unfortunate instances can happen from time to time. Security checks help protect our investment in expensive, specialized machinery that helps us raise pheasants better, which only helps protect our future. With a little bit of prevention we can help keep our birds and our equipment safe.

Farm checks serve a different purpose. They’re also conducted every day, but at a higher frequency. Once in the morning when we first start the day and then at the end of the workday we drive around every pen to make sure all the birds have food and water, and that there are no critters in pens. The purpose of a farm check is the overall health of our birds.
Pics 9.1.2010 104
As each one of our three farm managers checks his or her respective farm, he or she is looking at the feeders. How much feed is present? He or she is also looking at the water lines to ensure there’s a steady flow. We’re also keeping an eye out for the occasional hawk that can get it. (If we don’t get it out fast, it can be in there all day eating pheasant.) Finally, our farm managers are ensuring that the outside gates of the pens are secure and that there are no escaped birds in the middle lane between pens. Each check takes around an hour to an hour and a half.

The theory behind the security check and farm check is simple: we’re keeping a vigilant eye out for the figurative “bear” in the pen. What this means is that frequent checks help ensure that should a problem come up, it’s handled quickly and efficiently before it can turn into something much bigger. It’s something we’ve found that’s contributed to MacFarlane Pheasants’ success for the better part of a century.





Pheasant Security Is Job Number One

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2014 Tantalize Your Tastebuds Recap

On Saturday, MacFarlane Pheasants opened the doors to our farm and freezer with the tenth annual Tantalize Your Tastebuds event. We couldn’t have asked for better weather, a better turnout, and better neighbors.

After a big advertising push on local radio, the stage was set for this year’s event. Under a big-top tent, we prepared 20 items utilizing MacFarlane Pheasants’ meat products along with some wilder offerings available through our store. Free to the general public, the event included dishes like bacon-wrapped quail, pheasant potpie, and even buffalo, elk, and alligator entrees.

Chef Sarah Boyd of the Janesville Country Club stopped by to tempt attendees with a savory pheasant stroganoff. We also prepared tasty pheasant sliders with a cranberry mustard. The latter recipe utilized our new ground pheasant, a recent addition to the MacFarlane Pheasants food product list in the last month. “Everyone loved it, and we sold a lot of the ground pheasant, so it must have gone over well,” said MacFarlane Pheasants’ Sarah Pope, one of the two planners of the event.

This year we had more families than ever, and many enjoyed a wagon ride around the farm. Neighbors from Janesville, Beloit, and the surrounding towns joined us during five hours of eating. Even our owner Bill MacFarlane and his family had a chance to stop by and mingle with guests.

This year’s edition of the Tantalize Your Tastebuds event was such a success because of our hard-working office and farm employees, some of who even volunteered for the event. Thanks to all of you who made this possible!

And finally, if you, our neighbors in Janesville and parts near, had a chance to stop by MacFarlane Pheasants on Saturday, thank you! Our farm has grown in large part through the support of our community, and it’s always a great time to be able to thank you individually at our biggest event of the year.
Tantalize Your Tastebuds





2014 Tantalize Your Tastebuds Recap

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Tantalize Your Tastebuds


Join us today, Saturday, September 27th between 10-3 for Tantalize Your Tastebuds!!!


We’ll be cooking up all types of wild game and of course Pheasant!

Tantalize Your Tastebuds    Tantalize Your Tastebuds


Tantalize Your Tastebuds

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