While MacFarlane Pheasants may run like a well-oiled machine, we actually are divided in half. Around half of our pheasants are raised on our Janesville farm, and the other half is raised just down the road at our Milton farm. But though both of these locations serve the same purpose, they vary distinctly in their soil, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. How we approach each in terms of planting natural cover is illustrative of how you too can adapt your pens to the characteristics of your available ground.
The soil of our farm in Janesville, as pen manager Brian Klein describes it, is “probably the best soil by accident” he’s ever seen. It’s a sandy mix, and its strength is in its drainage. It could rain in the morning, and by the end of the day the pens would be dry. This is ideal in wet weather, as problems can arise when a bird’s prized tailfeathers become muddy. Like human hair, tailfeathers can become dry and brittle if left dirty for too long. The soil in Janesville makes protecting our birds’ plumage an afterthought.
The farm in Milton is almost the exact opposite. Milton’s soil is filled with clay. Its strength lies in its moisture retention. During the most severe droughts, the water that the Milton soil holds is enough to sustain the natural cover even without irrigation. (In fact, we don’t even have an irrigation system in Milton. It’s just that unlikely to come into use.)
You can see each soil’s potential weakness. During dry spells in Janesville, we’re constantly irrigating at a high cost to keep the natural cover alive. And in Milton, after a few days of rain it becomes a muddy mess. We’ll have to lay straw down to keep the birds clean, and we’ll even do it preemptively in October to prepare for the rain and ice.
Because of each soil’s makeup, it’s necessary to handle these two locations differently in the spring when it comes time to plant. Because of its drainage, Janesville can be tilled and planted as soon as the snow has melted, resulting in a beautiful mix of corn or milo with the natural lambsquarter and ragweed. Milton requires an extra three weeks before planting. What we do is play the hand we’re dealt. Janesville is planted early, and we make sure the first three weeks of juvenile pheasants in early spring go there, since the cover is more mature. Later, when Milton has caught up, we’ll begin transitioning our hatches to that location.
Playing to your soil’s strengths and weaknesses is the same on a small scale, such as a hunt club, as it is on large scale like the MacFarlane Pheasants farm. By tailoring your hatches to allow the natural cover time to grow, you can ensure that it last for the season. Also, by adjusting to the soil, whether by irrigating in dry weather or laying straw during the wet, you can ensure that your pheasants are good to go this fall, and your land is able to sustain your birds year after year.
A Tale of Two Soils: Managing Natural Cover