A Tale of Two Soils: Managing Natural Cover

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.
A Tale of Two Soils: Managing Natural Cover
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

New Irrigator

Here in Janesville, WI we are blessed and cursed with sandy soil. On one hand, the sandy soil is great for pheasants. Not only do we find that we have less diseases, but it is easier on our birds’ tails as well. These birds have a tendency to dig or peck at the ground, and are able to do that without injuring themselves. The problem we run into however, is with our natural cover.
We have posted many times in the past regarding our natural cover preference and the different types we use. We love that it is resistant to our inconsistent Wisconsin weather, and that the low cover gives the pheasants something to peck at, rather than each other. As you can imagine, growing this cover on the sandy soil requires a little more maintenance than if we were dealing with your typical top soil.
This summer we purchased another irrigator. We went with a Turbine-driven Kifco that has a 1200-foot hose. The portability of this machine has made it a great asset to our farm, especially this summer with our periodic droughts of rain!
New Irrigator
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Irrigator

Every Bird Counts: Catching Escaped Pheasants On The Farm

MacFarlane Pheasants may be the largest pheasant farm in the United States, but we’re far from just an industrial bird factory. Our founders are hunters themselves, and that individual experience with the sport informs all our decisions with every bird we raise. That care extends into all aspects of our pheasants’ lives, including our inspection of their pens and retrieving those that fly the coop. Why? Because just like on your hunt, at MacFarlane Pheasants every bird counts.

Twice a day our employees walk the perimeter of each pen on the farm. They do this for a few reasons, one of which is to ensure there aren’t any issues with feed and water lines. But another is that when birds get out, they don’t go far. At this point in their lives, pheasants have come to associate the pens with food and water. Even if they escape, they stay pretty close, usually in the center lane that divides the pens into two rows. When we see birds, it’s our goal to get them back into the pens quickly and efficiently in time for their lunch.

While we’re capturing these birds—usually one or two a day—we’re also noting their peeper color. Peepers are on most birds to discourage aggression, which, if left unchecked, can damage the birds’ tailfeathers. But peepers serve a dual purpose: they’re also a great way for us to observe if there’s an issue with one specific pen. If we find a number of birds with the same peeper color, which are color-coded to identify hatch date, we know to check that specific pen to suss out the issue.

Additionally, around all the pens’ perimeters we’ve placed catch boxes baited with food. Catch boxes allow the bird to enter but not to exit. We’ll check those throughout the day as our staff meanders through their normal farm duties, and if there’s a bird inside, it’s quickly moved back into its home.

An average pen at the MacFarlane Pheasants farm holds between 600-800 birds, and when birds discover an opportunity to escape, they do it en masse. Look away for a few hours and you can discover a hundred birds in the lane. Raising pheasants requires consistent monitoring to ensure that if there is a problem, if a door is broken or a hole is torn into a fence, it can be resolved quickly. It requires vigilance, because birds are always on the ready to make a run for it. For our customers and us, every bird counts.
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Every Bird Counts: Catching Escaped Pheasants On The Farm

The Importance Of Feed And Water Space

At MacFarlane Pheasants, our approach to pheasant rearing is based on science and refined by experience. Nowhere is that more apparent than the care we take in the brooder barns, where we’ve developed time-tested ratios to ensure that every bird has a place at the feed and water stations.

Everything a pheasant chick needs—heat, water, oxygen/air, and food—is pretty obvious. But the space those chicks need to access those essentials is something that MacFarlane Pheasants has spent generations refining. The MacFarlane ratio is a number we’ve come up with that tells us how many birds can fit in a room at the same time while allowing equal access to food and water. This is important throughout the birds’ lives.

It starts when the birds are just a day old and moved into our “A” room. Chicks are incredibly delicate, and it’s critical to get them comfortable and feeding fast. A proper ratio allows all the chicks to have access to their essentials while helping to prevent piling and aggression. This lowers mortality and the stress levels of the birds, ensuring that more survive to make it into the “B” room.

In that “B” room, where birds are switched after they’re three weeks old, the ratio is increased. Birds are naturally bigger, and therefore require more space. But there’s an additional pitfall to avoid: damaged tailfeathers. Any pheasant hunter knows the brilliance and beauty of a bird’s hind plumage. If birds are too close, they can begin to peck each other and potentially injure those tailfeathers. Don’t worry; they grow back. But we won’t sell a bird until its feathers are perfect. Those birds have to be segregated to allow their feathers time to regroup, and it can take up to three months before they’re ready to ship. Meanwhile, the birds are eating and taking up space. Damaged tailfeathers lower our profit margin, which is why a correct ratio is even more important in that “B” room.
The Importance Of Feed And Water Space
It’s important to note, says brooder house manager Rich Thomas, that the ratios we use are a starting point, and not bible truth. “There are exceptions to every rule,” he says, and encourages you to carefully monitor your birds, watching for problems, and adjusting accordingly. For example, a warmer room may require more food and water, and different strains of pheasant can demand slight tweaks. Close observation should always trump formulas.

Over 1.6 million pheasant chicks were hatched at MacFarlane Pheasants this year, and they all received the space they needed. By starting with a good rule of thumb for space and adjusting it based on the feedback the birds will give, you can ensure that your birds will grow healthy into the fall hunting season.

 

 

 

 

The Importance Of Feed And Water Space

MacFarlane Pheasants Hatches Its Last Batch Of Chicks For The Season

On Monday MacFarlane Pheasants hatched our last group of day-old pheasant chicks. It’s been a cracker of a year—we produced over 1.6 million day-old pheasant chicks last year alone—but this final batch for 2014 still illustrates the care we take in ensuring you receive your chicks thriving and ready to grow toward those exciting fall hunts.

When you order chicks, our support specialists begin toiling toward getting you your birds. A week prior to the ship date, one of our staff creates your shipping labels, which are then affixed to your order’s boxes. This ensures that in the hustle of arranging newly hatched chicks to ship to you that there’s no delay and no mix-up.

There are a few things that go into the overall cost of shipping, including distance and number of boxes. We use priority shipping because it ensures a minimal transit time of one to two days for all chicks. Surprisingly, it’s not the distance of your location that affects transit time as much as it is your location’s size. The larger your town, the faster birds arrive, with a two-day time common for smaller communities. But rest assured you can depend on your birds arriving relatively unflustered.

 
MacFarlane Pheasants Hatches Its Last Batch Of Chicks For The Season The real movement on the farm happens on Mondays and Tuesdays. As chicks hatch on that day, your order is sorted into boxes. In the early part of the season, when temperatures are cooler, we’ll fit 130 chicks per box so that birds can benefit from the group’s body heat. But in these warm summer days, we’ll place 105 chicks in each so that chicks have a lower likelihood of overheating. Boxes are then lashed together in groups of three. In each box, a five-percent overcount is standard to ensure that any attrition during shipping comes out of our wallet, not yours. (Typically you can expect a three-percent loss, so consider the surplus chicks our thanks to you.)

Orders are then loaded into trucks by 7 p.m. and driven to Minneapolis-Saint Paul, where after arriving just after midnight they’re then flown to destinations all over the country. For some orders in our home state of Wisconsin, we’ll also ship out of the Madison Post Office. Finally, we offer an onsite pick-up option, which we especially prefer because it minimizes the stress that chicks undergo in transit. There’s no question that this last method produces the highest success rates, so if it’s feasible for you, ask us about a local pickup.

When you receive your chicks, you’ll want to get them into the brooder as soon as possible. We ask that you take note over the coming days of chick mortality rates. Just take the “report card” affixed to your order’s box, fill it out, and ship it back. This helps us ensure that you have the best possible experience with MacFarlane Pheasants, and if not, we find a way to make it right.

 

 

 

 

MacFarlane Pheasants Hatches Its Last Batch Of Chicks For The Season

The Effect of Light Levels on Developing Birds

As chicks grow into adult birds, their light requirements should change. It’s not just for convenience; higher light means the birds are more active, and active older birds fly into walls, injuring themselves. At MacFarlane Pheasants, we’ve learned how to adjust the levels accordingly. By manipulating light levels, you can ensure your chicks establish themselves quickly and then stay healthy as they transition into adult birds ready for the fall hunting season.

All our chicks, whether pheasant, chukar, or Hungarian partridge, start their lives indoors in the barns. This is where we’ll manipulate the lights. Birds are most active when the lights are brightest, so from their birth until the second week, chicks receive a hundred percent of our light capabilities, regardless of species. Active birds are birds that learn to eat and drink quickly, and this is especially important for delicate birds like the Huns and chukars. Bright lights can also be used to show birds where the brooder light heat is since birds are naturally attracted. You can use this trick to help teach chicks to ring around a heat source. Try pairing your overhead lights directly above the brooder lights to maximize this effect.

After that first week, birds are accustomed to eating and drinking and seeking heat. Halfway through the second week, we’ll begin to turn the overhead lights down while keeping the brooders at full blast. It’s not a marked difference—we only turn the lights down by about three percent a day—but it’s consistent and most importantly, gradual. Lights are controlled by a dimmer switch, on which we’ve carefully marked out increments. This helps ensure it’s a graceful transition to lower lights. Once birds are into their third week, we’ll be even more aggressive with weaning them from full light.

As birds continue to grow, they can also be weaned off brooder heat. Be sure to watch bird behavior for signs distress, but eventually the overhead lights will reach their lowest setting, or about one percent of their capacity, during the birds’ fourth week. In fact, even then some of the barns can be too bright, and we’ll remove bulbs to further dim the lights. We go as low as running five of the nine total bulbs per room. If you do this, however, it’s important to ensure that the lighting is even, as birds can pile with unequal illumination.

The darker the lighting, the more calm birds are, and conversely, the brighter, the more active. Younger birds thrive under bright lights, but they should be dimmed as the birds age. Watching your birds’ behavior is key; if juvenile birds are taking flight and injuries are popping up, consider following these steps. You’ll discover as we have one of the secrets to grow your chicks into mighty pheasants, Huns, and chukars for the fall season.

The Effect of Light Levels on Developing Birds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Effect of Light Levels on Developing Birds

Ventilation in the Brooder Barns

Fresh air is a must in the brooder barns for MacFarlane Pheasants’ chicks and juveniles. Consistent airflow dumps carbon dioxide and brings in oxygen for the birds to breathe. Fresh air also cuts the humidity, which, if left unchecked, can allow mold to grown and respiratory ailments to form. But especially in cooler weather, too much air can chill birds and increase mortality. At the farm, we’ve developed special methods for keeping our birds happy.

In the brooder barns, where all MacFarlane birds spend their first weeks, we employ two methods of ventilation that work together. The first is an industrial-size fan. The fan is placed at one end of the barn, and it creates pressure within the building for air to move. But the air itself is drawn in from the outside through two intake movers, which are square panels at either end of the barn. Some are mechanized, but most are simply responding to the air pressure differential from the fan. Fresh air is pulled in on one side, the fan pushes it down the barn, and the old, humid air is expelled through the opposite end. It works beautifully.

As you might expect, day-old chicks require less air than adult birds. Even then, this still poses issues, as our first hatch is in March during colder weather. It’s in these months that we must be especially careful with how much fresh air is brought in. If too much of the Wisconsin winter enters the barn, birds can chill, pile, and die. For this time, we use a supplemental system of eight smaller stir fans. We bring in a smaller amount of fresh air, which is then spread throughout the barn.

But during the summer months, when MacFarlane Pheasants is in our peak bird-rearing season, the more air the better. Fresh air reduces humidity along with the temperature, both of which spike during the dog days. During this time, we’re not taking a CO2 reading as much as we are watching the humidity, which we measure electronically. A humidity buildup is the first indication that something is wrong, and when something goes wrong, it’s probably a fan.

The typical lifespan of the fans we use is around three years. We employ onsite mechanics to replace motors and clear jams, the two most common problems, and we also send fans out to be repaired when possible. However, the workload we place on our machines often means that when a fan goes down, it must beVentilation in the Brooder Barns replaced. When this is the case, they’re switched out with backups within a few hours.

Ventilation is key for pheasants when they’re in the brooder barns. Using a system of fans and intake movers, we’re able to keep the air flowing, and that keeps the birds content until they’re ready to be transitioned outside. After all, nothing beats the real thing, and no one has to explain to hunters that there’s nothing quite like the great outdoors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ventilation in the Brooder Barns

A Pheasant Farm’s Most Wanted List

When you’re running the largest pheasant farm in the U.S., everybody wants a piece—including some of nature’s most wily predators. At MacFarlane Pheasants, raising pheasants also includes protecting them from unwanted visitors, and in our home in Janesville, Wisc., we’ve gotten to know all the local troublemakers. The below animals comprise our list of repeat offenders.

The most common predator we run into—in fact, the most common in the state—is the raccoon. Raccoons breed quickly, with litters of up to five pups, and they’re smarter than most. Once they’re into a pen, they then teach all their young the same tricks, making it a long process of rooting out a family. Evidence of raccoons is pretty obvious: walking around the pens, you’ll see their holes under the fence, and you’ll see a lot of dead birds. Examining the birds, you’ll find tell-tale gnaw marks. Once a raccoon problem is discovered, we’ll set traps around their holes and around the perimeter of the pens themselves.
A Pheasant Farm’s Most Wanted List
Next on our Most Wanted list is the mink, and minks are just mean. Where at least the raccoons appear to kill birds in order to eat, minks seem to kill almost for the love of the kill. They also possess an incredible intellect, and at least one scientific study has shown them to out-learn ferrets, skunks, and cats. While their occurrence is less common than raccoons, their damage is often greater, and there’s even more of an imperative to deal with them before things get out of hand.

Besides these two, we also occasionally have to deal coyotes and foxes. But dealing with predators often starts with removing ways that make it easy for them to get into the pens in the first place. We mow as far between the pens and the treeline as we can, and we consistently are cutting down the tall grass at the pens’ fenceline. Both of these go a long way in discouraging common predators from singling out our pheasants.

It’s a year-round job of guarding our pheasants, with a spike in the action in October when the corn is harvested and predators must go on the move. But when they do show up at our door, it’s usually not more than a couple days that they go without meeting their just deserts. Protecting our birds is just one of the ways that MacFarlane Pheasants is always striving to become better.

 

 

 

A Pheasant Farm’s Most Wanted List

Better Bedding For Pheasant Care

At MacFarlane Pheasants, we’ve become the largest pheasant producer in North America in part because of our innovation. All of the decisions we make in the care of our birds, from the smallest to the greatest, are because they result in a better, wilder bird. That includes the choices we make in our birds’ bedding. Whether it’s for our Ringneck pheasants for sport or White pheasants for meat, they all use the same bedding.

It starts when birds are in their first three weeks. Many farms use wood shavings, but over the years we discovered that the wide range of sizes of the shavings were creating problems. Most wood shavings are the byproducts of door and window frames. Because of this, there’s little care taken to produce a uniform size. Chicks ingest the finer particles, filling their stomachs with indigestible material that doesn’t allow them to eat feed. Birds basically starve to death while feeling full the whole time.

We discovered a company in Texas called Suncoast Pine Shavings. They stood out because their product is directly cut from the log itself. It has a uniform size of an inch square (almost the size of a pheasant chick), eliminating the possibility of chicks eating it. It’s also kiln-dried, killing mold and bacteria and eliminating moisture. For more than five years we’ve used their product exclusively, and we highly recommend their it. But whether you use their product or another, it’s important to choose a dust-free, large-size product to protect your birds.

Better Bedding For Pheasant Care

 

After the chicks reach three weeks, we transfer them to wheat straw. There are a number of benefits to this material as a substrate. First, it’s readily available in Wisconsin (it’s harvested in late July and early August), letting us source it locally and develop relationships with area farmers. Also, because it’s so close, we save on trucking costs. The straw is dust-free, which helps prevent respiratory ailments in the birds. Finally, it’s easy to store, allowing us to stock up for the season. Just this week we bought 800 bales and placed a deposit with local growers for many more. They should last us through February.

The last bedding material we use is in the pens of our egg-laying birds. For this, we use baled grass, also locally sourced. We like it because it does a better job of keeping eggs off the ground. In those peak egg-producing months of April and May, when the rains are worst, the grass weaves together to keep the eggs dry and clean, away from the mud and bacteria. (Wheat straw, with its wax-like coating, allows eggs to slide right through.) By adapting our substrate to the conditions, we’re able to produce healthier eggs and chicks.

It’s important to note that our products are chosen for both their efficacy and locality. We encourage you to do the same. Raising pheasants can be a wonderful opportunity to get to know some of your local farmers, growing relationships that extend well beyond the hunting season. Discover what local crops you can use that have these same properties, and drop us a line to let us know what you find.

 

 

 

 

Better Bedding For Pheasant Care

All Pheasant Feed Is Not Created Equal

Pheasant feed, just like sausages, come a wide range of qualities, and like many things in life, you get what you pay for. But a good feed’s importance can’t be overemphasized: it directly contributes to our birds’ performance in the hunt. That’s why MacFarlane Pheasants, America’s largest pheasant farm, goes the extra mile in purchasing and formulating the highest quality feed for our pheasants and partridges. It’s taken us time to learn to ask the right questions, and below are the ones we believe you should be asking of your feed provider as well.
All Pheasant Feed Is Not Created Equal
The nature of the feed industry is that they often use byproducts. Those byproducts run the gamut, from soybean meal (the high-protein leftovers after beans are pressed for oil) to distillers grain, a byproduct of ethanol that is terrible for pheasants because of its high levels of toxins and denatured proteins. Other common additives include cereal fines, the fine particles left over after cereal production, and even bakery byproducts like cracker particles. They also vary from region to region. For example, in the western part of the country you’ll often find canola meal, which our birds have trouble with digestibility. The most important question you can ask your feed provider is: What makes up my birds’ feed? Big mills may refuse, but smaller mills will often be glad to discuss what’s inside.

The next question you should ask is: Can I speak to your nutritionist? This is absolutely necessary as the limit for toxins, while perfectly fine for chickens and turkeys, can be right on the edge of what can be detrimental to pheasants. Asking to speak to the on-site nutritionist can give you hard answers on what the profile of your feed looks like, how well they’re testing ingredients, and how close they’re coming to the edge with nutrition. At MacFarlane Pheasants, we have our own company nutritionist ensure that our pheasants continue to receive the highest quality feed. It’s too important not to.

Finally, one of the best questions to ask is: Are you “least-costing”? This is the process by which a mill will switch out ingredients based on availability and price, and it’s important to ask even if nothing seems to have changed. The industry has gone high-tech, and computers often make the decisions of what goes into the feed, switching out those things that are cheaper without notifying you or changing the price. Again, this can be great for their bottom line, but not for the health of your pheasants. That’s why we’ve formulated our own feed, specially milled to our own rigorous demands. When it’s our formula, mills don’t have permission to fiddle with it.

At MacFarlane, we’ve been raising pheasants for almost a hundred years. We know what works with our birds, which have become industry leaders in their wildness and thrilling hunts. In our feed and our pheasants you’ll never find dry distillers grains, cereal fines, canola meal, or soy flour. It’s more expensive, but it’s worth it. “We look at the feed as a good investment,’” says Brad Lillie, MacFarlane’s financial officer. “Our goal is to produce the highest quality game birds in the industry. If we cut corners, we’re working against what we’re trying to accomplish.”

 

 

 

All Pheasant Feed Is Not Created Equal