Vermin Pest Control

Making sure pheasants and the other gamebirds have a ready supply of food unfortunately means vermin try and take advantage of that food supply. At MacFarlane Pheasant Farm we take the issue of pest control very seriously.

Rats and mice carry diseases and we make liberal use of bait boxes around the pens, as well as under the feeders inside the pens. We find it is important to rotate the types of poison we use so the vermin don’t become immune to one type.

Piles of loose dirt around freshly dug burrows near outside pens indicate rat activity and we immediately put bait boxes down the burrow.

Mice are a concern inside the barns. We use soft bait mouse poison and traps inside the barns. Feed is kept up off the floor to deter the mice, and workrooms are swept and kept clean of loose feed on the floor. When pheasants are moved outside, or from one room to another, all feed stations are immediately cleaned up. Gravel around the perimeter of the barns helps keep the mice in check, and we keep the grass trimmed to remove cover for them.

Keeping the grass mowed and trimmed around the pens also helps keep the bigger predators away. Predator protection starts with an electric fence around the outside of the farm and when pens are built the fence is buried and flared out to help prevent predators from digging their way in.

Hawks tend to pick off stray birds that get out of the pens so we are diligent on checking for any holes in the fencing that can let birds out and predators in. If we find birds with the heads off in the pens that means an owl is on the prowl – birds with gnaw marks mean we’ve got to start looking for a raccoon. We have occasional problems with foxes and coyotes. The bigger predators can be trapped and removed.

The most important thing to remember is to stay vigilant. Keeping inside areas where there is food clean, keeping traps out and bait boxes filled keeps vermin at bay in the barns. Set up a gravel perimeter around the barns.

For the outside pens, keep everything in good repair to keep the pheasants in so you aren’t attracting hawks. Keep the top nets taut so you don’t have birds getting stuck if they are flushed up which makes them easy prey for owls and watch for digging around the outside of the pens which indicates the presence of four-legged predators.

Vermin control













Vermin Pest Control

Preparing for Avian Influenza: USDA Conference

Avian influenza, commonly called bird flu, is a serious and very contagious virus that can affect both wild and domesticated birds. Birds can become infected when they have contact with contaminated surfaces, direct contact with infected birds, or when their water or feed is contaminated. Avian influenza can affect the whole poultry trade, so it is important to learn about the newest information in the poultry industry and to have a plan in place to protect our birds.

Brad Lillie, our Financial Officer, and I recently went to a conference in Baltimore, Maryland, co-hosted by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the U.S. poultry industry. Leaders in the poultry industry and the USDA presented the latest information on avian influenza and their plans for managing the spread of the virus.

Brad and I appreciated the chance to talk with other people in the industry and to represent our business. The USDA staff provided a lot of great information and were very supportive of what we do. They could ask us questions, and we then could tell them more about our business, particularly the gamebird industry. They learned more about our work and experiences and how they could help us. It is important that we have a good relationship with people in the state and federal poultry industry, and this time to talk with them was very valuable.

We have always followed strict biosecurity practices at MacFarlane Pheasants. At the conference, we learned that there may have been some things that were overlooked in other facilities that allowed viruses into them. Being aware of these “gaps” is important so that we can troubleshoot the practices in our own facilities. Our staff needs to be completely engaged in the process, too. Our goal is to be proactive with biosecurity by carefully watching the flow of birds in and out of our farm. We also want to continue with disease prevention measures, such as disinfecting our crates after every trip.

Avian influenza can hurt our business even if our birds are not infected. In the spring of 2015, problems with bird flu in other parts of the Wisconsin impacted us. If bird flu shows up in Wisconsin, other countries embargo our products even if our birds are fine. If farms in other states have avian influenza, we can not travel through those states with our birds.This makes it very difficult to get our birds to Canada. Exports are important to our business, and we want to be able to continue shipping to other countries. One idea is to get Wisconsin regionalized so that we could still ship our birds even if avian influenza is found in other parts of the state.

Our website has more detail about what MacFarlane Pheasants does to protect our birds from avian influenza:















Preparing for Avian Influenza: USDA Conference

Hatchery Cleaning

There’s always a lot of activity outside at MacFarlane’s. The pheasant pens are full now that the weather has evened out, there’s always something that needs to be mowed and it just seems people and birds just do a lot more moving around at the start of the summer.

There’s a lot of activity inside, too. The crew at the hatchery is waiting for the chicks and when the hatch is done, there’s cleaning and then we start all over. Eggs spend about 20 days in the incubators and then trays of eggs are moved on wheeled carts from the incubator room to the hatcher room.

The trays from the incubator go on a device that rotates the entire tray – gently – 180 degrees and then deposits the eggs in a mesh screen basket. The baskets are then moved onto dollies and into the hatchery. Eggs are fragile and the eggs from different species are different sizes, but breakage is not a problem.

The hatchers contain stacked up trays of eggs which have been candled once to make sure the trays are full of fertile eggs. In the incubators, infertile eggs are removed and the fertile eggs are positioned together in the center of the tray. Keeping the fertile eggs all together ensures they maintain a constant state of warmth and humidity.

The trays are transferred from the incubator room, where they spend about 21 days, to the hatchery and crews quickly go through the trays condensing all the fertile eggs and then load them on to wire mesh bottomed baskets in the hatchers.
















Screens are put onto the edges of all baskets to protect the chicks from falling out of the baskets as they hatch. They rest in the baskets after the hatch, because it’s stressful to break out of an egg into the world. The egg debris actually serves as an aid to the chicks while they are hatching because it gives them footing to brace themselves on.

But when the hatching is done, everything has to be cleaned to make sure the debris, which can grow bacteria in the warm and humid conditions, is removed. The hatchers are swept out to remove the down and egg shell bits.  We vacuum the top of the hatchers to get any down that might have traveled up. In addition to harboring bacteria, the debris can also clog fans and air intake so ever bit of fluff and shell has to be removed.

We rotate between three different foaming agents that are sprayed on the walls, ceiling and doors of the hatchers. A high pressure spray gun with hot water is used to spray down the hatchers and we also clean the floor. As a final step, a sanitizer is sprayed on all surfaces of the hatcher room and left to dry before equipment is moved back in.

Sanitizing and making sure we have removed all the debris guarantees a healthy start for the next set of baby pheasants and it also means equipment is kept in peak condition.





Hatchery Cleaning

2015 Avian Influenza Outbreak

As many of you know the poultry industry has just experienced the largest Avian Influenza outbreak in the history of the United States. More than 200 commercial operations have been directly affected in the Midwest. But one of the biggest overlooked aspects of this has been the impact to the transit of all poultry, and just because you have not been directly affected, doesn’t mean that you won’t be impacted.

Poultry exported outside the United States, for the most part, is covered by trade laws. These prearranged agreements with our trading partner countries outline guidelines with respect to handling a situation like the recent Avian Flu event. These agreements would cover aspects of the USDA’s response to the event, establishing control zones around an affected farm, as well as the protocols to eradicate the disease. This agreed upon process is designed to get trade back up and going as soon as possible, while protecting the trade partners interests. During the recent outbreak, some countries certainly placed embargoes of U.S. poultry under the guise of the Avian Flu event for political reasons. But our main trade partners have been reasonable, and currently many of the impacted states have now been regionalized so only the 10km zone around the affected farm is restricted for trade. Trade is getting back on track.

But concerns have been mounting on how the movement of poultry within the U.S. is being regulated. For the most part the NPIP (National Poultry Improvement Plan) has worked well in managing surveillance of poultry diseases. But unfortunately, it has come to our attention recently that each state has the right to restrict the movement of poultry across their borders. Several states have now placed increased restrictions as well as additional protocols to allow live poultry to enter their state.  In many cases these are states that were not affected during the recent event, and certainly are operating in their best interests to protect their poultry industries. Understandably, the large southern U.S. broiler chicken producing states are downright scared, and they will do what they can to protect their state poultry industry.

What could this mean? You might not be able to ship your birds to other states or transit live poultry through certain states. You should expect changes in disease testing requirements, biosecurity protocols, and other requirements in the event you’re allowed. In the case of another similar Avian Flu event as this spring, we may see states’ restrictions on all poultry. But as I write this in mid-July, nearly 30 days past the last reported case in the Midwest, we are still in an environment of the fear of the unknown with the coming fall duck migration.

So what can you do?

(1)    Contact your State Veterinarian. They are your best resource to information, and will provide you help if you need it. Tell them about your business, the potential impact Avian Flu or state transit issues has or could have on your way of life. You’ll find out that most of these people will be very interested, and very helpful. If you aren’t sure who your State Veterinarian is, we’ve provided a link.

(2)    Learn the requirements for transiting live poultry across state lines. Each state may have different requirements depending on the part of the country, and many of these requirements are changing or could be changing in the future. Your State Veterinarian can probably help you with that also.

(3)    Follow the rules, even if you don’t agree or they seem excessive or unwarranted. We all know that we’ve operated in an environment with a lack of oversight, but I suspect this will be changing.

In the gamebird industry, let’s face it, we have our birds outdoors. We release them into the wild, deliver them all over the country, and to the mainstream poultry industry we look pretty darn scary. Our actions within the gamebird industry, now more than ever, will be evaluated. When there are gaps in the system that are identified, you should expect regulation to follow shortly after. So by following the rules, trying to do everything correctly, will go a long way in the current environment as more and more scrutiny is placed on the movement of live poultry within the U.S.

We should consider ourselves lucky in the gamebird industry that we were not more involved this spring. It really doesn’t make sense of the high incident within the large turkey and layer chicken operations, while many other poultry types escaped in most cases untouched. But moving forward the past really doesn’t matter. Within our industry we need to be vigilant, proactive and do things to the best of our abilities. Because if we don’t, we may be told how and what we can do in the future.

Written by Brad Lillie



Waterline Testing

Good quality water – outside or in the barns – keeps your pheasants and other gamebirds  healthy. At MacFarlane Pheasant we use the water lines to deliver probiotics or vitamins, but the very thing that makes them healthier, can also linger in the lines and form a build-up that can harbor bacteria.

It is important to maintain a cleaning schedule on your lines as well as shocking the lines between flocks. Chlorine, chlorine dioxide, and hydrogen peroxide are solutions that can be used to clean lines. To shock the lines we have found it is beneficial to let the mixture sit in the lines for between 12 and 24 hours and then flush it out. This allows the solution to clean everything and remove any buildup. E-coli and even Salmonella can sit in bio-films that form in the line and wear a bird’s immune system down by exposing them to the biofilm over time.

We use a tracer dye in the lines after the cleaning to make sure all the lines are clear and to make sure the cleaning solution has been flushed out. The dye is added after the chemical so when we see the dye run out, we know the cleaning solution is flushed out. Then we run the lines until they are clear of dye.

It is important to know what is in your groundwater or well water.  Birds, like people, like clean water and sometimes this requires the use of solutions to keep lines clean. Chlorine pellets dropped into outside wells can help keep the water clean, but you have to make sure you don’t use so much as to affect the taste of the water and cause the pheasants or other gamebirds to stop drinking.

As a general rule, if you test the water at the end of the line outside and you are using a chlorine system as maintenance – it should be between 1 and 2 ppm. For brooder barns, there should be absolutely NO chlorine around the chicks or in the barns.

Easy ways to detect if you are getting bio-film buildup is watch for water pressure changes or have a section of clear pipe to see what’s in the line. Set up a regular schedule of checking levels in water and watch the birds – if they start looking lethargic and are staying away from the water, that’s a sure sign something needs to be checked in to.

Animals cannot live without water.  If your birds reject the water because of taste, or drink contaminated water, you run the risk of losing them.  It is essential to keep your water lines clean, and to check your water often to make sure that you do not have unwanted organisms growing.


Check out this video for waterline testing!

Waterline Testing Tips











Waterline Testing

Catching Pheasants

When pheasants are going out to customers, we generally do the catching and crating in the morning. The crates are set up in a catch pen and we put straw in them the night before. Birds are herded into a lane between the main pen and catch pen and provided with food and water.

The next morning, they are moved into the catch pen. If we crated them the night before, there’s a big chance we’d get feather damage on the birds.  It’s also not good to keep them confined overnight, especially if it’s warm and humid. It’s cool in the mornings and less stressful for the birds to catch, crate and truck.

If we are catching young birds inside to move them outside, we also do that in the morning. That way, the birds have a day to acclimate themselves to the outside during daylight and find food and water. If we are catching inside, we can reduce the light which keeps them calmer.

Catch pens have shade cloth on the sides that runs about two feet high. Four or five employees herd the birds into the catch pen in the morning and the employees set up in the corners to avoid the danger of birds piling. Crates, as I said, are already in the catch pen and employees working as quickly as possible, catch by hand and crate. It’s pretty amazing to watch, imagine catching and crating 400 or so pheasants at one time.

And its not efficient to grab and crate one – that’s how we do it with the stragglers at the end – but usually we catch and hold five or six at one time. Our catch crew grabs the pheasant by both legs, pins it against their leg so it doesn’t thrash around and get hurt and then move it to one hand and grab another. Still working as quickly as possible, they grab the wire cutters remove the peepers and put the group in a crate.

Sometimes we have to use nets, but catching by hand is the most efficient because we can sort by breed, sex or quality of bird. The catch crews operate like a well-oiled machine, catch, cut and crate. They work fast and the birds are in the crates and on the road before they have time to get stressed.

There’s a video on our website and you can watch the crew in action –













Catching Pheasants

Dressed Pheasants

That plump, meaty pheasant breast on your dinner plate at home or at the restaurant actually came from a white pheasant. No, not an albino, but a pheasant with no pigment in its feathers – a genetic variation.

MacFarlane has been raising and selling meat birds for years, and we’ve honed in on that genetic variation that creates a white bird. As you might expect, we started out slowly since a white pheasant is one in a million. Now we raise them on three farms in Southern Wisconsin.  They get their own facilities because they are raised a bit differently and because keeping the meat stock and the game stock apart lessens the chance of disease.

We recognized the benefits of a white pheasant right away. When you pluck the feathers off of a regular ringneck, there can be a dot in the meat and it remains there when the meat is cooked. It has no taste, but restaurateurs thought some diners might be put off by the dots of color.

We sell dressed pheasants and pheasant food products at our store on Highway 51 in Janesville, but the majority of the meat birds is sold through distributors to restaurants and retail locations. There are a lot of restaurants that appreciate the natural way we raise the birds.

On one of our websites,, there’s great information about cooking with pheasant, as well as a list of some restaurants that have it on the menu. Our list of restaurants is truly no indication of all of the restaurants that serve our pheasants.  We are always pleasantly surprised when we arrive at a restaurant only to find MacFarlane pheasant on the menu.  We’d love to be able to list all of the restaurants where you can find our pheasant, but, due to confidentiality, some of our distributors retain their own customer list.

So if you see pheasant on a menu somewhere, do us a favor and take a picture of the menu with the pheasant selection listed and e-mail it to and we’ll add it to our restaurant list. If you don’t have your cell phone handy for a picture, just drop us a note and let us know where you found it.  And, if you happen to have a restaurant that serves our pheasant, we’d love to list your information, so please drop us a line.

The meat segment of our business continues to grow and we’re proud of being able to produce a fast-growing meaty bird as well as our great game birds.

Dressed Pheasants











Dressed Pheasants

Fleet Vehicle Maintenance

When you are transporting live cargo, like chicks or pheasants, the importance of vehicle maintenance can’t be over-emphasized.

You get a flat tire or encounter a fuel problem on the road, and it’s an hour or two wait for repair help, that’s an inconvenience. If you have that problem with a cargo of 10,000 MacFarlane pheasants – that’s a catastrophe.

Our logistics and maintenance supervisor keeps on top of vehicle repairs, preventative maintenance and mileage tracking. We’ve got 27 licensed vehicles, spread over five farms, as well as other implements including tractors, gators, ATVs, and manure spreaders.

We keep our fleet current. Last year we purchased a Kenworth, and a new Mercedes Sprinter. We use the Sprinters for chick deliveries – we use half-ton pick-ups as our duty trucks on the farms. The Kenworths have a sleeper berth so one driver can sleep while the other drives, which makes for very efficient delivery and turn-around times.

When we get a different vehicle, new or used, our maintenance supervisor does pre-trip work on the vehicle. As we’ve found out, even the ‘new’ vehicles could have some glitches that need to be attended to before we trust them on the road with our drivers and a load of pheasants. Pre-trip checks have uncovered leaking seals, broken leaf springs, flat tires, and coolant leaks.

We use a tracking board to record miles on a vehicle and preventative maintenance like oil change dates. We also keep a spreadsheet of all repairs, no matter how small.

Seven of our 10 fleet trucks have GPS systems. Customers getting live birds need precise locations when trucks are coming and GPS is great for that – and also to monitor fuel mileage. We can use the fuel mileage data combined with vehicle speed to get some great information to use for future vehicle buys. The GPS is also a great tool for keeping an eye on electrical or mechanical issues.

Keeping our fleet in top shape keeps our drivers and our cargo safe.

truck-maintenance (2)


















Vehicle Maintenance

Biosecurity Precautions

Although birds by nature have a hardy constitution, and we breed them and raise them that way, it still makes sense to take as many precautions as we can to insure their health.

At MacFarlane Pheasants we taken pride in our high level of biosecurity. Barns, pens, hatcheries and brooding facilities are cleaned and disinfected. Employees take precautions moving in and out of facilities.

The farm is a busy place, employees are driving in and out, farmers who work the fields around the pens come and go, vendors and delivery people drop in and move on. It makes sense we’d add a level of security to stop organic matter from moving into the farm, and the biggest way particles and material from outside moves in – is on the tires of the vehicles that roll through the farm.

At the main gate we now have a system to rinse and disinfect the tires of all vehicles entering the premises. A split spigot and a Dosatron proportioner mix water and disinfectant – we use Virocid – through one hose that goes out to the main gate. We have a self-retracting water hose reel, and a low pressure wand and every tire gets a wash down. Seventy feet of hose means it will reach around even a semi truck.

It takes less than five minutes to rinse down the tires of any vehicle coming through the gates. Employees going through one time or five times, stop and wash their tires on the blacktop and then drive into the farm. Truck drivers, delivery people – they all wash their tires and no one seems to mind it.

The set-up cost about $300, but the peace of mind that it provides to MacFarlane Pheasants is priceless.biosecurity precautions












Biosecurity Precautions

Shipping Chicks to Canada

Trucking pheasant chicks across the country is complicated–there’s routing, crating, dropping off schedules, creating drivers’ schedules, arranging deliveries to reduce costs for us and our customers, road construction, and the weather. This spring, we had more hoops to jump through because of Avian Influenza embargoes.

Until a couple of weeks ago, the state hadn’t been given an “all clear’ to send chicks to Canada and we had two standing orders to fill. We needed to get 8,000 chicks to Quebec and 10,000 to Alberta. The embargo in Wisconsin, which has since been lifted, meant we had to go to a friendly competitor for help, so the chicks shipped out of Kansas.

One of our team members handled the paperwork. She got on-line and got the necessary forms filled out, made sure the vet certificates were in order, and got the paperwork together to send drivers to pick up the chicks. We had to go to two hatcheries to get enough to fill the orders.

We still had logistic issues. In some states our drivers had to avoid certain counties that were embargoed.  In other situations our drivers had to avoid entire embargoed states. One slip up and we’d be turned back at the border leaving unhappy customers.

The pheasant chicks going to Alberta had to avoid Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and Nebraska. They traveled through Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana and crossed into Canada. The pheasant chicks going to Quebec had to avoid Missouri, Iowa, and parts of Kansas. They went down to Oklahoma, through Arkansas and then up to cross over into Canada in Champlain, NY.

The trips took about an extra 10 hours each. We usually send two drivers to make sure one has down time while the other drives–but the sleeper berths certainly got a work out, as did the office staff that checked and double checked the routes for last minute embargoes, and our logistics supervisor who planned the routes.

This was an unusual situation, but we got the job done and the orders got filled. Customer service is important at MacFarlane Pheasants, real people answer our phones when customers call, and when we promise a delivery we do our best to get you your birds.

Shipping Chicks To Canada
















Shipping Chicks to Canada