Being prepared to start the day…

In my position at MacFarlanes, some of my duties include loading and crating birds for deliveries.  In order to complete these duties on time, the crew and I must be prepared to start the day. The first thing we do is drive the birds into the lanes (staging area before catching) the afternoon before the shipment.  Once the birds are in the lanes we provide them with food and water. Another task that I must do for all deliveries is creating the crate numbers.  This involves taking the number of birds and dividing the birds to result in how many crates we will need for the shipment. Once I know the crates numbers are correct, the crew and I make sure the number of crates we need according to the crates numbers are put into the catch pens.  If the crates need to be bedded and tarped, this is also done the afternoon before.

Besides making sure the birds are taken care of ahead of time, I also make sure the truck is ready. In order for the truck to be ready, it must be fully fueled, equipped with straps and buckles, and lastly, the bungee cords and tarps should accompany the truck in case the drivers hit inclement weather. Being prepared to start the day makes it easier to avoid problems such as running behind schedule which in turn leads to more problems if the crew is rushed and disorganized. All in all, being ahead of the game at the start of the day helps the crew have a smoother day. Sometimes this takes a few extra minutes at the end of the day, but we have found that it’s time well spent.

Bird Care Check List

By Rich Thomas

Assistant Production Manager

Being prepared to start the day…

Brooder Barn

At MacFarlane Farms we believe the best way to have strong healthy birds is to start out with the best brooder barn you can set up. We can’t emphasize enough how important it is that the structure you are using is draft -free, clean and that it has the appropriate light, heat, feed and water.  Before your new chicks arrive, have everything ready to create the most stress-free environment possible.

Your brooder barn should be clean and disinfected one to two weeks before the chicks arrive. At MacFarlane, we clean and disinfect barns and leave them empty for a time before we move a new flock in.

As soon as your chicks arrive they should be removed from their boxes and put into a barn with plenty of heat, food and water. Having everything available reduces competition among the chicks which reduces stress. Keeping a proper density will also reduce stress.  4 chicks per square foot of floor space until 3 weeks of age, and 2 chicks per square foot from 3 weeks to 6 weeks are typical density measurements we use here at MacFarlane.

For small flocks, you should have at least one 250 watt infrared bulb for every 100 chicks. Hang the heat lamp from the ceiling with about 18 inches from the floor to the bottom of the lamp. Use bulbs with the red end because they keep the chicks calmer and reduce aggression.

For the first five to seven days, you may confine the chicks in a ring or draft shield. Brooder paper or cardboard that is between 14 and 18 inches high in a four-foot diameter circle can help prevent drafts and can confine 50 chicks. Place the heat lamp in the center and then pay close attention to what the chicks do.  If the chicks bunch up and start to pile, lower the heat lamp height and add bulbs because they are cold and looking for more heat. If they move away from the heat lamp, raise the lamp slightly.

Wean the chicks off of direct heat by raising the heat lamp a few inches each day.  Then supplement some forced air heat to keep the birds comfortable.  The temperature in the room should be decreased by one degree each day in order to transition the birds to the outdoors. By the time the chicks move outside, the temperature inside and outside should be similar.

Since you invest money in your chicks, and want the best for them, it is important to be prepared.  Making sure that their arrival is as stress-free as possible by having the brooder barn ready will ensure an easier adjustment.  Seeing to their comfort by having a draft-free environment with plenty of heat, food and water will give the chicks the healthy start that they need.
















Brooder Barn

New Tractors on the Way!

If your car was purchased in the early 1990’s and had hundreds of thousands of miles on it, you’d most likely be looking for a new car!  MacFarlane Pheasants was recently faced with a similar search. We decided that it was time to replace two of our tractors that had over 13,000 hours on each of them. This is equivalent to about 560,000 miles on a car!

We have had our Case 5240 and Case 5230 tractors for decades, and they have served us well. Over time, they started to show their age. Both tractors have no functioning heat or air conditioning anymore.  Other parts of the tractors have also worn out, and some of the safety equipment no longer operates correctly. Safety is very important to us, and this was part of our motivation to look for new tractors.

We have two John Deere 6105D 100hp Cab Tractors being built for us, and we expect that we will have them in late August or early September. These are the first John Deere tractors we have gotten. It took over a year for us to decide which tractors to choose, and a lot of research went into the decision. At first, we looked at slightly used tractors, but in the end it wasn’t as cost effective as buying new ones. John Deere had the best model that was similar to what we have had and what we wanted. They could get them made and delivered quickly. We were also pleased that we could trade in our old Case tractors with John Deere.

Our bigger cab tractors are mainly used for feeding the outside birds, so this will be the primary job of our new tractors. They are also used for spreading manure. Because of the large cabs, they don’t fit inside the pens. We use smaller tractors for feeding and rototilling inside the pens.

When the new tractors arrive, we expect that they will operate similarly to the old ones. However, they will function better and be safer. It will be nice to have air conditioning and heat, as well as more comfortable seats and arm rests. Most importantly, the safety equipment will be working properly. There will be large light beacons on the tops of the new tractors, too.

These tractors are operating in high-traffic areas within our property and on busy roadways.

Tractors hold their value well over time, unlike a car. They can even appreciate in value.  We are looking forward to getting our new tractors and using them for many years to come.






New Tractors on the Way!

Flight Pens

One of the biggest investments you make on a game bird farm is flight pens. If you are buying birds from MacFarlane farms, we’ve got a vested interest in you succeeding, so we’re not shy about sharing our flight pen plans. Remember, the main purpose of the structure is to keep birds in and predators out.

We recommend you have 15 to 20 square feet per bird if you are raising pheasants. Smaller birds, like partridges would require a little less space and a mixed pen of half hens and half roosters would require less space than if you were keeping all roosters in the pen.

Posts should be10’ high,  6” round placed every 10 feet with ¼” cable run across the top to support the wire sides. Pound the posts at least three feet into the ground. When you are burying the wire fencing, flare it out underground to help deter predators from digging their way in. Use netting with 2” holes for roofing. Snow can cause a lot of damage to a flight pen. Smaller netting holes means snow will collect sooner so go with 2” hole netting if you can get it. If you are in a climate that gets lots of snow, you might need to brace the perimeter poles.

The exact design depends on the terrain, the location and the crew you are going to have working in the pen. But with a few modifications, our pen design will work for you. Our standard pen size is 80’ by 150’.

Remember to leave room for feeders, water troughs and shelters.

We suggest using the best materials available and that pens are designed with expansion in mind.  Our pens usually last between 15 and 20 years. We do routine maintenance on our pens every year and we schedule net replacements at regular intervals. Regular checks on fencing, posts and roof netting will keep your birds in and predators out. A good flight pen is well worth the cost because it protects your pheasant investment.













flight pens

Feeding Pheasants

At MacFarlane Pheasant Farm, we take our protein very seriously. Years of work and study and hands-on research has shown us the optimum diet for raising healthy gamebirds on a farm.

In the wild, pheasants eat grain, insects, worms, and pretty much anything they can peck at – even if it’s not good for them. Our pheasants are fed a balanced diet with a set protein content tailored for their age. Because we buy in bulk, we have the feed mixed to contain the correct protein content. Check the ingredients on commercially purchased game bird feed and try to duplicate the following recommendations for best results.

Up to three weeks of age use pre-starter feed with 28% protein; from three to seven weeks use starter feed with 26% protein; from seven to 24 weeks use grower feed with 20% protein content and past 24 weeks use maintenance food with a 14% protein content. If you can’t find game bird feed in your area, turkey feed – not chicken – is the next best thing for keeping pheasants on a healthy diet.

Our hens don’t get a different diet unless they are breeding and then they get a feed that is fortified with calcium.

We recommend eliminating Dried Distilled Grains from the diet of gamebirds. We find it throws off metabolism and they just don’t thrive as well. Remember, they are going to eat less as it gets hotter, and when the temperature starts to drop, their eating habits will change again and they will be eating more. If the temperature stays low for a prolonged period of time, we do supplement the pheasant diet with a little cracked corn. But moderation is the key – the sugar metabolizes quickly and a little is all they need.

For partridges, we have found the best results with 28% protein game bird prestarter from up to age nine weeks and then 24% protein game bird grower.

If you are starting out, we recommend buying large feeders right away. They may cost a bit more, but they will greatly reduce feeding time.

Feeding pheasants is a science.  Making sure you are offering your birds the correct protein percentage will help you to raise the highest quality pheasants.  Shop around to find feed with the correct protein content and remember an abundant supply of fresh water is an extremely important component of any game bird’s diet. If you would like more information on feed consulting please visit

Tips on what percent of protein you should feed your pheasants according to age.






















Feeding Pheasants

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