The History of MacFarlane Pheasants, Part 1: The Making of the Farm

Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 in a three-part series detailing the rich history of MacFarlane Pheasants, a business that began 86 years ago and has since grown into the largest pheasant farm in North America. Special thanks to the MacFarlane family for providing archived documents and information.


William (Bill) MacFarlane, the president of MacFarlane Pheasants, has been leading the business for 36 years, but the evolution of the company began 86 years ago with the dreams of Bill’s uncle, Ken MacFarlane. His story is deeply rooted in the history of the MacFarlane Pheasant farm, and it’s one of hard work, passion, and tragedy.

Ken was born in 1905 and grew up living, playing, and working on his family’s farm. From an early age he was described as a peacemaker with a warm heart, a boy who was full of fun and had an adventurous spirit. He was an outdoorsman from the start and learned to hunt early in life, spending many hours hunting the thousands of wild geese and ducks that swooped down on the MacFarlane homestead as they flew south in the fall and north in the spring.

Though his nose was not often found in a book, Ken loved any subject related to science or nature. After graduating from high school in 1923, he followed his brother, Don, to the University of Wisconsin—Madison, where he lived at the Field House of the College of Agriculture and earned his rent working with animals there. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture in 1927.

After graduation, Ken had the misfortune to break his ankle. However, it was during this time of recovery that he heard the Game Conservation Society was opening a gamekeeper’s school in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The school, sponsored by the DuPont Company, was the first of its kind in the country and would teach its students how to raise game birds, including pheasants. Raising pheasants had been popular in Scotland and England for 400 years, but the concept was new to the United States, and Ken was one of only 25 men chosen to attend the school and explore this new path.

According to an article in the 1927 Janesville Gazette, “Most graduates of the University School of Agriculture used to become scientific farmers: now some may become gamekeepers. Kenneth MacFarlane of Janesville, 1927 graduate of the ‘Ag ’ school, has decided to follow the honorable career of many of his Scotch countrymen—that of a gamekeeper on a large estate.”

With his decision made, Ken had to find a way to get from Wisconsin to New York to begin his schooling. After four days of hitchhiking and expenses that totaled only $10, he arrived at his destination. A highly motivated student, Ken breezed through the two-and-a-half-year program in only one year. After earning his degree, he was asked to stay on as an instructor and did so for about a year before returning to Wisconsin to work for the Wisconsin Conservation Commission. It was only a few months into the job before Ken decided to start his own business raising pheasants.

In 1929, Ken started raising pheasants on his Dad’s farm in rural Janesville, Wisconsin. He moved the operation twice and settled on 15 acres on Center Ave in Janesville. About two years into Ken’s venture, an article in the Madison State Journal stated, “The enterprise is not just a hobby with MacFarlane, but it is a very well paid business. To him it is just a lot of fun, and he insists that it isn’t work, although he gets plenty of exercise during the summer months. He says there isn’t any end to the pleasure he derives from having so many wild birds about him.”

By 1931, Ken had developed the largest commercial game farm in Wisconsin, raising 2,500 to 3,000 birds a year. He was selling to state game departments, shooting clubs, private reserves, estates, and to others starting in the business. At this early stage, Ken would deliver the chicks around the country in a big truck. He loved his customers, and often took friends along to the interesting places he would deliver the chicks, such as Martha’s Vineyard and New York City. The business continued to grow, and in 1935, Ken’s brother, Don, joined him in the business.

Ken married Gwen Althea Crane in 1939, and in less than a year, their daughter, Jean Grace, was born. According to his brother-in-law, Ken’s life was fulfilled, and the family had never seen him happier. Then on November 10, 1940, with his daughter just two months old, Ken left for a short duck-hunting trip on the Mississippi River, near Ferryville, Wisconsin. Sadly, he would not return.

What started out as a beautiful day on the Upper Mississippi ended with temperatures plummeting to -55 degrees and the sudden onset of blizzard conditions. The hunters never realized how quickly the weather had turned deadly. By the end of the long, frigid night that became known as the Great Armistice Day Storm of 1940, 50 hunters had frozen to death. Ken was among them.

Ken and his friend, Norm Schiefelbien had been thrown from Ken’s canoe into the freezing Mississippi River. The next morning Ken was found 200 yards from a residence. Family and friends mourned the loss of this energetic, kind, fun-loving man, who had accomplished so much in only 35 years. Afterward, Gwen returned to her parent’s home with their young daughter and later moved to Pasadena, California, to live near relatives. Don MacFarlane was left alone to carry on his brother’s dream at MacFarlane Pheasants.

Ken’s brother-in-law, Alphonse Medved, memorialized the avid outdoorsmen with the following poem, which speaks to Ken’s bond with nature and honors the man who put his heart into the family farm that is still running strong today.


He is gone a moment brief

Who could respond to bursting leaf,

To sunlight splashing early morn,

To children’s eyes, to joys unborn


He is alive in nights of stars,

In the horizontal bars

Of clouds across the sunset’s sweep

In the startled buck on the wooded steep


He is remembered in many things:

The winter’s white, the green of springs

Renewing life, the scent of pine,

The unraised tendrils of the vine,


Fireflies o’er a singing swamp,

The rushing stream, the moose’s stomp,

The golden song upon the height,

The whirring wings of the pheasant’s flight,


The painful truths left best unsaid,

The kindly deed unheralded,

The honesty to not pretend,

The hallowed handclasp of a friend


He is not gone whose dreams could ring

The outward rim of the planet’s swing

Who could be one with earthly clod,

With common man, with Mighty God.

Top right is Ken MacFarlane. Next to him is Don MacFarlane.

Top right is Ken MacFarlane. Next to him is Don MacFarlane.



The History of MacFarlane Pheasants, Part 1: The Making of the Farm

Planning Ahead for Newly Hatched Chicks

One of the more exciting moments on our farm is when baby chicks begin to hatch. However, there are many steps to complete in the brooder barns before hatching begins, to prepare for the 500,000 chicks we hatch each year.

Planning Ahead

  • Set up a master schedule of when we will get hatches (this schedule outlines which barns are prepared first, second, and so on)
  • Move fully grown birds held during the off-season out of the barns to prepare for new hatches

Barn Preparation

  • Pressure wash and disinfect barns
  • Bed the barns with shavings and prepare brooders (pan-shaped heat sources that hang about 30 inches off the ground)
  • Set up feed flats and feed troughs for new chicks and prepare the feed system for transition at around 3 weeks
  • Set up nipple waterers for new chicks and prepare the Plasson bell waterer for the 3-week transition
  • Rooms are ready for chicks a couple days in advance
  • Barns are fogged with disinfectant the night before new chicks arrive

Chick Care: Ringnecks

  • Eggs are hatched at Macfarlane Pheasants
  • Ringnecks stay in the A Room until they are 21 days old
  • After 21 days, they are moved to the B Room until they are 7 weeks old
  • Ringnecks are moved outside at 7 weeks, where they live until shipped

Chick Care: Hungarian Partridges

  • Eggs are imported from France
  • Hungarian partridges stay in the table room for 7 days until they move to the A Room for 5 weeks
  • At 5 weeks they are moved to the B Room for 8 to 10 weeks
  • Hungarian partridges are moved outside at 8 to 10 weeks, where they live until shipped

Chick Care: French Partridges

  • Eggs are brought from France
  • French partridges stay in the A Room for 4 weeks
  • They spend 8 to 10 weeks in B Room
  • French partridges move outside at 8 to 10 weeks, where they live until shipped

Please view our short video at to see barn preparation in action!












Planning Ahead for Newly Hatched Chicks

Great Customer Service Is the Key to Success

Our customers are the reason we are in business at MacFarlane Pheasants! Our customers depend on us to be experts about our birds, to raise them in the most ideal environment, to ship them with expertise, and to answer questions with speed and accuracy. Our staff focuses on meeting the needs of our customers because we know it is the key to them returning year after year.

Philosophy of Customer Service

  • Take pride in being exceptional.
  • Return customer calls within an hour’s time.
  • All employees are responsible for customer service.

Types of Customers and Their Concerns

  • Food product customers want to know how our products are shipped to prevent spoiling. They want to know what each product looks like, what it costs, and how to serve it to preserve the flavors.
  • Chick and egg customers want to get their chicks as quickly as possible, so they are concerned about shipping. They need to get them under brooders and provide food and water immediately.
  • Chick and egg customers also want to know how to best care for their chicks and how to solve rearing issues.
  • Mature bird customers are concerned with the appearance and health of the birds. They want the males to have beautiful long tails, and they want specific delivery dates because often the birds are needed for specific events.

 MacFarlane Pheasants has top-notch office staff who are typically the first people to have contact with our customers. The office staff takes orders for food products, chicks, and mature birds. They answer concerns and questions, and they make sure our customers know we are happy to have their business! The buck doesn’t stop there, though! We know that every employee is responsible for customer service because, ultimately, the work in every department helps us provide superior products and service and meet customer needs.

Call us at 608-757-7881 or toll-free at 800-345-8348 with your questions and concerns. We are here for you!













Great Customer Service Is the Key to Success

Brooder Crew is Busy During the off Season

The Brooder Crew is a critical part of the MacFarlane Pheasant team! There are 8- 10 full time employees during the chick rearing season, but during the off season a few of the employees  go on to other jobs on the farm.  The off season brooder crew (3-5 employees) works seven days a week. Each of them put in at least nine hours per day and has 2 days off per week. During the off season, which typically begins around the second week of September, the brooder crew is responsible for 75,000 birds left in the barn and are raising 15,000 white pheasants for our food processing division.

 Birds in the Off-Season

 At the end of September there are 55,000 ring neck pheasants, 10,000 Hungarian pheasants, and 10,000 French red legs in the barns totaling 75,000 birds.

  • The brooder crew is also responsible for raising 15,000 white pheasants during the off- season. All of these pheasants are processed as food by the food processing division.

Brooder Crew Responsibilities During the Off Season

 Check for water leaks in waterers as large birds can create leaks from running into hanging water lines and bell waterers.

  • Keep bedding fresh by topping it regularly.
  • Keep the five flocks of white birds (total of15, 000), that are raised for food, healthy until processing.
  • Take care of Chukars (Eurasian gamebirds) that are grown by contract growers and brought back to the farm for shipment. They stay in the barns during fall and winter.
  • Rodent control is a must and vigilance is required.
  • Walk barns every day to remove any dead birds (it does happen!)
  • Fill feeders and clean waterers every other day.
  • Help get birds moved outside into enclosed pens by November 1st. After November 1st the only birds left in barns are typically white pheasants and chukars.
  • Clean, wash, and disinfect barns.
  • Prepare A-rooms (where all chicks spend the first three weeks) for the spring season.
  • Perform maintenance on all brooders.
  • Work with maintenance department to make sure all fans and feed systems are ready to go for the new season.

Our brooder crew watches out for our birds and keeps a close eye on the future to make sure our facilities are in perfect condition when our first group of birds arrives on March 1st.

Brooder Crew is Busy During The Off Season Brooder Crew is Busy During The Off Season2 Brooder Crew is Busy During The Off Season3






























Brooder Crew is Busy During the off Season

The Delicate Balance Between Groundcover and Pen Netting


breeder pen










It is a delicate balance to protect our pheasants and partridges in the outside pens where they live during the winter months before being sold.  Nets, 8-12 feet off the ground cover the 100 acres of pens where we house our birds.  The grounds inside the pens are developed with ground cover, as a habitat for the over 100,000 birds that are housed there. Some ground cover grows naturally and we are particularly fond of the lamb’s quarter that grows there, but we also plant corn and milo (sorghum grain) inside the pens. Our birds thrive in this habitat as they adapt to the fall and winter weather.

Weed and Plant Growth Have Disadvantages

  • Large numbers of birds create lots of natural fertilizer. Plants really grow when they have plenty of nitrogen!
  • In fact, sometimes the plants get so large that they begin to go through the 2 inch holes in the top net and then they fall over, creating a blanket on top of the netting.
  • Now, those wonderful holes that provide air circulation and sunlight are blocked by this blanket.
  • It can get worse! If this problem isn’t remediated before the snow falls, the weight of the snow on top of the weed and plant blanket can cause the netting to fail, (tearing or coming apart at the seams.) Pens can even collapse.
  • Prop posts for the nets are built to be raised and lowered when snow is expected, for greater protection. This is impossible if the blanket of plant growth is covered with snow. It is just too heavy.
  • Birds get out of the pens if the net fails and we have to repair the net quickly and capture the escaped birds!
  • Repairing nets and pens and capturing birds is labor intensive and expensive.

How to avoid problems

  • We have to be proactive, even in October when we are extremely busy selling and shipping birds; we have to check our pens for overgrowth of plants. We just have to avoid the blanket of plant growth that creates so many problems.
  • Thick and tall cover is great until it starts hitting the top of the nets! That is when we need to get a bobcat or skid loader out and start pushing the weeds down so the blanket can’t be formed on top of the nets.



The Delicate Balance Between Groundcover and Pen Netting

Choosing the Right Type of Game Bird

At MacFarlane Pheasants, we want to supply the best game bird possible. Although our ringnecks will always be our “go to” bird, over the years we’ve recognized that hunters – here and in Europe – look for different birds for different hunting experiences.

If you’re wondering what kind of birds to order, for what type of hunt, our website does a wonderful job of showing you the types of birds we have to offer.  This blog, however, is for a quick reference point.

Our most popular bird is still the Chinese Ringneck. The cocks weigh in between 2.7 and 3 pounds and the hens are about a pound less. They adapt well in the wild, they are raised outside at MacFarlane, and they are great flyers with good color.

In 1989 we imported pure Manchurian Ringnecks and we’ve maintained the only pure flock in the United States since that time. The Manchurian Ringnecks, with their distinctive white feather on the side of their heads, are known for their wild, fast, explosive flight.

Our Manchurian/Ringneck Cross carries a little more weight than the Chinese Ringneck and it adapts very well to the wild. It’s a great hunting bird with a little darker color than the Chinese Ringneck.

The Extra Large Ringneck carries a pound to a pound and a half more weight than the Chinese Ringneck. It’s a great meat bird and it also provides some interesting hunting challenges. These birds tend to run, rather than fly up.

We’ve partnered up with Thundering Wings Pheasant Farm of Kansas to offer the K Thunder pheasant. This is a smaller pheasant with a blue back and great quality tail. Its challenging to hunt because, since it carries the lighter weight, it flies up with an explosive burst.

The purebred Melanistic Mutant is a stunning pheasant that carries an amazing iridescent greenish black plumage. They survive and reproduce well in the wild. They carry about a half pound more of weight than the traditional Ringneck.

We also stock two types of partridge to change-up your hunting experience. The Chukar Partridge weighs about a pound and has a distinctive black and white bar pattern on the flanks. The black band running across the forehead makes it look like it’s wearing a bandit mask. This agile bird has an explosive flight.

The Chukar/Redleg Partridge is a smaller bird that holds in cover and then takes flight when flushed. They are a cross between the Chukar and the French Redleg Partridge. You can see them in light cover because they have zebra stripes on their wings.

Regardless of the game bird you pick, you can be assured that if it’s coming from MacFarlane Pheasants, it’s been acclimated to the outside and is a hardy bird that will be a hunting challenge.

choosing which type of game bird you need













Choosing the Right Type of Game Bird

An Inside Look at How MacFarlane Pheasants Boxes Chicks for Live Delivery

pheasant chicks box

pheasant chick


In an average year, MacFarlane Pheasants ships over a million chicks to its customers. Great precision and planning goes into boxing and shipping our chicks to ensure that they arrive healthy and ready to be raised.

There are usually only two people counting and packing the chicks but when we need to do sexing, or determining whether the chick is a hen or a cock, we can have up to eight people working to provide the birds to the counters, with one person boxing each sex.

Preparation for shipping starts 5 days before the chicks are even scheduled to hatch.



  • The hatchery receives the order, method of delivery is determined (post office, pick-up, or manual delivery), and the number of birds is posted on each box.
  • Stacks of boxes are organized (no more than 3 boxes in each stack).
  • Each stack gets the customer’s name, address, and telephone number, and a postage code that can be scanned if traveling by mail.
  • Decisions are made about how many chicks per box based on the current temperature and the temperature of the final destination.


The Day of the Hatch

  • We count chicks into boxes by fives (3 in one hand and 2 in the other).
  • Our boxes are divided into four sections, and we place a maximum of 35 chicks in each corner. When shipping by post, shipping to hot climates, or shipping overseas we decrease the number of chicks per box. A common number per box in spring and summer is 131.
  • During the hottest months we reduce the number to 105 chicks per box to decrease the temperature inside the box and increase survival rates.
  • Chicks can live 2 to 3 days off their yolk sac.
  • Chicks are also fed NMAN, a supplement that holds a lot of water, to keep them from getting dehydrated, and the chicks love it!



  • Approximately 65% of our chicks are sent via the U.S. Postal Service.
  • After chick boxes are banded the birds are loaded in temperature-controlled trucks and driven to a Minneapolis postal hub that specializes in handling live animals. When the chicks arrive at their destination, the customer is called to pick them up.
  • Delivery time is 1-2 days
  • Truck temperature is kept at 70 degrees, but the close quarters inside the boxes keep the temperature at 100 degrees, which is perfect for the chicks.
  • At the customer’s request, we sometimes send large orders of boxed chicks from our facility to the customer’s door in a temperature-controlled truck.
  • Birds sent long distances or overseas are taken to Chicago’s O’Hare airport, put on a plane, and flown to their destination. Air shipments go to places such as Alaska, Georgia, Florida, Hawaii, and England.
  • Report cards are sent with each order to make sure we are responsive to our customers’ needs.
  • All of our chick customers are automatically given their order plus 5 percent more chicks.


Visit us at MacFarlane Pheasants to learn more about our genetically superior chicks and see our chick pricing. Please contact us with any questions you have—we’d love to hear from you!



An Inside Look at How MacFarlane Pheasants Boxes Chicks for Live Delivery

Secrets to Raising French Partridges

French Partridge Chicks

French Partridge Chicks

Full Grown French Partridge

Full Grown French Partridge








French Partridges are a little smaller than a pigeon, fast and exciting to hunt, and delicious to eat. They can also be finicky to raise. MacFarlane Pheasants brings in French Partridge eggs from France and hatches them in our hatchery. This past year alone we had three hatches with 12,000 chicks in each hatch.

Once these tiny chicks leave the hatchery they’re very vulnerable and require special care. But Brian Klein, Production Manager for the chicks at MacFarlane Pheasants, has developed a system for raising the French Partridge that is beyond compare. These are the secrets to his success:


Pay Attention to Lighting

  • Chicks tend to bunch in the corners of the brooder house and smother each other. To avoid this, we remove the lights bulbs in the corners. Their fear of the dark protects them!
  • We lower the ceiling lights after about a week and keep bright hanging lights about 30 inches above them to draw the chicks to the safest area. The lights hang next to the brooders, a propane heat source.


Take Precautions with Feeding

  • Food and water are kept close to chicks, but precautions are important. We use a nipple line for the first 25 days, not a bell waterer, because chicks can drown in a bell waterer.
  • A flat tray, similar to a McDonalds’s tray, is used for the feed for a similar reason; the chicks can fall into a deeper pan and smother.
  • At 25 days, bell waterers are added and left in place for 3 days. Then it is time to move the chicks to the next room, which is double the size.
  • Now the fragile chicks are ready for the bell waterer and automatic feed till they are 8 weeks old. After that they are moved to the outside pens until ready for shipment.

After Brian’s team works their magic raising them, MacFarlane French Partridges are shipped to both hunt clubs and ranches and eventually make their way to someone’s dinner table.

To get an inside look at how these and other birds are raised here at MacFarlane Pheasant Farm, schedule a tour of our facilities—we’d love to show you around!

Nipple Line

Nipple Line

Bell Waterer

Bell Waterer











Secrets to Raising French Partridges

Upcoming Changes in the Spot Market for Gamebirds

The market I grew up with and knew for the years I’ve run our farm, consists of most preserves booking the birds they need before the season, and then the preserves using the “spot” market to fill in at the end of the season.   Factors such as weather, local economic trends, and marketing success (or lack of) leads to some preserves needing extra birds and other preserves looking to cancel ordered birds.  In addition, the bird producers’ situation spans from producing too many birds on speculation, or having low mortality, leading to extra birds all the way to a farm that sustains a loss (weather or disease) and is short birds.

So the supply and demand of birds is in flux, just like it is for corn, or milk or gasoline.  And the price of non-contracted birds fluctuates up and down (the spot price) enough to fill the shortage or use up the overage.  The brokering of birds, where producers are buying and selling birds from other producers, was a part of this evening out of supply and demand,

With Avian Influenza entering the picture, brokering of birds is just downright dangerous.  Often suppliers, who have too many birds, have too many birds for a reason.  And often that reason is the extra birds aren’t in great shape (broken or missing tails for example).  So realistically the chance of brokered birds being sick or diseased is higher.  And even the thought of bringing healthy birds onto one’s farm is far more tenuous than it used to be.

So it’s my thought in the current (and most likely future) scenario, the brokering of birds will decrease, meaning the evening out of supply and demand will be more difficult.  Some producers may get stuck with birds they can’t move, and some preserves may run out of birds and be unable to find birds to finish their season.  We’re now in a different dynamic.













Upcoming Changes in the Spot Market for Gamebirds

Employment at MacFarlane Pheasants

MacFarlane Pheasants, Inc. has been in business since 1929. We could not have been so successful over the years without our dedicated employees! What kinds of skills, education, and background are beneficial in working for our company? How are new employees hired? The following information will provide the insight needed to understand our hiring process.

Some of the most important qualities that prospective employees must possess are strong work ethics and reliability. We are always looking for hard-working individuals to join our team. Working with live animals is a big responsibility, and our staff needs to be dedicated to caring for our birds correctly. Each staff member is crucial to the success of our company.

People who are interested in working for MacFarlane Pheasants should be motivated to learn and improve. There are several entry-level positions. In fact, many of our employees started with little or no experience working with pheasants. Through hard work and proven dedication, they became supervisors or crew leaders.

While having a certain college degree is not a requirement for working with us, some of our employees do have degrees that have prepared them for their positions. Agriculture Business degrees help to understand the financing, marketing, and management of food production.  Some of our employees have Wildlife Management degrees, which provide deeper understanding of how to manage wildlife populations and their habitats.

Many of our employees begin with temporary agencies. This allows them to get a feel for what it is like to work at MacFarlane Pheasants and to gain experience working with our birds. Once they are comfortable with the working environment and expectations, and we know they are hard workers, these temporary employees may apply for permanent positions.

When applying for an available position, a prospective employee will be interviewed by the supervisor of that position. If that interview goes well, there may be another interview conducted by one of our managers: Chris Theisen, Brad Lillie, or Brian Klein. The supervisor and manager will then confer to make a final decision regarding hiring.

We are proud to have many staff members who have worked for our company for several years. At times, it can be difficult to find people who are willing to work outdoors year-round, but these are certainly valuable and essential positions. We do offer great benefits and competitive wages to our employees, and we are committed to employee satisfaction.

Are you interested in joining a rewarding, successful team? To see employment opportunities with MacFarlane Pheasants, Inc., please see our website:













Employment at MacFarlane Pheasants