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Dollar, Dollar Bills: Managing a Commercial Gamebird Feed Budget

On March 13, 2014 in General by spope

Every year MacFarlane Pheasants raises 450,000 pheasants for hunters around the world—and that’s not even counting our French Redleg Partridges, Hungarian partridges, and white pheasants. But a bird’s got to eat! We buy 6,500 tons of feed per year for our birds. (To put in perspective, 20 tons is about the size of school bus.) Understandably, feed is our farm’s single biggest expense, and the single biggest determining factor for the price of our mature birds. As part of our mission to provide the highest quality birds to hunters at the most competitive prices, we work hard to make sure we get the best prices for feed available. But it’s not just that simple.

To break it down, a mature bird we raise from egg to 22-24 weeks (when we ship them to you) eats around 20 pounds of food. Feed averages 15 cents a pound, with a low of 12 cents and a high of 20 cents, so a bird can vary in price as much as $1.50 depending on the cost of the feed. Sure, there are other factors that go into pricing our birds. But feed is the biggest, and who really wants to pay more for the same bird? Not us, and not you.

To make sure you get the best price possible, we spend a lot of time staring at numbers. Our feed is comprised primarily of corn and soybeans—around 75 percent—so we watch the commodities market closely for spikes and slumps. If this sounds like a job that would give a mortal man an ulcer, it’s true, and so besides our own eagle eyes, we talk to others in the feed industry and hire a consultant who knows even more about these markets than we do. Our consultant advises us on South America, imports to China, and the weather across the country. When he tells us to buy, we buy, and when he tells us to wait, we wait.

We buy a complete feed through a single company, so it’s even more important we know the economic forecasts for when to lock in that price. We further protect ourselves from the highs and lows of the market by buying four or five times a year. This way we get an average, versus literally betting the farm on a single, all-important buy.
Dollar, Dollar Bills: Managing a Commercial Gamebird Feed Budget

Once we get that price locked in, we can crunch the numbers for the cost of the mature bird, which we then post to our website and in our catalogs.

It’s a pretty simple model—until it isn’t. Take five years ago. Corn and soybean prices skyrocketed, and our farm would have had to raise our pheasants significantly just to break even. But we didn’t. We raised them a small amount, took the hit on behalf of our customers, and because of our size, influenced other farms across the country to follow suit, preventing a good old-fashioned bank run on birds. You have to watch the industry, but you have to look out for your customers.

A final note on quality: all feed isn’t created equal. We make a couple of intentional decisions: We use no distillers’ grains, the byproduct of ethanol, which many cheaper feeds use, and we have a fixed formula that our manufacturer can’t change without our say-so. Many farms use a “least cost formula,” which brings in other ingredients depending on what’s cheapest. We just think that’s not good enough for our customers.

Being number one in the pheasant industry has its responsibilities, including setting a standard for the quality of our feed. We look at all the variables to ensure we get the highest quality feed at the best prices to give you the better bird. We’ve been doing it better since 1929.

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