One hundred thousand birds a week. Think about that. That’s how many baby pheasants we have hatched into the world each week this Spring, MacFarlane Pheasants’ peak chick season. It’s a number hard to conceptualize, but try thinking about it like this: every week, we have double the number of pheasant chicks compared to the number of students attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison. And all those birds are sorted by hand.
We’ve been working with pheasant chicks for the better part of a hundred years, but even now we’ve not seen any modern technology that works as well or as accurately as a the human hand for sorting pheasant chicks. There are a number of ways we need to sort them, including by gender and breed.
The first way we sort them is by gender. The other reason we sort birds is by breed. Depending on orders, we’ll often rear multiple varieties together in the barns. Pheasant chicks need to be in close quarters, and if we don’t have a full barn’s worth of the same variety—up to nine or ten thousand—we’ll combine varieties. But when they transition outside, the space they need increases exponentially, with a thousand birds to a pen, and that’s when we’ll sort them by breed. (It’s also much easier to sort them as juveniles than when they’re full-grown adults.)
A crew of eight usually takes around eight hours to divide a barn by gender and type. The guys will start around 6 a.m. and finish around 2 p.m. Half of the guys will be sorting while the other half runs out and back with crates of birds destined for the pens.
It’s dirty work: In the late spring the barns are dusty and warm. “There’s a hands-on, physical aspect for the crew,” says pen manager Brian Check. “You definitely want a shower when you get home.”
Despite the time it takes, the attention it demands, and the delicacy hand-sorting requires, it’s worth it. Our birds arrive at your doorstep wild and ready to survive in nature until your hunt. It all begins with MacFarlane Pheasants’ personal touch.