There is a shortage of adult pheasants, unlike any shortage I’ve experienced in my 30 years of running our farm. Regardless of the weather, from here til spring there will be a shortage. In my opinion, the shortage has occurred because of a number factors, some obvious and some not so obvious.
First of all, without a doubt the mild winter we are experiencing across the upper Midwest has resulted in many more hunters visiting local preserves. All the preserves are reporting that sales are up and the mild weather is continuing. Over the past seasons, several if not many weekends were lost at preserves due to significant snowfall or bitter cold temperatures. Zero weekends have been lost this year.
The shortage of wild pheasants in South Dakota this past fall resulted in tens of thousands of pheasants being trucked into the state from literally around the country. In the past, at times the beginning of the South Dakota season started out with few wild birds being located, but as the season progressed and the farmers began harvesting their crops more and more wild birds appeared. As this season moved into November, it became obvious that the wild bird numbers just weren’t there.
Many backyard operators have historically raised a few thousand pheasants. For these operators raising pheasants was a sideline, not their main source of income. In past seasons, these operators filled the supply chain as the season progressed. These suppliers buffered the supply/demand balance. We noticed this past spring that many of the smaller operators weren’t ordering as many chicks or no chicks at all. We called several of the smaller farms to inquire and the two main answers we heard were that feed was just too expensive and also that they were sick and tired of selling surplus birds at a loss in March.
In the commercial pheasant business, the U.S. the past few springs reflected a market with surplus birds. The biggest hit was the spring of 2009 when at our farm we had 25,000 mature pheasants canceled and we were forced to sell those birds at wholesale prices for $2.00 under cost. The next two springs (2010 and 2011) there was less of a dramatic overproduction, but there were still birds to be found at bargain basement prices. Some preserves came to count on this excess production and the resulting discount prices. With feed prices nearly double (we were paying $180/ton in the fall of 2007 for 20% grower and the spot price during the fall o f2011 for 20% here was $350/ton) it made no sense for producers to raise any more birds than they had orders for and they didn’t raise those birds.
So this perfect storm of unrelated influences occurred and now we have preserves closing down because they have no birds to stock. It is unfortunate that it has taken such a traumatic event to correct the imbalance that has been occurring for the past few years. My hope is that preserves for the coming season will order what they need and to equal out the burden put onto the raisers.