With the sheer number of pheasants, pheasant chicks, and partridges that MacFarlane Pheasants raises every year, there are bound to be a few escapees. Holes can be torn in the nets of the outdoor pens, or birds can make a run for it when we’re packing them in crates to ship to your door. Probably the biggest jailbreak was on December 3, 1990, when a strong blizzard blew a gate off our pure strain Manchurian Ringnecks pen. About 500 of the 800 pheasants in the pens escaped, and we were lucky to catch 300 over the next few days.
“It’s 20 dollar bills going out the window,” says Cody Hanson, Bird Care Manager at MacFarlane Pheasants.
To reclaim these birds, every morning Cody and another employee saddle up in the company truck and drive around the pens looking for birds. There are not a huge number of birds that escape; Cody says it’s maybe 100 a year. But the reason it’s important to track these birds down, besides just the economics, is that escaped birds attract predators. We think pheasant is delicious, but so do hawks, foxes, coyotes, skunks, and raccoons. And with these predators hanging around, it can create problems for the rest of our birds inside the pens.
So in their truck, Cody drives and another employee hangs out of the passenger side window, swinging a hybrid net that looks like it could be used for either butterflies or trout. Pheasants, besides naturally wanting to flock together, are also smart enough to remember where the food, water, shelter, and safety are, i.e. the pens. They tend to stick close to the outside of the pens, and the netter scoops them up while driving past. Cody also creates box traps that he lays around the outside of the pens with a breadcrumb-like trail of cracked corn leading inside. They’ll check those traps every morning, too.
It’s not incredibly common that Cody and his partner capture a bird. He says it’s usually one every two or three weeks, but it can happen in spurts, especially as we enter the busy packing season. There is no bounty for capturing birds, he says. It’s just part of the job.
“The way I feel about it, you’re here to make the company money, and the birds make the company money, so if we’ve got 20 birds that are running around at 20 dollars apiece, that’s a couple hundred dollars that’s virtually out of my pocket,” Cody says. “Every stray we get is money in our pocket, pretty much.”