My Father the Pioneer
My father was Donald James MacFarlane. He was born on July 3, 1903 in the same farmhouse his father (William Daniel MacFarlane) was born in 30 years earlier. The farmhouse (it’s still there) is located 10 miles east of Janesville, on the farm where my great grandfather emigrated to from Scotland in 1849.
My father went to elementary and high school in Janesville, and he then went on to get his degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin. After college he moved to New Jersey and worked for the Standard Oil Company. Standard Oil transferred him to Beaver, Pennsylvania – and that is where he met my mother.
In 1928 one of my father’s younger brothers, Kenneth MacFarlane attended the New York Game Commission’s Game Bird School. Kenneth imported pheasant eggs from an English game farm called Gaybird Game Farm, and in 1929 Kenneth called his new enterprise the MacFarlane Pheasant Farm.
In 1934 my father developed a medical condition related to his exposure to fumes from the refinery he worked at, and he and my mother decided to move to Janesville. My dad worked side by side with his brother Kenneth running the pheasant farm. In 1940 my uncle Kenneth died from exposure while hunting ducks on the Mississippi River. What has been called the Armistice Day Blizzard resulted in the death of my uncle, Kenneth, and many other hunters that day. My father bought his brother’s share of the farm from Kenneth’s widow Gwen.
My siblings were born as follows: Marion 1937, Janet 1941, Marj 1943 and Kenneth 1945. In 1945 my parents took a trip to Montana. On the drive home they passed through Duluth, Minnesota. They ate at a roadside restaurant – only to later find out that the cook at that restaurant was contagious with polio. My father contracted and nearly died from polio – he was in an iron lung for a period of time. When he recovered, he was a paraplegic for the rest of his life (he used a wheelchair and could only walk with braces and crutches). Can you imagine how hard it was for my mother finding out that her husband was deathly ill, having children that were 8, 4, 2 and an infant, plus a farm to run?
After his recovery, my father ran the office end of the business from then on, and my mother’s brother James Adamson (with the assistance in the hatchery of Jim’s wife Dot) ran the production end of the farm. I believe one of the reasons my father built such a successful day-old chick business was because he was so available to answer the phone (and talk to people who were having problems or had questions about their day old chicks). And my uncle Jim was very good at raising and breeding pheasants.
My father was very involved in our community – he taught Sunday school, and he was elected for many terms to the Rock County Board of Supervisors. He was one of the earliest proponents of Habitat for Humanity – when I was a boy we traveled to Americas, Georgia and met the founder of Habitat for Humanity Millard Fuller. My dad also served a term as President of the North American Gamebird Association.
My dad bought the farm where we are currently located in 1953. He told me he especially liked this farm because the soil was so sandy – and that sandy attribute has certainly contributed to our success raising pheasants here. In the 60’s my dad started lighting our breeder flocks (to enable us to produce many more early season chicks).
Over the years the farm has sold a number of different breeds of pheasants – and my dad and uncle directed genetic selection to improve the breeds. Here are a few of the breeds that the farm worked on in the 50’s and 60’s: Melanistic Mutants, Jumbo Ringnecks, Old English Blacknecks and Buffs. In the early 70’s my dad sent both Jumbos and Whites to TexasA&MUniversity for the initial development of what is now our White strain (meat pheasants).
My dad suffered a stroke in 1970 and had a series of stokes in the following years. In 1978 a devastating fire destroyed the farm’s brooder facility. In 1979 my dad and my uncle persuaded me to return home from the University of Houston-Texas. In 1980 my Uncle Jim and my Aunt Dot retired and moved to Colorado. With my uncle no longer here, my dad gave me direction, input and assistance as we ran the farm in the early 80’s. My dad passed away on January 31, 1985.
My father was a pioneer of the gamebird industry. He devoted his career to running our pheasant farm. My dad was an inspiration to many, and the foundation he and my uncle Jim built was a major factor in our farm becoming what it is today.
MacFarlane Pheasants, Inc.