Want to raise pheasants, help with their conservation, or simply learn more about these beautiful birds? Pat Johnson shares a wealth of information to help you educate yourself about the pheasant business.
Listen to this fun podcast with Bill MacFarlane of MacFarlane Pheasants.
You might think experience is the best teacher. But, experience combined with training is an unbeatable advantage, especially when raising pheasants and other wild birds. This article aims to share some of the many options you have to learn about game birds, such as pheasants, so that you can chose your best learning style. I’ve talked to lots of people about how they got themselves informed enough to raise these birds and found that good opportunities and information vary; some have been around for many years, and some are new ideas for the 21st century!
Early Gamekeeper Schools
Many educational institutions provide both technical information and experience in game bird and poultry management. It might surprise you to know that one of the first gamekeeper schools was in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The school, sponsored by the Game Conservation Society, was the first of its kind in the country in the late 1920s. The school taught students how to raise game birds, including pheasants. Ken MacFarlane, who started the first pheasant farm in Janesville, Wisconsin, was one of 25 people accepted into the school. Raising pheasants had been popular in Scotland and England for 400 years, but the concept was new to the United States.
According to an article in the 1927 Janesville Gazette, “Most graduates of the University School of Agriculture used to become scientific farmers: .”
Goin’ to School These Days
Today, many schools in the U.S. offer degrees in poultry and wildlife management. They rarely advertise that they train gamekeepers. Most of the college programs today have titles related to fish and wildlife management. Gamekeepers generally protect and maintain game birds on a larger piece of property. When you have a small farm, including pheasants, you might call yourself a gamekeeper. But, if you want to keep pheasants, it’s important for you to learn about how to manage them.
There are a variety of ways to learn how to raise pheasants and other game birds, ranging from college degrees to seminars. Talking to experts, reading, and taking health management classes are all effective learning avenues. Many educational institutions provide both technical information and experience in game bird and poultry management.
Pheasant Internships and Programs
Kansas State University
Kansas State University (KSU) has an internship program with MacFarlane Pheasants. Bill MacFarlane, owner of MacFarlane Pheasants, and others developed the internship program with KSU about 12 years ago. Students in the Wildlife and Outdoor Enterprise Management Program can spend a semester working at MacFarlane Pheasants’ Wisconsin farm and then return to campus to finish their degrees. This four-year program at KSU was created to train professional operational managers for hunting preserves, resorts, game bird production companies, and other outdoor experiences. Students can also attend the Midwest Poultry Consortium at the University of Wisconsin-Madison while in Wisconsin and earn up to 18 credits that can be transferred back to KSU.
Michigan State University
Michigan State University has a degree in animal science with an emphasis on poultry. Schools that only teach about game birds are rare, but the concepts in these related degrees are similar and professors try to meet all students’ learning needs. This school also has a Poultry Teaching and Research Center. It consists of 11 pole barns, two storage sheds, and several outdoor pens. The service building has a shower and restroom, tool room, garage, and office space.
West Virginia University
West Virginia University offers a 100-percent online Bachelor of Science for environmental science and fish and wildlife professionals. The school addresses pollution, hazardous materials, natural resources, and wildlife management. This program has a broader perspective than a school such as KSU, but it’s created for individuals pursuing to be wildlife biologists or environmental scientists. Many folks in the game bird business have these types of degrees.
Seminars Suit your Needs Better?
If you’re looking for education about pheasants or poultry in the form of seminars, they’re available and are fantastic! My friends the MacFarlane’s, at MacFarlane Pheasants in Janesville, Wisconsin, offer a Bi-Annual International Pheasant Management Seminar that invites folks from all over the world to attend their three-day seminars. The 2020 seminar was $600 and included meals. Hotel rates were at a special rate of $75 a night. Here is a small sampling of the phenomenal subjects offered during the 2020 seminar:
- The UK Perspective on Game Bird Auditing and Reducing Mycoplasma on the Ground (Kenny Nutting of St Davids Poultry Team Ltd)
- Ventilation in Brooder Barns (Austin Baker of Hog Slat)
- Pen Management (James Clark of MacFarlane Pheasants)
- Keys to Effective Rodent Control (Ted Bruesch of Liphatech)
- Avian Influenza Has Been Identified Next to Me, Now What? (Dr. Dale Lauer of Minnesota Board of Animal Health)
- Upland Gamebird Biosecurity, Why? What? How? (Abby Neu of University of Minnesota & Dale Lauer of Minnesota Board of Animal Health)
- Hands-on Egg Breakout Lab & Demonstration on Sexing Day-Old Chicks (Josh Deines & MacFarlane of Hatchery Staff)
The Pennsylvania Game Breeders and Hunting Preserves Conference is held annually. It’s a two-day event, and the program has information on how to manage game birds and address health issues affecting them. They also have tips for those interested in managing a hunting preserve. A date hasn’t been set for the 2021 conference yet, but there’s a place on their website for you to enter your name and find out when this conference and others will be held.
There’s Always the Extension Office
Many county extension offices all over the country are ready and willing to help you get started in game bird rearing. Google the county extension offices for your state, and you’ll find a variety of choices for learning. If you don’t see pheasant-rearing as one of the topics, email the office and ask for help in finding resources. My experience with county extension offices is that they’re always willing to help or refer you to someone who has the answers you’re seeking.
I write a blog about pheasant topics on the MacFarlane Pheasant website. All of the blog information comes from talking to the many managers and employees at MacFarlane Pheasants Inc. Reading blogs is an excellent way to educate yourselves on some of the elements that’ll help you raise pheasants. Some of the topics I’ve covered include feeder issues, biosecurity, air flow in barns, brooder maintenance, flight pen maintenance, weather-related issues, pheasant tail feather growth, goats on a pheasant farm, composting, articles about how those who buy chicks and raise them have managed, how to purchase and receive chicks or mature pheasants, and many other topics.
Lastly, there’s a plethora of books available about pheasant rearing. Lots of people educate themselves by reading up on the topics they need to know more about. I recommend two of the books available on the gift section of MacFarlane Pheasants’ website: Game Bird Breeders and Pheasant Tales. You can also learn about raising pheasants with the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Raising Gamebirds E-Handbook.
You don’t have to get a college education to work with pheasants, but you do need to choose a method of educating yourself about these beautiful birds if you want to raise them. Seminars, blogs, county extensions, friends, and books are all effective methods of learning the ins and outs of working with pheasants. If you want to end up working on a large pheasant farm, you might consider a degree in wildlife and outdoor enterprise management, such as the one offered by KSU.
Pat Johnson is a freelance writer who blogs for MacFarlane Pheasants, Inc., the largest pheasant farm in North America. This has allowed her to learn from expert pheasant rearers, who have been so helpful in this latest article by talking about their education.
Photography Credits © MacFarlane Pheasants Inc.