FORT RANSOM, N.D. – The first load of pheasant roosters were loaded at the Swenson Gamebird farm and sent off to a hunting preserve in South Dakota on Sept. 4.
“This preserve has a group of hunters coming in next week, which means our shipping season has started a little earlier than normal,” said Brad Swenson, owner of the business. “It is kind of nice to get a few birds delivered in September so we don’t have such a short window to get them all shipped out.”
As we have learned in this series of Producer Progress Report articles, special techniques are necessary in raising pheasants, and that is also the case when it comes to moving the birds out of the flight pens and eventually shipping the mature birds out to various locations.
The birds from each flight path are able to be driven into a central alley that leads to the load-out barn.
“The load-out barn is a 28-foot by 14-foot barn and we can get about 400-500 birds in the barn,” he explained. “We load them under black light. Basically we just shut the light off in the barn and turn on the black lights so we can see, but the birds can’t see. We can see a little bit, but it seems like they just freeze. It works out really well loading them from this load-out barn under black light.
“It seems like the human eye adjusts to the black light much better than the pheasants’ eyes. We then take the blinders off the birds and put them into a cage, which will then be loaded on the truck for delivery,” he added.
Brad has been using this procedure for the last four years. Before that they used to net the bird in the flight pen, which resulted in the birds flying around when they were trying to catch them and that resulted in over heated birds and broken feathers, plus it took a lot of time and effort to load the birds. Under the old method they would only load about 150 birds an hour in the shipping cages, but with the new system they can do at least 400 birds an hour, he said.
The shipping crates measure 16 inches by 2-foot and they put six birds in each crate. The crates have a solid top and bottom, and are ventilated on all four sides. Each crate has a one-way flip door, which means the bird can be pushed into the crate through the flip door, but the door does not swing outwards, thus making it impossible for the birds to get out of the crate until they are released when they get to their destination.
The crates are specially designed as well. The crates are only about 8-inches tall. This keeps the birds from trying to fly up when they are in the cage, which they would normally try to do.
“If the birds have to crouch down they will stay still,” he noted.
The crates are then slid into a one-ton truck and delivered. If more birds than what the truck holds are being delivered, they used to stack the extra crates on a flatbed trailer that was pulled behind the truck. But this year they will use a small livestock trailer since that will offer more protection for the birds.
Other activity for the Swensons has focused on building the three additional flight pens that are needed because of the increased number of birds being raised this year. This is a project Brad wants to complete before the delivery business gets to be full-time work.
The final two hatches of gamebirds still are in the barns, but within a couple of weeks both of those groups will be moving to the recently completed new flight pens. Once all of the birds are outside, the workloads becomes a lot easier in terms of raising the chicks, which will help with the extra time that will soon be spent loading birds for delivery.
On Sept. 21, Brent Hebl, who has been pictured and mentioned in many of these articles will be married to Fallon Swenson, the daughter of Brad and Leah. They will live on a farmstead about a quarter mile away from the Swenson Gamebird headquarters.