FORT RANSOM, N.D. – Brad Swenson recently hatched out his last batch of pheasant eggs for the 2019 season.
“The last pheasant hatch [was] on July 16, and we’ll shut down the incubator for the season,” reported Brad, who also had about 2,000 quail to hatch out around the same time.
Our latest visit occurred on the afternoon of July 9, after a day and night of heavy rain, which has been the norm this spring and summer in the area around Fort Ransom. This latest round of rain has water running over some of the gravel roads and very muddy field conditions for those who farm.
But, despite soggy conditions, there was plenty of action going on. Soon to be son-in-law, Brent, and neighbor boy, Wyatt, were moving a batch of roosters out from a growing barn to a flight pen. Shaine, Brad’s son, has been gone for a few days while he is down in Texas making arrangements for the fall waterfowl hunts coming up. Brad has also been busy spraying for weeds in the flight pens.
“We try to keep the broadleaves, so it is mainly a grass ground cover around the perimeter and the broadleaves are allowed to keep growing in a strip down the center,” Brad explained. “I can’t go in there with a tractor right now because it is so muddy, so I hooked the sprayer up to the four-wheeler and I am doing the spraying that way instead. There is literally standing water in some of the places I am driving through, but I can make it through with the four-wheeler.”
The structure of the ground cover in the flight pens plays a big role in the success of the pheasant raising program, according to Brad. He says a closely mowed strip down the pen provides the growing birds an easy-to-find path between the feeders at one end and the water fountains at the other end. But there is also a need for some areas of high vegetation in the pens, as well, and that is a big help during hot, sunny conditions.
“The heat is not good for the pheasants, but as long as we have a strip of broadleaf weeds down the center that provides shade, they are fine in hot weather,” he explained.
“When it gets hot and sunny you don’t see any of the birds – they are in the shade of the weedy strip. But, if you don’t manage the flight pens right and don’t provide any shade for hot weather, you can lose a lot of birds,” he added.
The perfect broadleaf weed for these weedy strips is lambs quarter, but it is a little difficult to manage. He doesn’t like to see ragweed in the weedy strip because it grows so tall and will grow through the netting.
“If we have a lot of ragweed, we have to go out there and clip it so it doesn’t get so tall,” he said. “If it grows through the netting, in the fall you must pull all of that ragweed out of the netting once the birds are moved out, which is really a pain. You can actually buy lambs quarter seed – most farmers would wonder about farmers who raise lambs quarter seed, but we have never bought any to seed in our strips. Kochia also works well in these weed strips.”
Even though the pheasants he is raising are growing fast and doing well, Brad is concerned about the wild hatch this year because of the rainy conditions.
“The worst thing you can get for hatching conditions is a real wet June,” he said. “The peak of the hatch in North Dakota is mid-June and we have been getting nothing but rain since the early part of June. A little bit of rain is fine, but when you start getting these two- and three-inch downpours, the chicks in the wild have a hard time surviving.”
He went on to explain that if a hen has hatched out her chicks and something happens to them, then that is the end of any pheasants from that hen for the year. However, it the eggs haven’t hatched yet and the nest and eggs are flooded out, the hen will re-nest and start laying eggs again, but the hatch will be later than normal.
“A lot of the hens have already hatched out their chicks and the survivability it going to be pretty bad this year for the June hatch,” he said.