FORT RANSOM, N.D. – Brad pulled the fifth hatch of pheasant chicks on Thursday, May 16 and everything is going very well so far with the program this year. Over 80 percent of the eggs hatched in the last session, which was a surprise to Brad, since he was expecting a little lower result.
“Those eggs were collected during that cold and snowy period in early April, but the cold weather didn’t affect the eggs as much as I thought it would,” Brad said. “We were picking eggs outside in the snow back then, trying to get them inside before they froze. What we ended up doing was putting little huts in the pen and then putting a lot of straw in those huts so they were laying most of the eggs on the straw, rather than laying the eggs on the snow.”
Only about 900 of the breeder hens are moved inside during February to start the early egg laying season. Egg laying is triggered by lengthening the hours of light the hens are exposed to.
“These inside birds start laying eggs around March 1. The outside breeding hens are exposed to 14 hours of light beginning the first week in March by means of an outside lighting system on the outside pens. The outside breeders start laying eggs by the third week of March,” Brad explained.
“On a normal year, this is fine since most of the snow is gone, but this year the cold and snowy weather persisted and we had four feet of snow in the pens. We did the best we could under those circumstances,” he added.
The eggs hatched on May 16 were actually collected over 25 days prior. These hatched eggs are kept in a cooler until enough eggs are gathered to fill the incubator.
The breeder hens will soon be leaving the operation, Brad noted. On June 1 they will all be going up to a wildlife club in Devils Lake. Then, for the last hatch in July, he is going to buy those eggs from a supplier in Wisconsin.
“So we will be done picking eggs in a couple weeks and my back can have a rest,” he said. “Out of the entire year, the worst two months are April and May. We used to pick eggs until mid-June, but have found it is easier to sell the breeder hens at the start of June when we have a market for them and buy the eggs for the last hatch.”
A special breeder ration is formulated at LaMoure Feed and Seed in nearby LaMoure, N.D. This pelleted feed has a slightly elevated amount of calcium, phosphorus and vitamins, and the protein level is a little less when compared to the starter and finishing feeds.
The free time now is being used to repair the netting on the flight pens. The early heavy snow last fall ripped many of the net walls down and this needs to be fixed soon, since the first hatched pheasant chicks will moved to the flight pens the first week of June. They will be putting blinders on that first group next week.
With all of these tasty birds soon to be moved outdoors, with only a mesh netting between them and the outside world, predators can be a problem. But not for animals like fox or coyotes, but rather minks and raccoons. The mink can squeeze between the spaces in the mesh and the raccoons will climb up the netting, excite the birds to take flight and then will grab a pheasant through the net and have lunch.
“The raccoons usually do their hunting at night and when you come out the next morning there is a skeleton of the pheasant stuck to the netting,” Brad explained. “I first thought it was hawks or owls doing that at night, but discovered it was actually raccoons. The mother raccoons teach their babies how to do that, because last year I caught a litter of them up there.”
Brad uses things like lights that blink at night and outfits that make strange sounds as a way to help keep the predator animals away.
Next issue we will follow the first-hatched chicks out to the flight pen and see them outfitted with their blinders.
Author’s note: Our last report with Brad and Leah mistakenly referred to their daughter as Pam, when her name is actually Fallon. I would like to apologize to the Swenson family, and I appreciate their sense of humor in regards to the mishap.