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Farming for Pheasants

December 09, 2013 by

Pheasants have to eat. In fact, if you study the crop of a pheasant you will usually find a variety of grains in it. In our area these would be corn, milo, sunflower seeds and even soybeans. Instinct helps pheasants balance their diets with these grains because they are all different in nutrient value. For instance, in colder, more severe temps you will find a higher amount of corn and soybeans in them because corn has the most digestible energy and soybeans have the most crude protein. This may sound like I look in the stomach of too many pheasants, but it interests me and it helps determine my farming practices to assure a sustainable population of wild pheasants.

The dietary requirement of pheasants has not changed since their introduction to South Dakota in the early 1900's, but farming practices sure have. I often tell the story of my father who started farming in the 1930's with a team of six horses and retired in the 1980's after purchasing his last tractor, a 300 horsepower, four wheel drive John Deere. Dad was one or two generations removed from being able to be called a pioneer, but he was part of the agricultural evolution that has made the US the breadbasket of the world.

Today, our tractors are equipped with GPS and auto-steer devices that allow you to be "hands off" as you plant your crops. There are warning alarms for seed placement problems and fertilizer flow rate as well as a computerized tractor health status monitor. We plant corn and milo with a 24 row planter versus dad's first 4 row planter. We harvest corn with $300,000 John Deere combines equipped with 12 row cutting heads. Dad cut and shocked his first corn crop by hand. I try and remember that every time I think I am having a bad day.

My roots in this area go back to my great, great grandfather's 1882 homestead in Brown county. I still live in the house that his son Casper built in 1910. It is important to me to continue farming and ranching in a sustainable way so that my great, great grandchildren still have the opportunity to farm the same land I do and that my ancestors did. By protecting our waterways and grasslands and by planting and replacing tree shelterbelts, we not only help preserve our agricultural sustainability; we also preserve wildlife sustainability.

Pheasants need three things to survive. They need nesting and roosting cover to protect them from predators; they need energy rich feedstuffs to get them through our harsh winters; and they need to have their predator populations controlled. All three of these factors are part of our long term plan to enhance wild pheasant numbers. Located on the Eagle Pass Lodge property you will find seven nesting areas with adequate cover, feed and water to breed and develop a large wild pheasant population. These nesting areas were once stock dams use to water cattle, but by planting 30 acres of grass and alfalfa around them and leaving unharvested grain nearby we have converted them to wildlife conservation areas. Since we started Eagle Pass Lodge, we have planted five miles of tree shelterbelts that not only provide winter shelter, but also have rows of berry producing bushes that pheasants feed on during the winter.

While some may think that all you have to do to run South Dakota pheasant hunts is buy enough pen-raised birds to satisfy your daily limits, at Eagle Pass Lodge it goes much farther than that. I generally figure the value of a wild pheasant to be 7-8 times greater than the cost of a pen raised bird because of the expense and work involved in creating a proper environment for them to breed and thrive. We will continue "farming for pheasants" by leaving farmland idle for nesting cover, by leaving crops unharvested for winter feed and by controlling varmints that destroy nests and kill pheasants. The legacy of Eagle Pass Lodge is alive and well.

Posted by Steve Munger

Posted in: Uncategorized, News