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Farming for Pheasants

July 30, 2018 by

For Chris Hitzeman, raising lots of wild pheasants on his farm is as important as growing high yielding grain crops. The Lake Andes, S.D., farmer earns about as much money per acre from his U-GUIDE South Dakota Pheasant Hunting business as he does from other enterprises.

"In the 1940s and 1950s, we had the perfect balance between cropland and pheasant habitat and we had a tremendous number of birds," he says. "That's what I’m striving for — a large pheasant population on working lands."

Prized Bird

The ringneck pheasant is a highly prized game bird and some hunters consider a wild, fair chase pheasant the best of all.

Food Plots

Chris Hitzeman, strives to produce the right mix of food sources and nesting, brood raising and winter cover to produce a high concentration of wild, fair chase pheasants. He has about 60 acres of food plots on the 700-acre farm.

Birds and Bees

Different types of food plots are needed for pheasants to thrive. This pollinator habitat is an excellent feeding ground for young pheasants. The flowering plants not only attract pollinators, but other insects that are part of pheasants’ diets.

Interseeded Covers

Hitzeman experiments with cover crops he plants between corn rows in food plots. He modified a double disk grain drill to plant corn in 30-inch rows and to plant cover crops in three 7 ½ -inch rows between the corn. The corn provides the grain that roosters prefer in the fall and winter. The cover crops provide the cover that they can hide from predators and hunters in. Hitzeman rotates crop species in food plots like he rotates cash grain and oil seed crops. He is also experimenting with “chemical mowing” of interseeded cover crops. It’s the application of low rates of herbicide (Roundup in Roundup Ready corn, for example) to set back the cover crop and let the corn get ahead of competition and produce more grain. Chemical mowing is a labeled use.

Grass Management

Hitzeman has enrolled eligible land on his farm into the Conservation Reserve Program. He and the Natural Resources Conservation Services created grass planting mixes to provide light- and heavy-cover. Hitzeman has to manage the CRP intensively to get the desired results. He uses controlled burns, mowing and herbicide applications to set back some species and spur the growth of others.

Wetland Benefits

Wetlands aren’t just for waterfowl on Hitzeman’s farm. He also likes to see cattails around wetlands and in the sloughs because they provide excellent winter cover for pheasants. Pheasants move only 1-2 miles during their lives, he says, and he is trying to provide the habitat and food sources they need to stay on his farm year-round.

Camp Atmosphere

The bunkhouse that hunters stay in on Hitzeman’s farm used to be part of a cattle shed. Hitzeman creates a deer camp atmosphere in his UGuide pheasant camp. “Lots of hunters say, ‘I have my own dogs, I know how to hunt, and I just need a map and some directions and to be left alone to hunt the way I want to hunt.’ So that’s what we do,” Hitzeman says.

No-Till Plus

Hitzeman checks for soil compaction in one of his soybeans fields. He farms the cropland in partnership with the Lakeview Hutterite Colony. They no-till and rotate corn, soybeans and winter wheat, and they plant cover crops. Hitzeman and the colony are trying to produce profitable, sustainable yields; protect the soil from erosion; improve soil health; and provide nesting and winter cover for pheasants.

Healthy Soils

Hitzeman believes everything in Ag, whether production or conservation, begins with soil health. Converting the formerly conventional tilled cropland to grassland has improved the soil structure and increased the amount of precipitation that the soil absorbs, he says.

Scouting Ride

Hitzeman rides a Rambo electric, fat-tire bicycle to check fields on his farm. It has less impact on the land than a pickup, tractor or ATV; makes no noise — a plus when you don't want to scare pheasants or deer, he says — and it costs a fraction of what an ATV or tractor costs to own and operate.

See the full article and pictures at Dakota Farmer Magazine - Farming for Pheasants.

Posted in: News, Conservation, Habitat Management, Agriculture

Reader Comments

1 Comment on Farming for Pheasants

  • Habitat is the key and hunters are pure revenue. I witnessed Iowa lose habitat followed by losing their birds It crippled hotels and restaurants across the state. We hunt your state good years as well as bad but the cost of a hunting trip plays into bird population and desires to make the trip. There are so many friendly people in South Dakota it would be a shame to lose the connection Mowing habitat and clearing water ways is how Iowa lost their birds. It is a difficult line to balance between farm income and pheasants but pheasants also put money back in your community. Please help the farmers with incentive to allow hunters to access their land and keep pheasant production alive. Nothing more exciting than to see a field late winter covered with birds Thank you Tom

    Tom Heiman August 11, 2018 12:08 PM

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