10/14/2020 3:38:00 PM Which came first the pheasant or the egg?
Ron Kuecker Outdoors Columnist
When we were kids on the farm, my two sisters and one brother often had fun discussing the phrase, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" It was no wonder that was a topic of discussion because we "always" had a flock of laying hens on the farm, both in West Bend, Iowa, and Hadley. They were one of our "cash flow" incomes in those days of nearly self-sufficient farming. The other weekly income would have been the cream check from the Hadley Creamery, the namesake for the current town ball team called the Hadley Buttermakers. We would usually take 30 dozen or so eggs to the market on the east side of Slayton. Then mom would take the egg check next door to the grocery store and buy groceries. This happened every Friday night and was our only source of store-bought groceries. Cream checks were used mostly for farm expenses. Sale of cattle, finished market hogs and soybeans, when we started raising them, went to major purchases like tractors, tillage equipment and an occasional new car. We also grew up with pheasants, lots of them, that loved the small farms of that era. We first learned about pheasant eggs when nests were destroyed in the alfalfa field when mowed for hay during the first crop. Those tan colored eggs, usually eight to 10 per nest, usually had to be abandoned due to lack of overhead cover. Also, before sundown, a group of crows hanging around nearby gobbled those eggs, down the hatch. Even crows knew the exceptional nutritional value of eggs. Advertisements for eggs in another era gone by included the "incredible edible egg." And that they are, as evidenced by ongoing nutritional evaluation of eggs. Pheasant eggs are now even produced and marketed as even better than chicken eggs. Wanna know what's all in an egg? Just Google it and you will be amazed. Suffice it to say they are high in protein found in the egg white. Proteins are made up of amino acids and some of those are called essential to life. You need only to look at an egg yolk, chicken or pheasant, to realize it is high in fat content. It is also equally high in carbohydrates for instant energy. Iron, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, B vitamins are also found there. The calcium and phosphorous mostly is found in the egg shells. Eggs drain nutrients Well, we are finally getting around to how the pheasant laying process is so draining on hen pheasants. Imagine a little two-pound pheasant laying 10 eggs, then incubating them for 23 to 24 days. All those nutrients in that egg came from the hens' body and if it comes at a time when there is little grain available, it is costly. Now imagine losing that nest to a ground predator, farming practices or even a well-intended slow burn. She will nest again and again trying to increase the population, but each time she renests her clutch size decreases. Eight, then six or so are about all she can nutritionally produce, then raise. It is important to realize all this is taking place in variable weather and varied locations. So, is it any surprise that we are now in a situation where by spring our pheasant hen population is barely equal to the roosters. This, even though we hunt only the roosters for nearly three months. Egg laying is an extremely nutrient draining process and a reason for our low pheasant numbers now. We must focus more on the hen survival to spring and bring back winter food plots and nearby woody cover. More hens seen One of the things I remember when reflecting on previous year hunts is the large number of hens each fall. That has not been seen recently, especially in 2018 and 2019. But now, this fall of 2020, many hunters are seeing more hens again. It probably reflects a bit milder winter and a better earlier hatch. Disregard the phrase, we sure had a great later hatch this year. For the long-term success of pheasant populations, late hatches are only good for hunters and not increasing overall pheasant numbers. They nutritionally drain the hens and are less hardy for the upcoming winter and succumb to predators more easily. Hunt results A foot that had some minor surgery kept me from walking much and pheasant hunting is definitely a walking sport. While sitting and watching my son and grandson walk a large public hunting spot I heard around 50 shots the first 50 minutes of the season. That seems kind of normal for the opener, but no indication of roosters shot. Sometimes the flush of a single bird can result in four or five empty shot shells on the ground and no roosters. I talked to 19 hunters either after the morning hunt or in the evening. The poorest luck was one group of six that bagged only one rooster. The best was a group of seven that shot seven roosters. Out group? The youngster shot our only two birds.