State Game Farm
The State Game Farm is located next to the MacKenzie Center near Poynette in central Columbia County. The goals of the State Game Farm and the pheasant stocking program are to provide quality pheasant hunting opportunities on public and private lands, promote safe and ethical behavior in the field, and cooperate with conservation groups dedicated to promoting pheasant hunting in the state. There are a number of programs the DNR uses to accomplish these goals.
Game Farm pheasant production
All ring-necked pheasants provided by the DNR are produced at the State Game Farm. Approximately 300,000 eggs are incubated during the pheasant production season. Weekly hatches occur from early April through mid July. At the end of the hatching season, approximately 230,000 chicks will be hatched. Many of these chicks will be reared on the State Game Farm, with some going to conservation clubs that participate in the Day-old Chick program. Hen chicks are also available for sale to the public.
Pheasant chicks are reared in two environmentally controlled brood-rearing barns. Approximately 75,000 chicks are reared indoors until they are 6 weeks old. An additional 12,000 chicks are reared in smaller brooder houses where they have access to an outdoor pen when weather permits. Chicks are then transferred from the rearing facilities to the outdoor range fields until they are released in the fall. These 112 outdoor range fields are planted with a cover crop that offers shade and cover from the elements along with providing additional feed in the fall.
Hatching pheasant chick at the State Game Farm
The Department of Conservation, now the Wisconsin DNR, began stocking pheasants at the inception of the State Experimental Game and Fur Farm in 1928. The DNR continues to stock captive-raised ring-necked pheasants on public hunting grounds; however, philosophy on the stocking program has changed over time. Initially, pheasants were stocked to bolster the wild pheasant population and to provide quality pheasant hunting opportunities. Subsequent research has proven that, over time, stocked pheasants do not have the survival instincts to evade predators or hunters long enough to significantly contribute to the wild pheasant population. Current stocking efforts aim at providing quality pheasant hunting opportunities on public hunting grounds. Pheasants are stocked weekly beginning the week before opening weekend through November on most properties. Some properties are stocked in the month of December. Projected stocking efforts on public hunting grounds are available online on our pheasant hunting page.
Day-old chick program
The State Game Farm also provides day-old chicks to conservation clubs enrolled in the Day-old Chick (DOC) program. Cooperating clubs sign an agreement which states they agree to provide all labor and costs for raising the birds. Under this agreement, the clubs have two options to choose from:
- Public Hunting Option - which states the club will release pheasants on private land open to public pheasant hunting or on approved state-owned lands. Interested pheasant hunters must contact the landowner prior to pheasant hunting on private property.
- Cost Share Option - which states the clubs may release pheasants on private lands closed to public hunting, but they must return a percentage of the pheasants they raised back to the DNR according to the schedule provided as part of the agreement. The percentage returned is dependent on the pheasant age at the time of release.
The DOC program currently involves conservation clubs that normally receive about 30,000 rooster chicks annually. If your club is interested in becoming a DOC cooperator, fill out the application and agreement referenced above and mail to your local wildlife manager.
DOC clubs are required to submit a release location form by October 1 and a rearing report form by December 15 to their local wildlife manager. Failure to comply could result in denial of program participation in the future.
Private lands open to public hunting are available upon request from the State Game Farm or your local wildlife manager.
Learn to hunt
The State Game Farm also provides birds for Pheasant Learn to Hunt Programs statewide. The Learn to Hunt programs are excellent opportunities to provide hunting experience to novice hunters, introduce pheasant hunting to first-time hunters, and share outdoor experiences with others. Pheasant Learn to Hunt programs typically include a full day of classroom and field exercises that cover all aspects of pheasant hunting, including safe firearm handling, hunting regulations and ethics, upland gamebird biology and management, dog handling, and proper game cleaning techniques. Students typically start the day in the classroom covering the basic rules of firearm safety then practice their shooting skills on the trap range before heading to the field for a pheasant hunt. Students are mentored by volunteers and WDNR staff.
The State Game Farm is proud to support a program that promotes hunter education and recruitment, safe firearm handling, and wildlife conservation. If you are interested in finding out more about Pheasant Learn to Hunt programs in your area or would like to sponsor a Learn to Hunt program, check out Learn to Hunt.
The Wisconsin Experimental Game and Fur Farm was established in 1928 near Fish Creek on the Door County peninsula. This facility conducted breeding and propagating experiments on several species of pheasants as well as grouse and prairie chickens. The Wisconsin Conservation Department, now the Wisconsin DNR, took on this endeavor in response to several successful private introductions of pheasants to the state between1914-1920. Gustav Pabst is given credit for successfully establishing a wild pheasant population in Jefferson and Waukesha counties during this time. Public support for a state funded program grew as those initial populations expanded and as reports of pheasants providing a sporting challenge to wing-shooters came from surrounding states.
The Department expanded its pheasant rearing program over the next several years to include using the Waupun prison farm and 900 acres of land in Fond du Lac Co. leased from the Izaac Walton League. Eggs were shipped from the Fish Creek site to Waupun where they were hatched under setting hens. The chicks were reared by prison labor under the supervision of a full time gamekeeper. Experimental projects conducted on the Fond du Lac Co. site included breeding, hatching, rearing and stocking of pheasants, Hungarian partridge, chukars, bobwhite quail, and mallard ducks. In addition to game birds, the Department, in cooperation with the Wisconsin Raccoon Hunters Association, began a raccoon rearing and stocking program. Knowledge gained from these studies on methods and costs of captive and wild game production was passed on to private game farms and the general public. Public exhibits of 25 different game bird species, furbearers, black bear, and the rare (in southern Wisconsin) white-tailed deer were opened to the public. Over 25,000 people visited the facility in 1931. The game division also set up a series of land management displays and mounted animal exhibits, and took this show on the road to as many county fairs and exhibitions as possible.
The State Experimental Game and Fur Farm were consolidated and moved to its Poynette location in 1934. From 1934-38 the conservation department worked hand in hand with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to build a major facility for the propagating and stocking of exotic and native upland game species. The major emphasis was on the production and distribution of pheasants and other upland game birds. Twenty-seven different species of pheasants were raised in addition to Hungarian and chukar partridge, ruffed grouse, quail, turkeys, prairie chickens, and several species of geese and ducks. A modern hatchery capable of incubating 150,000 game bird eggs was completed in 1938 and is still in use today, although the original incubators were upgraded in the 1960s. The furbearer section included the propagation of mink, otter, raccoon, red, silver and gray fox, pine marten, and cottontail rabbits. The Department stocked between 1000-3000 raccoon annually from 1937 to 1957. The fur section was discontinued in the late 1950s.
The State Game Farm served not only as a propagation facility but also as a place for game management education and animal life-history research. Intensive study of breeding, captive housing, parasites, disease and nutrition of each species took place. A laboratory for diagnostic services and manufacturer of drugs and vaccines was established. A full time staff of veterinarians examined thousands of sick and dead birds and mammals annually. Public education on conservation and animal propagation was a top priority. Exhibits of each captive species were set up and guided tours were conducted daily. In 1940 over 60,000 people toured the public exhibits. The traveling exhibits continued to attend county and state fairs throughout the Midwest promoting wise use of our land, water, and animal resources.
Budget and Workforce
The pheasant stocking program expanded from 14,000 birds released in 1928 to 32,000 in 1932 to over 180,000 in 1939 when 65 full time employees were stationed at the State Game Farm. Production of game birds, mainly pheasants, has never been a cheap proposition. The pheasant operation was the largest of all projects, and the 1939 budget for pheasants alone was $151,000. In the ensuing decades the game bird operations at Poynette became more specialized, the number of species raised declined, and propagation techniques advanced so that fewer employees were needed to produce the same number or increasing numbers of birds. The overall budget continued to expand through the mid-1980s when the annual budget excluding permanent personnel peaked at over $402,000, while the number of full time employees continued to decline. Permanent personnel were reduced from 65 in 1939 to 55 in 1950, 30 in 1960, 24 in 1970, 13 in 1980, 11 in 1990, 8 in 2000, and the 2018 staffing level for the pheasant production operations consists of 6 full time employees. Pheasants produced for the release programs peaked at over 270,000 in 1957; gradually declined to 200,000 in 1970; hit a low of about 58,000 in 2004. Since 2013, release numbers are 75,000 pheasants through the Public Hunting Grounds program with approximately 22,000 additional pheasants released through the Day Old Chick program.
From its inception in the late 20’s the pheasant stocking programs took 3 forms: the cooperative egg program, the cooperative day-old chick (DOC) program, and the release of birds raised at Poynette for either introduction or expansion of pheasants in the wild or for hunting opportunity on public hunting grounds (PHG).
Cooperative Egg Program
The cooperative egg program was started in 1928 and ended in 1967. Fertile eggs were provided to 4H, FFA, and conservation clubs who used a variety of incubation methods (from setting hens to modern incubators) to hatch out the chicks. The young birds were then raised by the clubs and released onto private land at 6-14 weeks of age. This was a popular but very ineffective program. In some years over 40,000 eggs were distributed and less than 10,000 pheasants released. The average mortality rate prior to release for the history of the program was 80%.
Day-old Chick Program
The day-old chick cooperator program was similar in intent to the egg program but more efficient in that the pheasant chicks were hatched at Poynette and then distributed to the cooperating clubs to raise and release. Initiated in 1936 at a 30,000 bird level, this program reached a peak distribution of over 190,000 chicks to 200+ conservation clubs in 1958. The original role of the DOC program was to get grass roots support and participation in pheasant management. Participating clubs were provided birds and would release them on private land deemed as good pheasant cover that was open for the public to hunt. Original objectives were to establish and expand pheasant populations as well as to provide hunting opportunity.
Public Hunting Ground Stocking Program
Stocking of pheasants raised at the State Game Farm has gone on since 1928. From 1928 through 1957 birds of both sexes from various strains (but mostly Chinese ring-necked) were released onto both private and state-owned land. Releases were done in every county until the mid-1940s. Many different strategies for releasing were used including stocking throughout the year and releasing birds of 4 weeks of age to over a year in age. Since 1958 pheasant stocking from the State game farm has been a fall release of predominantly roosters onto state owned or leased lands for providing short term hunting opportunity. The public hunting grounds stocking program has released between 30,000 to 74,000 birds annually on 70-90 public hunting grounds since it began. Many of the public lands purchased in the 1940’ through the 1960s were acquired with pheasant hunting (and stocking of pheasants to supplement wild bird numbers) as a primary objective.
F1 Experimental Release
From 1986 – 2005, WDNR initiated an experimental wild pheasant release program funded by pheasant stamp money. The breeding of wild-trapped pheasants from Iowa (1986-2004) and a flock of pheasants imported as eggs from the Jilin Province of The Peoples Republic in China (1990 – 1994) produced first generation (F1) progeny that were reared for release onto study areas. F1s were released into large tracts (10,000 acres minimum) of both public and private land that had improved habitat but low pheasant populations. A target of 350 hens and 150 roosters were released onto each project area for three consecutive years and then stocking was stopped. Populations were monitored through winter flushing counts to determine sex ratios and spring crowing counts. Results are mixed on the almost 30 study areas where birds were released. It appears that the F1 releases were effective in establishing self-sustaining populations of pheasants if habitat requirements were met and original pheasant populations were low or non-existent. However, control areas where no stocking was done have shown equal or greater pheasant population response to improved habitat. Research bears out that if the proper habitat is established and maintained, and existing pheasant populations are holding on even in low numbers, pheasant numbers will increase regardless of whether birds are stocked or not. In layman’s terms, the F1 releases simply jump started what would have occurred naturally. These results, combined with the inability to procure additional wild breeding stock, have led the Department to end the F1 release program.
The State Game Farm operations and cooperative rearing programs have had significant impacts on pheasant hunting since 1928. Over 12 million pheasants have been produced and released at the State Game Farm, first helping to establish the birds throughout their range, and secondly to provide direct hunting opportunity through put-take stocking. The program has always been controversial among biologists and hunters alike, many of whom feel the WDNR obligation is to manage pheasant numbers through habitat programs rather than spending the money and devoting the personnel to produce pen reared pheasants for hunting opportunity. Conversely, the program has had overwhelming support from hunters and conservation clubs that hunt both public lands and private land where pheasants are stocked. Regardless of either viewpoint, history bears out that the State Game Farm has been one of the longest lasting and highly visible single species focused programs ever undertaken by the agency, and its operation and resulting products have touched the lives of millions of Wisconsin citizens over the years.
Due to biosecurity protocols and disease prevention efforts, we are unable to give public tours at this time. Virtual tours may be available in the future; please check back.Directions from U.S. Hwy 51 in Poynette:
- Take Cty. Hwy Q/CS east for approximately 1/2 mile
- Turn right on Bohling Rd. for approximately 1/2 mile to T intersection
- Turn left on Stebbins Rd.
- Stebbins Rd. will end and the Game Farm office is the first building on the right