By Emily Johnson,
Young NAGA Member Pursues Dream of Raising Pheasants
Isaac Evans, one of the North American Gamebird Association’s youngest members, is already well on his way to carving out a future in the gamebird industry.
Evans, of Santaquin, Utah, is a 16-year-old high school student at nearby Salem Hills High School, and he is determined to turn a lifelong passion for gamebirds into a full-time career.
From the time he was old enough to lend a helping hand on the family farm, Evans has worked beside his father, Josh Evans, tending the family’s gamebird flock. “He was always in the pheasant pen,” the elder Evans recalls with a smile. “I believe this sparked his lifelong love of wildlife, along with an increased interest in the gamebird industry.”
Isaac is a third-generation member of the Future Farmers of America. His grandfather was a part of FFA in the 1970s, and both his mother and father participated in the program as well. For Isaac, being a part of FFA and working in the gamebird industry allows him to carry on a cherished family tradition
Future Farmers of America has three different components that are necessary to being a member. There is classroom curriculum, participating in competitions and, lastly, a supervised agricultural experience. The experience is chosen by each individual member, and supervised by his or her parents.
Considering how much passion as Evans has for gamebirds, there was no question that when it came time to do his FFA Supervised Agricultural Experience that he would try to create his own pheasant-raising business.
Evans is very active in the local Salem Hills FFA chapter, and when he applied for a grant necessary to begin building his business, he was quickly approved. “It was really exciting when Isaac was chosen, because the FFA only gives out 150 grants a year,” says his father.
Josh Evans is not just Isaac’s father, he is also the agriculture instructor at Salem Hills—which is unlike most other high schools across the country. The school has a large animal facility, where students are able to keep and raise project livestock right on school grounds.
Remarkably, the school had enough space to accommodate Evans’ start-up flock of pheasants—all 300 of them. At this writing, the birds are around ten weeks old, and Evans is currently relocating them to larger pens. “It’s a lot of work, and you’re always moving around, but it’s worth it,” he explains, noting that holding the birds is his favorite part of the experience. “It’s very relaxing,” he reports.
When Evans started his business, he began with 320 birds and is now down to approximately 285. He purchased day old birds, and went through the entire brooding process. Not only has he learned what temperature to keep the birds at, but he has also learned how to gradually decrease the temperature in order to prepare the birds for natural day and night temperatures.
Evans didn’t stop there. He did extensive research on his own about what the protein content of the feed needed to be for the birds at certain ages. His father says, “we have a local mill that formulates a great bird ration. He spent 8 weeks feeding and watering twice a day until we moved them to the flight pen two weeks ago.”
The biggest learning obstacle, according to Evans, is making adjustments to the pen. “Every day is a learning experience,” he says. He has spent a lot of time looking up designs for brooders and flight pens in order to know what would work for the space available and to accommodate the space needed by the birds as well.
The research and learning experiences continue for Evans as he figures out what to do with his young flock. So far, his bird clients consist of hunting dog trainers. “For some reason in our area there is a shortage of birds to train dogs with,” the elder Evans says. “We will be selling the birds to residents as well. In Utah, you can buy up to 50 birds and legally hunt them on your own property.”
Isaac also raised 50 birds for the Division of Wildlife Resources to release two weeks before the pheasant hunting season opens—benefiting hunters and boosting the pheasant population.
For Evans, this is just a stepping stone toward a future in the gamebird industry. “I want to go to college for wildlife biology, and continue to work with birds,” he says.
Next year Evans plans to hatch out 100 birds on his own, and after that buy the rest day-old. He may try his hand at brood stock as well.
“I’ve learned a lot, and can’t wait to see where it goes,” says Isaac, who is quick to express his gratitude toward the FFA and his school for giving him this unique learning opportunity.
Another rewarding aspect of Evans’ experience is that the local FFA Chapter is going to use his gamebird-rearing project as a model for other students who are interested in the industry—in effect, allowing this enterprising and determined young NAGA member to share his knowledge and love of gamebirds with other members of the next generation of gamebird producers.