The Planted Row: Agriculture equals nature plus work

Farm Forum

This week is National Agriculture Week, and it’s a good time to remember that ag comes in a lot of different forms. From forestry to aquaculture to forage crops to insects to livestock to row crops, agriculture is the source for so many of our items we use.

Last week I was introduced to yet another form of ag. Loretta Omland of Gisi Pheasant Farms, LLC near Ipswich spoke to the Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce Ag Committee at our monthly meeting. She was an excellent speaker, and her presentation opened my eyes to a type of agriculture I’d never experienced before.

Even though I’m not originally from this part of the world, it didn’t take me long to figure out how important pheasant hunting is to this area. When I prepared to move here in 2009, the first person I told responded, “Aberdeen? They have great pheasant hunting there.”

Faced with lower numbers of wild birds, many land owners choose to supplement the local population with pen-raised birds. Gisi Pheasant Farms is set up to help them out.

The farm was started in 1985 by Omland’s father, Gary Gisi, and it now has five laying barns. Each one is 50 feet by 300 feet. Omland said the hens in the barns given increasing amounts of light, an indicator to the hens to begin laying. They stagger the introduction of the light in the barns so that not every barn has hens laying at the same time.

Omland said their operation picked 1,125,000 eggs last year – by hand. Just 6 workers pick the eggs 7 days a week. When one of the workers is unable to show up, Omland takes his or her place, bending over and picking eggs. She said the hens lay about 78 eggs per hen. Those hens must be pretty tuckered out by the end of the season.

Omland said the eggs have an 80 percent hatch rate. After the eggs are picked, they are eventually moved to the incubator. She said the farm hatches 43,000 – 56,000 chicks per week.

When they are old enough, the chicks are moved into the pens. The farm has pens in several different locations. Omland said her father’s philosophy was that if one area got hail, another might not, so he literally has chosen not to put all his eggs in one basket.

The workers are instructed to not drive around the long pens if they can help it, which have both cover and long open areas so the birds can learn how to fly. In fact, the workers spend as little time near the pens as possible so that the birds won’t become accustomed to humans and will fly up when approached by a hunter in the wild. That’s a difficult challenge, however, as the screens covering the cages are constantly assaulted by wildlife and need occasional repairs.

The biggest takeaway I from Omland’s presentation was how much work her family and their employees put into producing hens that will be able to survive on their own in the wild and will react like a wild bird does to hunters. And really, that’s the core of agriculture: nature plus work. The nature part is important, but so is the work. Omland says that one of her family members who isn’t involved in the operation and thinks the rest of them work too hard. Her response: “Well, it’s a lifestyle.”

That it is.

For all of you living that lifestyle, I salute you, and I thank you.

Contest winner

Over the past year, the Farm Forum has celebrated it’s 50th anniversary by hosting a weekly contest. Fifty winners were drawn a random, and they were sent a desktop windmill. Each of those winners has been entered into a drawing to win our grand prize — $5,000! We’ll announce the winner next week in a video on our Facebook page and on our website,