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'It's a good talking piece' Flushing out pheasants safely

A pheasant flushing bar created by Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Biologist Mike Blaalid is displayed Wednesday during Dakotafest in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/Republic)

To protect pheasants in South Dakota fields, what's old is new again.

A Mitchell pheasant advocate has created a flushing bar, a way to save pheasants from spring hay cutting in the field, which can put growing pheasants at risk.

"It's a something to think about and it's a solution that we can have to keep some critters from being killed," Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Biologist Mike Blaalid said. "Dakotafest just seemed like the right place to show it off."

Blaalid had the flushing bar created as an example for the local Pheasants Forever chapter to put on display at Dakotafest this week at the Cabela's booth. Blaalid said he wanted to start a conversation on how to prevent as many pheasant deaths as possible.

Blaalid said his prototype was created with the help of a local welder and cost about $700. He said many local farmers would probably be able to create one for much less, if they have extra pieces of metal on hand and are able to do their own welding.

The flushing bar is mounted on the front of a tractor and is located in front of the hay mower. A set of chains runs against the ground to disturb the nests that may be located on the ground and allows the hens to get out of the way prior to the mower's cutting of the hay. The nest is usually destroyed when hay is cut in early spring, but pheasants will frequently re-nest in nearby locations, Blaalid said. Allowing hens to survive increases the chance that they will be able reproduce later during safer times of the year, and eventually would facilitate increases in the pheasant population.

He said it would also be helpful for other small game birds and fawns that are at risk when hay cutting occurs.

"It's really not a big change for many landowners if they're going to do it," he said. "It's only adding to what they're already doing."

Blaalid said the concept of a flushing bar is not new. He said they were used in the 1930s and 1940s. Another way to help pheasants during the haying season is to cut from end-to-end in a field and not in a circular route, or outside and inward through the field.

The flushing bar on display at Dakotafest is not for sale, mainly because it has not been mass-produced. Blaalid said it may be tough for someone to mass produce a flushing bar that's one-size-fits-all because of different field sizes and different-sized tractors.

"It's a good talking piece. We know there's got to be a better way, and this might be that," he said.