Kansas farm raises crops, cattle and game birds
for The Fence Post
With anticipation mounting for the fall hunting season, this is an exciting time now for raising pheasants and chukars at a north central Kansas gamebird habitat and hunting area called ‘Kansas Creek Gamebirds’ near Concordia, Kan.
While the actual hunting season is from: early November to the end of January, CSA season (Controlled Shooting Area) season is from September to April. The summer is also an important time of preparation.
Cindy Sis, employee of Kansas Creek Gamebirds has impassioned enthusiasm; working with the owners Rod and Lorita Zohn and their son Stephan Zohn. Stephan and Cindy handle the vast farming chores at this Kansas hunting area, while Rod and Lorita operate their hunting and fishing resort, Lac Seul Lodge, in Northwest Ontario, Canada.
Sis is immersed in raising the pheasants and chukars. The chukars are partridges that are a size that’s halfway between a pheasant and a quail, and are grey colored with bold, vertical black bars on the sides.
Sis’s positive energy on the job helps propel her numerous hands-on duties from sun-up to sundown this summer.
“That’s because we’ll end up with around 25,000 pheasants and 5,000 chukars. I love being outdoors and hunting, so anything that has to do with pheasants, deer, turkey or other game animals is right up my alley. What is really awesome too is the many people I get to meet and know during the hunting season,” said Sis, who left a job as a full-time mechanic to help raise the wildlife on the hunting property.
“I take care of the birds, from raising them from a day old to the time we start to hunt. They are a lot more work than what you would think. From getting the brooder houses ready for the chicks, to putting blinders on them, (they are cannibalistic and will peck one another) to finally putting them in the flight pens. I also make sure the flight pens are ready by fixing holes in the nets, making sure there are no holes around the bottom where critters can get in, and mowing strips in the weeds in the pens so we can get around,” Sis said. She also helps spray the feed strips to keep weeds out where they hunt, among plenty of other chores.
Sis, and the Zohn pull out all the stops to create a fun, safe experience for hunters. But there’s still plenty of behind-the-scenes work.
“While hunting season stretches from September to April on our CSA, the off season is just as busy. Hatches of day old birds start to arrive in May and the last hatch in August,” Stephan Zohn said. “We spend time on day to day chores and flight pen maintenance. The first several weeks of the birds life are spent in brooder rooms where we can control the temperature. We put blinders on the birds at four weeks of age, because of the cannibalism,” Zohn said.
The birds are moved to the flight pens at eight weeks. Constant patrolling of the flight pens is necessary to monitor for any sickness or predator problems.
“We typically do not see many visitors come through in the off season due to biosecurity reasons. We try to limit the possibility of outside diseases coming in,” Zohn said.
FROM HOBBY TO BUSINESS
Kansas Creek Gamebirds was established in 1998 by Rod Zohn and Joe Melhus. Sadly, Joe passed away in 2006. Rod and his wife Lorita Zohn and their family continued the business after his passing.
“It was not originally started as a business, but a way to keep their families involved in hunting with the wild bird population on the decline. They wanted their families to experience what they had through their years of hunting,” Stephan Zohn said. It was not long after that this hobby turned into a business.
“Through the years we have built up a great client base. Many of our clients are repeat customers, and several new groups are accommodated every year as well. Our friendly staff and great flying birds can be accredited to our business success,” Zohn said.
What Zohn likes best about the entire operation is when hunters arrive.
“The payoff is in the wintertime when we see the hunters come back. There are a lot of ‘regulars’ but there are also new hunters each season. People enjoy the hunting as well as the camaraderie that goes with it,” Zohn said.
A nearby bed and breakfast Inn, the Kansas Creek Inn outside of Concordia, Kan., has melded into a great partnership; making grand, home-cooked meals for the hunters.
“The hunters stay here, and even if they don’t — we cook a big breakfast for them with biscuits and gravy, a meat, eggs and pastries. They also have supper here too — they may be tired and some don’t have home-cooked meals anymore,” said Betsy Reed, owner of Kansas Creek Inn. Reed prepares three nights of mouth-watering suppers for the hunters, and kicks off the first night with a choice of chicken fried steak or roast beef. “They always want their pies, so we make coconut cream pie, apple pie, lemon meringue pie or whatever they want,” Reed said. The dinner includes corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, rolls and salad.
Smoked pork chops and steak are on the menu for the second and third nights. Reed also prepares and delivers lunch to the hunting lodge for the hunters. “I’ve got people here year-round. I actually had a ‘B and B’ in Nebraska.”
She has owned Kansas Creek Inn since 2006. That’s when Joe (Melhus) who was her boyfriend, passed away. Subsequently, the Zohns lost a business partner, and Reed lost her life partner.
“When Joe passed away, it was time for me to make a move. I grew up on a farm in eastern Nebraska, and wanted a farm here. I have hair sheep, and meat and dairy goats,” said Reed, who makes ice cream from the dairy goats, as well as homemade soap.
For Stephan, and Cindy, and Betsy too, it’s all about passion for their work. “A lot of hours, but some days are give and take,” Zohn said.
In addition to raising and taking care of the birds, Zohn and Sis also handle the family farming business; growing corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa, and raising a cow-calf herd.
An agriculture background has given her a strong foundation. “I grew up on a farm so some things I have been around for quite some time,” Sis said.
Sis has great curiosity and intense interest.
“I have been working for Rod and Lorita Zohn for three years and I’m still learning things every day,” she said.
— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at email@example.com.