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Top South Dakota game lodge shares pheasant farming tips

Slideshow: Intense crop management has helped Michael Bollweg successfully raise both grain and game birds.

It would be a stretch to say Michael Bollweg of Harrold, S.D., has a livestock operation. Pheasants, Hungarian partridges, sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chickens aren’t the usual suite of animals on South Dakota farms, and Bollweg doesn’t exactly raise them.

But it’s absolutely true that Bollweg, 46, who graduated from South Dakota State University with degrees in agronomy and ag business, manages his farm with those upland game birds in mind. All four species can be found on land Bollweg owns south of Harrold and some additional acres that he leases for grouse and prairie chickens.

Additionally, Bollweg releases some pheasants and Hungarian partridges early in the year to supplement the wild populations on two hunting preserves he’s licensed to operate through the state.

Bollweg operates Bollweg Farms and also Tumbleweed Lodge. It has been named one of the 10 greatest hunting lodges in the world by The Outdoor Channel, and as one of the top 20 wing shooting destinations in the world by outdoor author Steve Smith. The lodge, started by Michael’s parents, has been operating for more than 30 years.

The ag management that makes the lodge so successful is intense.

“We’re still learning,” Bollweg says. “I’ll be the first to admit we’re picking up new ideas all the time.”

Here’s a look at what works well for Bollweg Farms and the Tumbleweed Lodge:

No-till. Bollweg Farms has been using no-till farming practices for 30 years to conserve soil. It’s a natural fit for a hunting operation, too, since it leaves more cover on the ground compared to tillage practices.

Diverse rotations. Spring wheat, winter wheat, corn, soybeans and grain sorghum are the main crops in the farm’s rotations, often seeded in 90- and 180-foot-wide strips.

“We have found that winter wheat, in particular, is a better nesting cover than cold-season grasses that you tend to find in CRP,” Bollweg says. Bollweg Farms also plants canola, turnip, radish, vetch and forage peas as cover crops.

Predator control. The operation traps and disposes of egg robbers, such as skunks, raccoons, feral cats, coyotes, badgers and opossums. However, eagles and other protected birds of prey abound in the area, and the Tumbleweed Lodge accepts that the birds will dine on pheasant.

“That’s just nature,” Bollweg says. “We appreciate the beauty of America’s bird.”

Insects. Bollweg plans for them just as other producers do — but not always for the same reasons.

“We have a good mix of cold- and warm-season grasses, along with legumes like alfalfa and clover that attract insects. So those birds, in the spring and early summer as they’re getting of age, they’re eating bugs.”

Winter habitat. Shelterbelts are designed with a minimum of five rows of trees, primarily eastern red cedar, but also chokecherry, plum and apricot.

Water. There are natural ponds throughout the property, and the lodge also has a geothermal well. The heat is pulled off to help heat the lodge and dog kennel and the water then flows into two of the ponds.

Drones. The lodge not only uses them to film hunters on their hunts at Tumbleweed, but also to scout some of the hard-to-reach places on the farm for weeds or other issues.

Farm roads. Roads through the property are graveled, and that’s not solely for the ease of getting hunters around. Upland game birds need grit.

Bollweg emphasizes his operation is a working farm that, if anything, requires a little more intense management.

“It’s value-added agriculture. You’re developing your resources,” Bollweg says. “You’re developing a great bird population simply by being a good steward of the land.”

Nixon is a writer from Pierre, S.D.

TAGS: Crops hunting
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