Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, May 14, 2001

Waterfowl are more than a hobby for local farmer

By Patrice Waldron

What started with a pair of geese and a pair of wood ducks has turned into a major endeavor for Harlan Stender of rural New Germany.

His flock is almost out of control with about 500 feathered friends. Harlan didn't know what he was getting into when he started raising birds.

"I never thought I'd have this many," he said.

Raising birds is almost a full-time job for Harlan, a dairy farmer.

After the cows are milked in the morning, it's out to the pens to tend his flock.

There is fresh, constant running water going to the pens, and there is food to distribute. The birds receive high-quality food, with the amount of protein varying with the time of the year.

There is also a bit of wheat mixed with the pellets, and ground oyster shells are added as a necessary ingredient for shell production while the birds are laying.

Harlan has also come up with his own feed mixture, which he has made in Howard Lake at Munson Lakes Nutrition. The feed is then delivered to his farm.

There are many different types of ducks, geese, pheasants, and swans.

It's difficult to grasp how many ducks, geese, and swans occupy the large pens on the Stender farm until one walks around the pens looking at all the magnificent birds.

There are trumpeter swans with long, graceful necks, and distinctive calls. They seem to talk to each other in a language all their own.

Harlan has built many pens for the birds, and the pens are all covered with overhead netting to keep them safe. The pens contain large shrubs, bushes, and trees. One pen has an apple tree in it.

When arriving at the farm, the pens aren't readily visible. You don't realize that they're there until Harlan gives the tour.

Many of the things Harlan does to take care of the birds have been learned through a process of trial and error.

"I've read a lot of books about different waterfowl. Not everyone will spend money on books, but I have some which I've bought for the beautiful photos," said Harlan.

Some birds almost have their own personalities. Geese can be especially territorial, so Harlan has learned which ones need to remain separated from the others.

Experience, learning a little more each year, and belonging to a breeding club have also helped Harlan raise beautiful birds.

The number of birds that Harlan raises can make for a very expensive hobby. The cost of keeping the netting in place and free from holes, and the food, are the largest expenses.

To try and keep costs down, Harlan sells birds through the mail. In past years, he's placed a couple of advertisements in several different magazines, and has sold birds through the mail to people all over the United States and Canada, and as far away as Alaska.

The advertisements have paid off, and this year, he will probably save a couple hundred dollars because he may not even have to run the ads. He also has repeat customers, with some folks from Canada driving down to pick up their order of birds.

Just like everything else, Harlan must keep detailed records on his flock. He has a waterfowl permit, must fill out monthly reports, and must report the death of any bird to the state.

If Harlan has a bird which dies, but that is in nice condition, the carcass will be frozen until it is requested by a taxidermist, who may purchase it for mounting.

Part of what keeps Harlan busy is the ingenuity and resourcefulness exhibited in his pens. Small kiddie swimming pools are now water ponds for his birds, and old tires are nesting bases.

Harlan has learned to search the bargain bin at large home improvement stores, using things such as old pieces of metal sheeting to make up the base of the pens.

"It keeps me out of trouble," said Harlan.

When surveying the pens, it's not just the beautiful, colorful birds that are seen, Harlan's handiwork is visible as well.

There are many different types of nesting areas visible in the pens. Old tires, wooden boxes, which Harlan builds himself, and some nests are built right on the ground.

One could see the nests in progress. Some birds made nests in wooden box-type houses, and some birds built nests so far under the shrubs that the nest was barely visible.

"I give the birds hay for their nests because it's softer and more natural than straw," said Harlan.

When the birds are laying, as they are now, each will lay from about six to 10 eggs. Not all of the eggs will hatch, but there's still quite a few birds added to the flock each year.

When he's in the pens in the morning feeding the birds, he's also checking the nests for eggs, and collecting eggs which are found outside of the nest.

Harlan keeps a few chickens on hand so that if eggs have been abandoned they can be placed under the chickens who will set on anything, explained Harlan.

The flock is large, as is Harlan's knowledge of his birds. The birds are magnificent, each beautiful in its own way.

He belongs to a club which meets every other month at a different member's house. The meetings are a chance to show off one's birds, exchange information, and meet with others who share the same passion for birds.

Every year, Harlan adds at least a couple new birds. New this year are a pair of peacocks.

There is more to taking care of the birds than just giving them food and water.

Harlan said that caring for the birds keeps him out of trouble, but it seems the care and attention they receive is a labor of love.

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