Meet the Illinois Farm Family That Raises Pheasants (VIDEO)
Cavan Sullivan was the self-claimed “weird kid” who excitedly received an egg incubator for Christmas.
Family and friends would bring him eggs to hatch, and one day, his grandpa brought pheasant eggs after he accidentally mowed over a hen in a hayfield. This single nest triggered a hobby, award-winning FFA project and now full-fledged business of selling ring-necked pheasants, pheasant eggs, as many as 80,000 chicks, started birds or flight-ready pheasants per year. The Sullivan family soon added turkeys and chickens. In late 2016, they opened a processing facility to harvest and sell meat from those birds, pheasants included.
“I found a way to make a living at this, and sometimes I have to say that with a smirk on my face,” says Sullivan, a 35-year-old Menard County farmer. “I keep growing this business and redoubling down and reinvesting a lot of that in the system and growing each new element of it.”
Today, Sullivan, wife, Sydney, and brother, Steele, own three bird-related businesses north of Springfield: Sullivan Pheasant & Game Farm, a hatchery and pheasant producing company; Sangamon Valley Wild Wings, a licensed 460-acre hunting preserve stocked with game birds; and Petersburg Poultry Processing, a USDA licensed and inspected poultry slaughter facility.
These family businesses serve hunters, conservationists, dog trainers, backyard chicken owners, local farmers, gourmet chefs and high-end grocers. The family’s companies collectively sell live birds, poultry meat and processing services, as well as opportunities for local farmers to raise Sullivan birds for additional farm income.
“These businesses are extensions of my own interests,” says Sullivan, who has degrees in biology, environmental science and chemistry, and a master’s in animal behavior. “This is my calling.”
Farm Business Spreads Its Wings
Sullivan’s calling provides diversified revenue streams for his farming family. The family adds more value to their farm’s grains and forages through the production and sale of beef cattle, and primarily, high-quality birds.
Beyond selling live pheasants, they raise and process turkeys, which they sell to foodservice companies. They also breed and raise a variety of meat pheasants, popular among restaurants and top-tier grocers in Chicago and St. Louis.
The demand for their poultry meat grew so much that the family opened its own USDA-inspected poultry processing facility in Petersburg. The Sullivans started to hatch and sell chickens, including Cornish Rock broilers (chickens raised for meat) and heritage chickens, raising some themselves and some on contract with local farmers. They hope to contract with enough farmers in 2019 to raise 400,000 broilers for niche markets.
The family cares for all their birds with a specific set of animal care and feeding parameters that some customers want to buy for a premium.
“We’re looking for customers who want something incredibly unique that the larger industry is not flexible enough to be able to offer,” Sullivan says. “Very few others are doing what we’re doing, so we can set our own prices, and we can focus on the mechanics of making it work.”
Meanwhile, the Sullivan family’s processing business serves small flock owners who need access to a USDA-certified poultry harvest facility, one of few in the state.
“I hope to create something that can be an economic engine for the community,” says Sullivan, whose family employs 22 people. “It would be amazing to say we are consuming all the grain our county is producing – a single load of grain doesn’t leave in a truck or a sack, but rather is converted into animal protein.”