Fire Damages Pheasant Preserve

Thursday, January 02, 2014
Shoreham, Vt. — A New Year’s Eve fire is threatening the future of a game preserve in Shoreham, Vt.

Since 1993, Peaceable Hill Farm on Burgess Road has hatched and raised up to 90,000 ringneck pheasants a year.

But Tuesday afternoon flames tore through a barn that housed the preserve’s hatchery along with a tractor, other equipment, hay and more than 100 adult pheasants, according to owner Glenn Symon. A granary near the barn was also consumed by flames.

“The important thing is no one was hurt,” Symon said the day after the blaze.

The destruction could also have been worse if the flames had spread to other nearby farm buildings or to the nearby house where Symon and his wife live.

But thanks to the efforts of firefighters from four towns along with winds that were blowing away from the homestead, the damage was limited.

“They did an admirable job,” he said of the firefighting crews from Shoreham, Orwell, Bridport and Whiting that fought the fire in frigid temperatures Tuesday afternoon.

But the loss of the barn — and the hatchery in particular — has left the future of Symon’s enterprise in question.

In the past, the preserve and game farm has produced 160,000 eggs a year — more than 20,000 of which were sold annually. Of the eggs that hatched, about 90,000 were sold. Roughly another 1,000 birds stayed at the preserve where customers can pay to hunt them from September to April. Some birds are also used during the other half of the year for customers training bird dogs, Symon said.

The pheasants lost in the blaze were among the birds kept on the farm. Their loss could limit hunting on the farm this year, but the loss of the hatchery would have a more profound effect unless it’s replaced soon.

Near the end of February each year the preserve begins incubating eggs that hatch at a rate of more than 3,000 a week to meet orders submitted by customers months in advance.

With the hatchery gone, Symon said he needs to decide soon whether to replace the facility or advise his customers to look elsewhere.

“I’m taking a day here before I think about it,” he said.

As bad as the fire was, Symon said there were saving graces that kept it from being worse.

For starters, the building was insured and the 2,200 laying hens usually housed there were sold last year.

The loss of the hay destroyed in the blaze will probably force Symon to either buy feed for his beef cattle or sell the herd.

The day after the fire, he said he’d received about a dozen emails and almost as many phone calls from other farmers offering to help feed his herd.

But Symon said that while he appreciates the offers of help, he believes the other farmers in the region need the feed more than he does.

“The reality is there’s not a need like that here,” he said.

The 59-year-old farmer and game preserve owner said he wouldn’t even call 2013 a bad year despite the way it ended.

“I had a granddaughter born on June 12 so it’s still a good year in my book,” he said.

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