Member Feature Story

Meet Bret Fouché – interview and photos by Ken Eastep




Bret stands in front of his new pens with one of his friendly Silkys
Well, we're finally moving the story about our webmaster off of the features page. It's about time really, as it was my original hope to feature various members of our club in this section of our site on a regular basis. I had put out a call to all members asking you to send me your stories so that we can all share our experiences – whether good or bad – in an effort to give insight into what we are intested in and how we have learned from the day-to-day care of our birds. Well, we finally have some good news. We're moving on, and our first member featured here is Bret Fouché. Bret lives in Walkersville, Maryland, and is one of the few members of the club that don't actually live in Pennsylvania.

I visited with Bret on a brisk November morning at his home in Walkersville, Maryland to chat about his birds, take a few pictures, and gain an understanding of where Bret is in the hobby... the answers to the following questions and accompanying images came out of that meeting.

How long have you been an aviculturalist Bret?
I’ve been raising birds pretty much my entire life. I would say I started when I was 8 or 9 years old, so it’s been 20+ years now.

You know Bret, we all have our story about how we became interested in keeping birds. What's yours?

First off let me say this can be an addicting hobby. That said, I started by raising a couple of Rhode Island Red chicks that I got from a local feed store. I got to the point where I wanted to try new breeds and pretty soon my interest expanded into ducks, pheasants, and quail. I eventually gave up on the ducks but I continued to add new species of chickens, pheasants and quail over the years. Eventually I added some peafowl to my collection and I still have a few on hand. What started as a couple of feed store chicks has turned into a flock of 100+/- birds, which expands to several hundred during hatching season.

Assuming this is a hobby Bret (you can expound on the business aspect of it too), what is the most fascinating thing about keeping birds for you?

This is definitely not a business, unless you’re in the business of losing money. I do this strictly as a hobby in hopes to sell a few birds and get a little feed money back in my pocket. I’ve never talked to anyone who actually made money doing this. The most fascinating aspect of this hobby is hatching and raising chicks. It’s very rewarding when you are able to have successful hatches and raise chicks into full-grown adult birds.

How have you gained your knowledge of the birds you keep? Has anyone been particularly helpful, and why?

I’ve learned from my past experiences.. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve made several mistakes over the years in raising birds, but I can say I’ve learned from them. You are always learning something new in this hobby. I’ve also learned many things from talking to and visiting with fellow bird enthusiasts.

What is your routine for keeping your birds during the four seasons of the year? Is there anything that would be of particular interest to others?

In the spring I separate all of my birds into breeding pens. This helps keep species pure and reduces fighting. When breeding season is over (August) I will start to put birds in “community pens” to cut down on the number of pens I have to feed and water. I have a routine of giving everything fresh water daily and fresh feed every other day. I believe this is the key to raising healthy birds.

I've seen first hand, the nice new pens you are adding for your birds. Tell us about them, and why they are so special.
Last year I decided to bite the bullet and get some new pens. I was using chain link dog kennels with flight netting and tarps over them. They worked just fine but I got tired of clearing the snow off them in the winter months. I also wanted to raise my birds off the ground and under drier conditions. I replaced 4 chain link pens with modified dog cabins. They have an A-frame roof which keeps the rain and snow off the birds. They also have a flight area and a built-in shelter area. Another good feature is the floor, which is made out of poly wood which lasts forever and is easy to clean. They came in handy last winter after all of the snow we got. These pens work great and I’m in the process of getting a few more.


Bret's new pens keep his birds high and dry. They have a long-wearing epoxy finish, making them a long-lasting investment in the future of his hobby.

It was a challenging winter last year for many of us in the club. Tell us about your experience with all of the snow and how it affected keeping your birds safe and cared for.

Last winter was a nightmare! During the blizzard of 2010, I was out just about every hour cleaning snow off the tops of my remaining chain link pens so no accumulation would occur. After the snow stopped, I had it piled so high that you literally could not see the pens. What took me an hour to feed and water took 3 times as long. I normally cut paths to the pens with our snowblower but the snow was too much for it to handle, so my path was what I walked down. It was a real pain to deal with the birds until all of the snow melted which took well over a month. As much as I love this hobby I seriously considered getting out of it, or at least cutting back after last winter. Once spring time came, I quickly forgot about it and ended up adding more birds. Go figure!

 

Our two big events for the year are the tailgates at Lake Tobias in the fall, and Clearfield in the spring. I'm not sure about Clearfield, but I've seen you at Tobias the last couple of years. What are your observations about the tailgates.
I've never been able to attend the spring tailgate, but the fall tailgate at Lake Tobias is the best around! I always look forward to seeing old friends up there and meeting new ones every year. It's a great place to sell birds that you normally couldn't sell locally, and it's about the best place to buy birds. I normally try to sell more birds than I buy so I thin out my flock, but it doesn't always work out that way. I also enjoy walking around the zoo. It's a very enjoyable and relaxing day and it didn't rain this year which was a pleasant surprise!


Now that you have been doing this for 20 years, you've gained a lot of knowledge. From your perspective, and learned experience Bret, what sort of advice would you give to someone who is new to keeping birds?
My advice is to start out small. Start out with a pair or two of birds that are easy to raise, like chickens or Golden pheasants. If you have success with them, make sure you have sufficient pen space for any new bids you may want to add. There is nothing worse than overcrowding birds. This leads to fighting and cross breeding. I also strongly recommend making sure your pens are secure. Everyone who raises birds will tell you no matter how “predator proof” you think your pens are, there is always a way an unwanted critter can get in. Take the extra time before you get your birds to make sure your pens are up to par.



Where do you see yourself in the future with your hobby – anything you would like to do that you haven't yet done?
I see myself raising birds until I can't anymore. I really do enjoy it. And while I've gotten into it more than I really wanted, I love every minute of it. I would eventually like to focus on JUST Tragopans and Eared Pheasants but in order to do that, I'd have to get rid of everything else, which is easier said than done. As I said earlier, this is an addicting hobby that seems to get bigger and bigger each year for me.