BILLINGS — The Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch near Billings has piloted an innovative aviculture program to help youth develop responsibility, nurturing skills, and empathy by fostering ring neck pheasants.
The boys and girls ranch welcomed its first flock of three-day old pheasant chicks in late May and its first set of eggs in June. Principal Cass Cole says for two months, the young men and women have been learning valuable life skills by taking care of living animals.
“It just really lets them be involved in that whole process, takes some ownership of the of the program,” said Cole. “They love to come over here with their therapist, with many of the large staff and just sit with the birds. You know, they can be very angry about something or having some struggles in the classroom or at home. And they kind of come in here and go outside with the birds out there and just watch them and it just really seems to just put them at ease. So, it's been a real good therapeutic program for us.”
Students at the ranch, like Eli Grande from Deer Lodge, appreciate the opportunity to be part of the new program and what it’s teaching them. Plus, they're having a little fun with the pheasants.
“Every night my lodge comes out here, and we change their water and make sure the food is up high and stuff,” said Grande. “And then we just hang out with them and try to catch them. And our lodge is one of the most trustworthy lodges. So, they chose us and we're like yes, we really want to do this. So, we came out here and we started doing it. We really like it.”
Laurel’s Bohdy Martin agrees.
“The pheasants are fast, and it’s fun,” said Martin.
Cole says to see students like Eli and Bohdy learning so much from their new aviculture program is what the mission of the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch is all about.
“One of the things we try to instill in the kids here is education is very important. But the social aspect, along with a good work ethic, is going get you a long way in life,” said Cole. “And some of these kids have never had the opportunity to put in a day's work or even put in an hour's work, you know. So, they come over here and like I said, they get some ownership of the program and they work and get to sweat.”
About the first of September, these adult pheasants will be relocated and released on both private and public lands. And any funds generated from the sale of these birds will be reinvested into the aviculture program at the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch.