By Kings County Sheriff David Robinson
Kings County Sheriff Dave Robinson and farming magnate John Vidovich release pheasants recently as part of a county inmate program.
Kings County Sheriff Dave Robinson and farming magnate John Vidovich release pheasants recently as part of a county inmate program.
Photo Courtesy Sheriff's Department

In county jails across California and the country, inmate programs are being utilized to teach skill sets and provide opportunities for inmates to earn credits, receive a paycheck and utilize skills that benefit them and their communities upon their release.

Kings County is no different. We have such programs. We have a food services program, an animal services program, firewood splitting, and a sales program, as well as a car detail program, to name a few.  

In 2019, I had an idea to help the local habitat regarding something that had been gone from this area for quite some time. I wanted to start a pheasant-raising and release program. Having grown up in the Valley, and as a child, while driving around the countryside, we often observed wild pheasants dotting the landscape.

Today, sadly, it’s rare to see a wild pheasant when traveling the highways and visiting fields in the Valley. Recently, one day, Al Korth with Dewberry Inc. and I had the beginnings of a unique idea. Al fell in love with it, and within a few months, Al had found an engineer friend, Patrick Crosby with the Crosby Group, who was willing to draw up a pheasant enclosure.

Over the next few months, the plans were complete, and the county building and public works departments went to work to make it a reality. The structure took time to build, and it allowed us to get all the supplies we needed before the first birds arrived in mid-2021.

In the late fall of 2020, I shared the idea with Richard Martella, a local auction house owner. Richard told me that he had a friend who would be interested in partnering with us and that his friend had some land that he thought would be ideal for the pheasants. Richard connected me to John Vidovich.    

In June of this year (2021), the Kings County Sheriff’s Office Jail Programs Unit began the county’s first-ever pheasant rearing program to help repopulate the once-dominant pheasant population in Kings County.

Programs deputies were responsible for preparing the enclosure with plants, feeders, and water dispensers. The program started with 100-day old birds were donated by Greg Beck in Hughson.

The birds were cared for and raised by inmates within the Kings County Jail. This program allows our inmates time to learn a new skill and earn a sense of responsibility while in custody. As chicks, the birds needed constant care while being raised in brooders. As the pheasants grew, the inmates tended to their daily feeding, provided water, applied blinders, and cleaned the enclosures. The inmates fed the birds with feed supplied by Greg Sanchez of Sanchez Feed in Hanford.

The birds were raised for 20 weeks at the jail before being sold and released. The first and largest group of Birds were sold to Vidovich, a well-known Valley landowner who had some land he had been planning to return to its natural habitat – and it was ideal for the birds. It is surrounded by vast areas, with plenty of cover and water for the birds to thrive.

Jim Wilson, John’s ranch manager, worked closely with us to ensure the birds would have the best possible opportunity to repopulate on John’s ranch.   Mr. Vidovich didn’t hesitate when asked if he wanted to partner with the sheriff’s office on this program. He has committed to an ongoing relationship on this program and other work programs for inmates in the near future.

On the day of the birds’ release, two Kings County jail inmates were there to help. One of the inmates, due for release from jail in the coming days, was offered a job on the spot and told him to contact him upon his release.

John Vidovich and I released the first birds. It was a beautiful sight to see. The birds flew off into the thick brush nearby. Some of the birds didn’t hesitate, while others walked around for a brief moment before taking flight.

The pheasant-raising program will hopefully help bring some awareness to our inmate programs and many of the great things we are doing to give incarcerated persons the best opportunity to succeed when released.  

The inmates, who helped out with our pheasant program, did an outstanding job and learned some excellent skills and a sense of responsibility that they can take with them when they return to our community. Of the 100 birds donated, only a handful didn’t survive to be released.  

Vidovich purchased 80 of the beautiful birds.  We sold the rest in smaller quantities.  In the upcoming year, the plan is to expand to 200-300 birds per year which we can sell in the local area to pheasant enthusiasts, ranchers, and local youth clubs. While the survival rate after release may not be very high, it’s certainly a step in the right direction for our local habitat as we attempt to bring back a once prevalent animal that once thrived in the San Joaquin Valley.