MATHISTON — What started out as a hobby has turned into one of the leading quail farms and shooting preserves in Mississippi — and the South.
Nine years ago, Linda Pollard of Mathiston, a small town in eastern Webster County, noticed friends who were successfully raising quail and decided to try her hand at it. She purchased a small styrofoam incubator that held 110 eggs, and after successfully hatching them, watched her business grow.
“One of the reasons we got involved in raising quail was because our oldest son was killed in a car wreck when he was 19,” said Russell Pollard, Linda’s husband. “My wife took this up as a hobby to help her get through a difficult time.”
Today, the quail farm, set on five acres bordering the Natchez Trace between mile markers 200 and 201, has an incubator that houses 44,000 eggs. There are plans to build several more flight pens this year to add to the existing nine. “Then, we’ll look at this thing again,” Russell Pollard said.
“We started with one little building, added on and added on until we built another building,” he said. “We added on and on to that one before we started another building and that’s kind of how it went.”
For 33 years, Russell Pollard, 52, worked for Ceco Building Systems in Columbus, makers of pre-fabricated building materials, located 50 miles away. The Pollards’ younger son, Jeff Pollard, worked at the same company for five years before the quail business evolved into a true family business. Jeff’s wife, Tabby Pollard, assists with the bookwork, and all four Pollards share responsibilities from babysitting Cheyenne, 3, and Dusty, 1, to working as guides.
“We offer an unusual combination of both a quail farm and shooting preserve,” Russell Pollard said. “There aren’t many people who offer both because raising quail is so labor intensive. It takes a lot of hours.”
Raising specially conditioned flight birds ideal for a hunting preserve can be very expensive and time consuming. To cut costs, the Pollards are one of a handful of producers who mix their own feed onsite. About five years ago, a professor at Mississippi State University provided them with a feed formula. Last year, they made and fed about 110 tons.
“We probably spend four to five hours a day feeding and looking after them,” Russell Pollard said. “We have the most birds in November and December. This time of the year, we’re concentrating on clean up and we’ll be starting over soon.”
For now, byproducts are used to fertilize pastures. In a year or two, Russell Pollard said they probably won’t be able to do that because of rumblings in environmental circles and in the chicken industry about possible contamination of fresh water runoff, he said.
Because the Pollards constructed the buildings themselves, already owned the land and added a little to the business at a time, they were able to keep expenses for the quail farm fairly low. For someone new getting into the business, it would cost about $100,000. That’s just for the quail farm.
The quail preserve, which has become extremely popular with outdoorsmen, is usually booked on Saturdays. Last Saturday morning, Russell Pollard guided two of the four groups that totaled 25 people. But if it rains, everyone may call to cancel. “We’ve had a lot of rainy Saturdays this year,” he quipped.
The extended season runs from Oct. 1 to April 30. There are no limits but a Mississippi license is required. A preserve license is available for out-of-state residents.
Situated on 255 acres, the preserve features wild and released quail in their natural habitat. The Pollards design each outing to the hunter’s specifications. Hunters can bring their own dogs or have guides and dogs provided.
The Pollards currently have about a dozen dogs, nine pointers and three setters, with puppies expected soon.
“We offer a lot for the dollar,” Russell Pollard said. “If you want to be wined and dined, we’re not the place. If you want to do some serious bird hunting, we do that. That’s the difference between us and others.”
Paul Barrett, publisher of the Meridian Star, was so impressed with “a good hunt for a fair price,” that he recently devoted an entire column to the Pollards.
“With the natural habitat for wild game birds diminishing every year, we need places like the Pollards’ to perpetuate the sport,” he wrote.
When Russell and Linda Pollard take a break to relax, they usually head to the preserve with dogs in training. Although most hunters are men, about a dozen women show up annually for the hunt.
“Women are usually really tickled to find out that Linda is an avid hunter and can help guide them,” Russell Pollard said.
Future plans might include overnight lodging, he said.