As the name implies, game birds are birds that are hunted in the wild, as well as kept in captivity where they are raised, often with some difficulty. They include guinea fowl, partridge, pheasants, squabs, and quail. Except for quail, they are seasonal breeders, so the product is not available fresh all year round. None are indigenous to Australia.
Partridge, although grown in small numbers, have not been included here, as it is not possible to get accurate information on numbers or farms. One Victorian breeder raises 2000 partridges each year for shoots. Also, some large producers and processors of other species (e.g. ducks) may also market quail, squabs, pheasants and guinea fowl under their own label but the product is often supplied from a game bird processor already packaged and frozen under the large producer’s own label. Pheasants and partridge are sometimes raised for shooting in Australia but information on these practices is difficult to obtain.
Some of the information reported here is based on surveys carried out by the Rural Industries Research and Development Council and published in 2003, 2005 and 2009 although much of the data are older.
The production of game birds is labour-intensive and usually a family operation. There is often more than one game bird species grown on a game farm and most birds are processed at an independent, off-farm facility. The product is relatively expensive and is found mainly in gourmet restaurants, boutique butchers and occasionally in retail stores. The retail price for a 1 kg pheasant and 1 kg guinea fowl as of July 2009 was AUS$26.70. Demand is governed largely by economic conditions, however demand has increased over the past 10 years and the most recent value of the industry is in excess of $20 million/year for game birds in total. Over half of this is for Japanese quail. Game bird meat generally has a ‘gamey flavour’ although this is an all-embracing term and varies depending on species and their diet. Formulated feeds for game birds are often the same as those for other domestic species such as turkeys, and are changed according to production phase.
Biosecurity on all poultry farms is of the highest priority. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry with Animal Health and the Poultry Industry have produced the ‘National Farm Biosecurity Manual-Poultry Production‘ which covers all farmed avian species and producers are expected to adhere to these guidelines. However, biosecurity on some game farms is minimal compared to the commercial poultry industry and visitors are sometimes welcome.
Information provided by Dr. David FarrellGuinea FowlPheasantQuailSquab