The rearing of game birds and other exotic fowl is usually done in one of three production areas–for show or exhibition, meat production, or in the case of game birds such as pheasants, for release and subsequent hunting. Game birds are considered to be those fowl for which there is an established hunting season. Game birds would include pheasants, wild turkeys, quail, partridge and mallards, for example. Guinea fowl are considered to be domesticated poultry.
As in other areas of the poultry industry there are three stages of production–production of hatching eggs and chicks and rearing of the chicks for subsequent marketing. Production for release is seasonal, with birds released for the fall hunting season. Consumer demand for the meat is also somewhat seasonal and associated loosely with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Sale of meat would primarily be to local consumers, and then to processors and the motel and restaurant trade. When making arrangements for marketing, check with customers for any specific requirements they may have concerning inspection and dressed weight. Have a market established prior to investing in the start-up of a production unit. Maintaining good carcass quality will be essential to future sales.
Costs of production are similar to those for other types of poultry. Costs to consider include housing, land, equipment, chick cost, feed, litter, fuel, electricity, medication, labor, taxes, depreciation and interest. Only by keeping complete records on costs can the operation be evaluated for profitability. Feed cost and chick cost represent 80 percent of the total cost of production. Housing costs will vary for production of meat vs. release. Pheasants or guinea fowl raised for meat production can be reared in confinement. Game birds raised for release need to be conditioned in totally enclosed flight pens prior to release. In either case, a heated brooder facility is necessary. During brooding brooder stoves provide additional heat. Other major equipment expenditures would be for the feeding and watering system.
At the retail level pheasants have sold in the range of $2 - 3 per lb. dressed weight. Your return will then be dependent on the costs of production to rear to market weight. Pheasant hens and roosters are expected to reach 2.5 - 3.0 and 3.0 - 3.5 lbs. live weight, respectively, and dress out at 2 - 2.25 and 22.5 lbs. at 16 - 18 weeks of age. Approximately 13.25 lbs. of feed would be required to reach market weight. The guinea fowl would weigh 2.75 - 3.25 lbs. at 15 - 18 weeks and require approximately 10 lbs. of feed. Mortality may range from 10 - 20 percent.
The brooding facility is prepared by cleaning and disinfecting the building and making it pest proof. A 2 - 3 inch base of clean absorbent litter such as wood shavings is placed in the pens. A covering such as corrugated paper is placed over the litter for the first week of brooding to prevent litter eating by the chicks. A brooder ring is set up by placing an 18-inch-high barrier of corrugated cardboard chick guard in a 10 - 12 ft.-diameter circle with a standard hover-type brooder stove hung in the center. Feeders and waterers can be placed around the edge of the stove.
Prior to chick arrival adjust temperature to 95° F underneath the brooder at chick height. Temperature can be reduced by 5-degree increments each week after the first week. Five-hundred chicks can be placed per stove.
Pheasants are very sensitive to disturbances. Noise should be kept to a minimum and other birds kept off the farm. Beak trimming is often employed to control cannibalism. During 0 - 6 weeks of age 1 sq. ft. of floor space per bird is needed. Provide 1 linear inch of feeder space per chick and increase to 2-3 inches by the sixth week. Provide two 1 gallon fountains per 100 chicks and increase to two 3-gallon fountains at 6 weeks or provide 100 and 300 inches of trough watering space. After 6 weeks of age increase floor space to 24 sq. ft. per bird.
At 6 weeks of age birds intended for release should be placed in flight pens. A flight pen size of 75 h. x 150 ft. x 6 ft. will handle 400 - 500 pheasants.
A gamebird starter and grower diet should be fed from 0 - 6 and 7 - 12 weeks of age, respectively, and would contain protein levels of 28 and 22 percent. A lower protein, lower energy diet is then fed to birds intended for release after 12 weeks of age. Some whole grain feeding can begin at 6 weeks of age. Grit can be fed free choice to birds in outside runs or those being given whole grains. Meat production birds would continue on a 22 percent protein diet to market age.
Diseases and parasites common to other poultry can also infect gamebirds. Avian influenza, coccidiosis, blackhead, and round worms can infect gamebirds with detrimental results. Control disease with proper sanitation methods, vaccination and medication programs and minimize stress by not crowding.
With good management and disease control practices you should have a well-fleshed and well-feathered bird for processing. Pin feathers on carcasses from poorly feathered or immature birds will decrease carcass quality.
For gamebirds, meat inspection is usually not required. Please consult with the USDA (Meat and Poultry Inspection Service) and State Department of Agriculture (Food Inspection, Labels and Standards) for questions concerning inspection and custom processing. Depending upon the eventual use of the gamebirds you raise, you may need a permit from the state. Check with the license bureau of the State Department of Natural Resources for further information concerning the need for a game farm permit and associated regulations.
Gamebirds can be raised for show, meat production or for release. Unless a large initial investment is made the market will be mostly local in nature. Very good management is needed to raise these wild birds in a commercial situation.
Sources for more information
- Home Processing of Poultry, FO-0701, University of Minnesota Extension Service.
- Managing Gamebirds, 1981, Bulletin E692, Michigan State University Extension Service.
- Complete Rations for Pheasants, P116, Purdue University Extension Service.