Pheasants, partridges and guinea fowl are often farmed together, as an enterprise within a farming business. Quail are often farmed independently of other game bird species due to different management requirements — it is the smallest species of game bird farmed in Australia, but the largest by volume. Geese are predominantly produced by backyard enthusiasts, who have historically supplied birds to small processors, and geese production is not a commercial or structured industry in Australia. Generally, pigeon (squab) farms are small, family-run enterprises, which typically supplement income from other farming enterprises (such as cropping) or supplement other income sources such as a part-time job.
Game birds are raised for their meat (and in the case of quail, also for their eggs) for human consumption. Apart from quail, a feature they have in common is that the majority of product is marketed domestically so future sustainable expansion will increasingly depend on identifying new markets. Without much capital expenditure required, the Australian game bird industry has the potential for increased production and processing outputs, which could increase its global competitiveness. However, the expansion of the game bird industry in Australia is restricted by low rates of fertility and hatchability, variable egg production and growth rates, inadequate understanding of nutrition needs and a lack of quality breeding programs. Therefore, Australian game bird industries will need to improve their efficiency if they are to remain viable in the domestic market or to compete internationally.
Facts and figures
- Six species of bird considered as game birds are pheasant, partridge, guinea fowl, quail, goose and pigeon (squab)
- Quail is the largest and most established game bird industry in Australia
- Game birds are raised for their meat and eggs, for human consumption
- Apart from quail, most game bird meat is marketed domestically
- Game bird comprises a very small, specialty segment within a large and competitive poultry market
- While some opportunities exist for export development, the game bird industry faces a number of challenges to expansion
While the throughput of some of these industries has declined, the value of their retail sales (especially quail and squab) has increased substantially.
Quail is the largest game bird industry in Australia with 6.5 million quail harvested annually, with a value of over AU$14 million. There is one large quail ‘farm’, that processes 15,000 birds per week – it has developed its own breed and incubates the eggs, raises the quail and processes them. The farm also makes its own feed and has an abattoir on site.
After quail, the pigeon (squab) industry is the next largest and is typically made up of many growers of varying size that produce birds for a central processor who markets and sells the product. Approximately 323,000 squab are processed in Australia annually with a value of approximately AU$11 million. Squab farms have generally been established as part of farm diversification programs, hobby-farming ventures, or by full or part-time town workers with a few acres looking for an extra income stream. There are few, if any, "stand alone" squab farms in Australia that are run by full-time staff. Typically, people enter the industry as a “hobby farmer” with little background in farming other species of birds.
Geese are not grown in a commercial or structured industry in Australia and therefore production information is limited. The industry consists predominantly of backyard enthusiasts who have provided birds to small processors in the past. Globally, geese may be farmed for their livers, which are used to produce foie gras. Livers weighing between 500 and 800 grams are produced via force-feeding, a practice that is banned on welfare grounds in Australia (and many other countries).