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Rare Breeds: Australian Game Fowls

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Photos by Tabitha Bilaniwskyj-Zarins

If you want very hardy, impressive chickens for your system or backyard, then the Australian Game or Australian Pit Game breeds are definitely worth considering.

CHARACTERISTICS

Both the Australian Game and Australian Pit Game fowls are:

  • hardy, compact and robust
  • easy to maintain
  • very good layers, particularly the Pit Game hens (as good as Australian Langshans)
  • good table birds (see weights below)
  • available in a variety of beautiful colours, including black/red, creel (speckled), pile (white) and duckwing (silver and gold)
  • easily quietened and usually very gentle, although females can be feisty (take care when introducing new stock).

Relative weights: Australian Game males over 5.45 kg, females over 4.75 kg, and bantam males 1.5 kg, females 1.2 kg; Australian Pit Game males 2.7 kg and females 2.0 kg.

WHAT IS GAME POULTRY?

Game poultry is also known as ‘hard feather’. The most familiar chickens are ‘soft feather’ types, with flouncy soft, fluffy feathers, such as ISA Brown and Australorps. Hard feather chickens are characterised by: feathers held close to the body: a solid and muscular feel when held; and eagle-like heads.

Like their softer counterparts, hard feather chickens come in standard and bantam sizes. The Australian Game and Australian Pit Game are the only two Australian hard feather chickens.

ORIGIN

Both breeds have been developed from a mix of Old English and Asian birds. The Australian Game was originally known as Colonial Game. Both were bred for cockfighting by officers of the early settlements. When this was banned, farmers in the Windsor, Hawkesbury and Hunter Regions of NSW continued to develop the breeds for hardiness and table properties, and for exhibition.

Even though the breeds’ origins were similar, they have very different physical characteristics. Australian Game birds are tall, long legged and thickset. Australian Pit Game birds are short, solid and muscular. Both are hardy birds in the orchard or in any permaculture system, providing both good table and egg-laying properties.

MAINTENANCE AND HOUSING

Feed wheat to keep the feathers tight. Daily free ranging will supplement the diet and increase egg production. Exercise is also important.

Housing need not be too complicated: an indoor/outdoor section with roosting perches that is secure is sufficient. A surplus of male birds is easily housed in individual box pens; these are good for quietening the birds, and also for pairing with hens to breed.

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