Processing pheasant

Body weights

The age at which birds are processed will depend on the weight of the birds required. Birds with a liveweight of approximately 1.2 kg are the size required by most restaurants. This weight should be reached at 16 weeks of age. If not, birds may have to be kept 1 or 2 weeks longer, and the costs of production will be greater.

With a continued selection program it will be possible to meet the weight requirement by marketing at a younger age. It should be noted, however, that there is some demand for heavier birds.

At the former NSW Agriculture Research Station at Seven Hills, growing pheasants were weighed initially at 4-weekly periods to ascertain growth patterns. It soon became obvious that the heaviest birds maintained their growth advantage all the way through until marketing.

Table 1 shows the average body weight of male and female pheasants at 16 weeks of age.

Table 1. Average body weights of pheasants at 16 weeks of age, in grams
Year Average (males) Range (males) Average (females) Range (females)
1976–77 1162 1080–1200 827 640–920
1977–78 1157 1040–1370 814 710–990
1978–79 1297 1150–2000 936 810–1380

Processing plant

The quality of the finished product is determined by the cleanliness of the processing operation and methods of chilling and storing.

For maximum efficiency, design the processing building for a one-direction workflow (see diagram below). Birds must go from the killing area to the packing section without a reverse flow and with a minimum back and cross working of processing staff.

Layout for a small processing plant

Key: Layout for a small processing plant

1 Killing section 9 Table
2 Scalder 10 Drains
3 Plucker 11 Opening to evisceration and packaging system
4 Evisceration 12 Windows fitted with fly screens for light and ventilation
5 Cool tank 13 Self-closing door
6 Chill tank 14 Hand basin
7 Freezer 15 Poultry waste bin
8 Cool room   

Construct the building with impervious or non-porous material that withstands moisture and is easily cleaned.

Due to the expansion of the poultry industry and the updating of automatic equipment in large modern poultry processing plants, second-hand equipment is sometimes available and is quite suitable for use in a pheasant processing plant. Alternatively, new equipment can be purchased and installed.

Processing equipment manufactured from timber must not be used because it harbours germs and is difficult to clean. Galvanised or stainless steel is most suitable. Chill vats can be constructed from plastic or fibreglass.

Processing Act

Producers who plan to slaughter, process or transport their own poultry meat products (including pheasants) on a commercial basis must conform with the Food Regulation 2004 under the NSW Food Act 2003. The Act is administered by the NSW Food Authority — Contact Centre, phone 1300 552 406 or NSW Food Authority website. Poultry meat processors must comply with Australian Standard (AS 4465:2005) for the Construction of Premises and Hygienic Production of Poultry Meat for Human Consumption (FRSC Technical Report No.1).


With poultry, the jugular vein is cut to ensure good bleeding for a white carcase that is full of ‘bloom’. However, pheasants are dark-fleshed, and bleeding is not necessary. Some processors prefer to kill birds by dislocating or cracking the neck so that no bleeding occurs. This helps to maintain carcase flavour.


Feathers can be removed by wet or dry plucking. Scalding is necessary for wet plucking. The temperature of the water for scalding should be maintained at 60°C with a scalding of 90 seconds allowed for each carcase. Feathers can then be removed easily with automatic plucking equipment.


Evisceration can be carried out by suspending birds on a shackle or eviscerating on a stainless steel table.

Washing and chilling

Dressed birds must be washed in cool clean water before chilling. Carcases should be stored at 4°C and should be kept at this temperature until used. Carcases processed in a hygienic manner and maintained at this temperature will have a shelf life of about 10 days.


This section provides information on hanging for pheasant that is being processed for home consumption only.

Pheasant processed for sale, as stated earlier, must be processed in licensed plants according to the requirements of the NSW Food Act 2003. For further information, contact the NSW Food Authority on (02) 9741 4777.

Hanging pheasants after killing is a traditional way to develop a ‘gamy’ flavour. There is no difference to the gaminess or texture of the meat whether birds are hung by the neck or legs.

After killing, birds can be hung either before or after plucking, with the viscera still intact or removed. Gaminess is increased if feathers and viscera are not removed. The temperature at which birds are hung, and the period of hanging, will depend on the degree of gaminess required.

Pheasants hung for 9 days at 10°C have been found by overseas taste panels to be more acceptable than those hung for 4 days at 15°C or for 18 days at 5°C. The taste panels thought that the birds stored at 15°C were tougher than those held for longer periods at lower temperatures. Pheasants hung at 10°C became more ‘gamy’ in flavour and more tender with length of hanging.

If carcases are kept too long at too high a temperature, ‘greening’ occurs followed by the development of ‘off’ odours. Greening first occurs in the area of the vent and is caused by hydrogen sulfide produced by gut micro-organisms. Although extensive changes take place in microbial flora in the intestines during hanging, the muscle tissues remain free of harmful bacteria. If too much greening has occurred then the carcase should be wiped over with a cloth dipped in vinegar.

In conjunction with the Consumer Education Freezing of Foods Council (NSW) preliminary trials have been conducted with taste panels using pheasant carcases which have been hung for varying periods of time from 0–11 days. For tasting purposes pheasant flesh from 18-week-old males was submitted fresh, and, after hanging for 3, 4, 6, 8, 10 or 11 days at a temperature of 15°C, the carcases were roasted in oven bags at 190°C for 1¼ hours.

The taste panel consisted of some members who had not tasted pheasant before and others who were used to eating pheasant meat. The age of members of the panel varied from about 20–50 years of age. All members of the panel agreed that pheasants hung for at least 3 days were more acceptable than those hung for a shorter period. Some members preferred birds to be hung for more than a week.