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K-State Research and Extension

University addresses needs of wildlife enterprises, game-bird industry

game birdsKansas is known for cattle, wheat and grain sorghum, but upland game-bird hunting, particularly pheasant and quail, provide an economic boost to communities large and small across the state. Private landowners and hunting-lodge operators alike often turn to game-bird breeders to replenish bird numbers on their property.

Kansas State University’s poultry unit in the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry, is home to a research effort focused on ring-necked pheasant and other game birds.

According to the U.S. Census report on hunting, fishing and watching wildlife issued in 2012, hunters across the country spent $33.7 billion on hunting trips, equipment and other items in 2011 – an average of $2,465 per hunter. Approximately 1.5 million people hunted pheasant and 800,000 hunted quail.

About 283,000 people hunted in Kansas, many of them coming from out of state. They spent just over $400 million on places to stay, restaurants and other local businesses, with average hunter expenditures in the state of $1,409.

The K-State program focuses on the nutritional needs of game birds, initially pheasant.

“We’re looking to help game-bird breeders grow healthy birds in the most cost-effective way,” said Beyer. Most university bird research focuses on turkeys, chicken and eggs. Little has been done on the nutritional needs of game birds, including the best feed ingredients and bird health.

People who grow game birds, sell chicks or adult birds to a variety of buyers – from a conservation-minded farmer who wants to maintain bird populations on his property to elaborate lodges offering guided hunting, gourmet meals and corporate retreat facilities.

First-of-its-kind program

Beyer credits C.J. Delfelder, who is working on a master’s degree in avian nutrition management, for his perseverance to launch the project. 

Delfelder, who grew up in Meriden, Kansas, said he’s always been interested in game-bird production and plans a career in the field. He earned a bachelor’s degree in the relatively new Wildlife and Outdoor Enterprise Management program at K-State in 2013. The program, the first of its kind in the U.S., trains professionals to work in such outdoor enterprises as hunting preserves, gamebird production businesses, fishing resorts and outdoor experience companies such as nature study and back country camping. The students experience “in-the-field” training and also take courses in business hospitality management, natural resources, and wildlife and fisheries management.

Upon returning to the university, Delfelder began managing the university’s poultry research unit while also working to turn a then-unused older building into the game-bird research facility.

Beyer approached university officials about initial funding for the project, and industry partners donated materials and money.

Beyer and Delfelder “salvaged and saved” as they scoured auctions, hardware stores and lumberyards, looking for materials to use in the three-year, building-renovation process. The result is a new roof, pens, plumbing, and indoor and outdoor netting. The birds can move from indoor to outdoor pens through a special sliding door system designed by Delfelder.

Don Montgomery of Blue Hill Gamebirds in Tipton, Kansas, donated 100 pheasant hens and six roosters to K-State in late February 2017 to get things started. Beyer said he hopes the project will attract extramural funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture or other agencies.

The game bird building is on the same property as the university’s other poultry facilities, but human contact with the birds is kept to a minimum to keep them as wild as possible. “We don’t want them to get too used to being around humans,” Beyer said. “We want them to fly off when they’re released.”

More information about hunting in Kansas is available on the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism website.