It was just over three years ago when Brendan Sheldrick decided to throw in the towel on his career and head for greener pastures, quite literally.
He and partner Leanne gave up their cushy jobs in Melbourne and took the plunge, moving to Northern Victoria to work as farm hands on a buffalo dairy. After years working as a chef, Sheldrick was after something different; a new outlook on his contribution to the food service industry.
Working out in the fields of the dairy, Sheldrick began to notice small native stubble quail living happily amongst the tall, dry grass surrounding the farm. Having travelled extensively through Italy, France and Northern Europe, he knew the joy of the unique, beautiful flavour of game meat, and he couldn’t help but wonder if these smaller birds could provide the same output.
He began asking around about whether the birds were ever eaten, and how they tasted. He found that a few of the locals had caught and grilled the little quail, and reported the flavours were far superior to any commercially raised game birds. Even their small size didn’t stop the locals from enjoying the meat, they unanimously agreed the outcome was worth the effort.
It was these conversations that struck Sheldrick with a new idea. He wondered if the larger, Japanese quail would survive and thrive if introduced into the Australian habitat. Determined to find out, he and Leanne trialled a small number of the birds, raising them on the farm in northern Victoria.
“The outcomes were amazing – the meat dark and firm, nothing close to the pale, floppy flesh of shed and cage-raised production.”
So, it was about two years ago that he and Leanne bought their farm at Eugowra in NSW, and started their production and supply of high-quality, ethically-raised game birds.
The birds are bred, incubated and raised 100% on the farm at Eugowra. They have a unique indoor / outdoor area, which chicks are introduced to as soon as they are strong enough to venture out on their own. Eventually, they’re moved to large portable paddock pens while they reach maturation.
This sustainable process means the birds are able to feed not only on the organic grain mixture they’re provided, but also grass and bugs, and they have access to the pastures and dirt as they would in the wild.
“A happy bird is a tasty bird,” says Sheldrick.
And it shows in the product, the first thing Eugowra customers notice is the colour and texture of these birds – they’re naturally darker and firmer.
Back in Sheldrick’s travelling and cheffing days, he knew Australia was worlds behind Europe when it came to the quality of game birds, both in production and on the plate, but he’s doing his best to change that.