Jan Toubl started raising pheasants when he was in high school. His operation grew from just a few birds into multiple acres of pheasant pens – not to mention a line of award-winning products that are sold in gourmet grocers and wineries throughout Wisconsin and the United States.
“A lot of people aren’t even sure what a pheasant is,” says Toubl, founder and CEO of Toubl Enterprises. “We like to describe it as a technicolor chicken.” It’s an apt description of the birds, whose plumage ranges in color from red and gold to green and purple.
These game birds, which are native to Asia, were brought to Wisconsin in the 1800s and, thanks to the abundance of marshland and grassland, their populations flourished. Pheasant hunting – and pheasant meat – is popular statewide.
Toubl, who earned the nickname “Birdman,” started Toubl Enterprises in 1969 and introduced the lean meat to the masses under the brand name Birdman’s Fine Pheasant Fare 13 years later.
Helping a New Market Take Flight
Wisconsin hunters are often familiar with pheasant meat, and Birdman’s Fine Pheasant Fare products are popular at sporting goods retailers like Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. But shoppers at the supermarket or farmers market have often never tried it.
Toubl focuses on processing the birds into products like bratwurst, summer sausage, chorizo and even egg rolls to make the exotic meat more accessible to consumers.
He hands out samples of products like snack sticks, a semidry sausage product, to encourage shoppers to take their first taste of pheasant. The meat, he explains, is a lot drier than other fowl like chicken or duck.
Other processors add pork or turkey to their snack sticks to increase the fat and add a more familiar flavor, but Toubl Enterprises makes its snack sticks with 100% pheasant meat.
“It takes skill to get the right combination of flavors,” Toubl says. “When we hand out samples at the farmers market, the response is, ‘Oh, that’s different.’”
Toubl has made significant changes to his business since it first started. After many years of raising pheasants himself, he transitioned to processing, sourcing meat from another Wisconsin farm. This allowed him to focus on turning the cuts into specialty products – for example, all of the smoking and flavoring of the meat is done in-house.
Toubl Enterprises still sells whole pheasants, which are popular for holiday meals, but developing novel products like snack sticks and pheasant egg rolls has also helped create a wider market and increased the number of people who are making pheasant meat a regular part of their diet.
“We want people to see it as a snack food or an everyday food,” Toubl says. “It’s no longer just a Thanksgiving bird.”