The Bright Idea: Raising Quail
At the start of COVID shutdown in March 2020, I had the bright idea of making sure our food supply was fully sustainable. For my daughter and me, that could mean growing our own food and becoming vegetarian. For my son and husband this wouldn’t be an option.
I’m squeamish. I still have nightmares about stabbing a live lobster for dinner. Rabbits are a no, as are chickens, both of which I am afraid I will mangle instead of kill outright. On background, I once nixed aquaponics because I wasn’t sure I could kill tilapia.
I picked quail. This quail-raising experience is more of a test of my mettle than anything else. We affectionately call the quail “Mom’s apocalypse birds.”
In a few days, my first cohort will turn 1 year old. I have 15 quail, most of them came from two sets I hatched from eggs. I originally intended to blog about my experiences as I went along. As it turns out, whomever said “quail are easy,” is probably already a livestock farmer. Starting out, they were not easy — at least not for me. I’ve been learning as I go and in the beginning, spending more time on the task than I anticipated.
Where does one get quail?
Seriously, Craigslist. However, because everyone else seemed to be interested in raising their own food, there were no quail to be found. I called an Oahu hatchery and they thought they could get me some but never got back to me with details or a date. I ended up ordering hatching eggs from Paradise Poultry on the Big Island.
That’s right. My daughter and I hatched the quail ourselves in an incubator.
It was honestly a lot of fun: lots of research, a little setup and a lot of anticipation. Our hatch rate, however, wasn’t great. Of 32 eggs, only eight hatched and one bird died barely out of the shell. Looking back, it’s probably a good thing they didn’t all hatch. The seven from that first group were plenty enough for the time.
I got my second batch of quail on Craigslist from someone whose pet sat on the eggs. In coturnix quail (the type I have), they rarely go “broody” and incubate their own. Instead, they lay their eggs all over the place and have no idea what they are. Getting chicks hatched by their mom is a big deal. I drove to Waipahu and purchased all eight of the sibling chicks, which is what the seller wanted. Back home, I lost one to an unfortunate accident.
For one, Honolulu has an ordinance that limits chicken ownership to two per household. No such rule exists for quail. But it goes beyond that. Most importantly, I watched videos of animal dispatch and decided that among warm-blooded types, quail looked the easiest. One snip of the kitchen shears and they’re gone, never knowing what happened. Processing is also easier than with chickens. Quail are typically skinned rather than plucked, and skinning them is a little like peeling a banana.
Then, there’s the sustainability issue. Quail don’t eat much and they reproduce rapidly and grow to maturity in a short time. So short, in fact, that most vegetables take longer to grow and harvest. Quail incubation time is 17 days, and quail grow to maturity in 8-12 weeks.
Lastly, if for some reason COVID goes away and all of my other apocalyptic predictions don’t come true (seriously, don’t get me started. . .), I can keep the birds as pets. If, on the other hand, my predictions do come true, I can produce more birds and feed my family eggs and meat; hence, the affectionate term, “mom’s apocalypse birds.”
Stay Tuned for the Next Chapter
I have no regrets about giving quail a try. I’m making a promise to myself to keep blogging: I love writing but sometimes need to get the momentum going. Be patient with me — I have a year’s worth of tales yet to be told: countless trips to the feed store, the hardware store and researching (sometimes difficult to watch) videos on YouTube.