Raising Quail for Food in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada
By Jean Louis Deveau
"Man can keep quail in his backyard". This was the headline, which appeared in Fredericton's Daily Gleaner, Friday, December 18, 1998. That week, Jean Louis Deveau made application to Fredericton's Planning and Advisory Committee (PAC) for a zone amendment to keep 60 adult quail in an aviary in his backyard in a Fredericton residential area. Jean Louis had been keeping various numbers of quail for consumption during the last four years. On December 17, 1997, he was granted a one-year temporary use variance to enable him to keep up to 60 quail. It had been necessary for him to get this variance because quail are not defined as a domestic animal under the zoning by-law for Fredericton and were therefore not permitted in a residential area. This one-year variance expired on December 18th and so Jean Louis applied for a zone amendment to keep these birds on a permanent basis. In order to provide a meal for his family once a month, 60 birds would only last five months as twelve birds are needed per meal. In his application to the city, permission was sought to keep the 60 adult birds and enough young to provide his family with a meal each month.
During their presentation at the PAC meeting, city staff reported that they had monitored the situation on the property since the temporary use variance was granted and could not identify any negative land use impacts associated with accommodating the 60 birds presently on the property. In their previous report, city officials had raised concerns about possible noise and odour generated by the birds. In addition, they had been concerned about the removal of by-products associated with raising game birds within a residential area. At the meeting on December 16, 1998, city officials reported that all of the above concerns had been satisfied. Furthermore, upon inspection of the property, city officials had not noticed any unusual noise or odour that would suggest 60 quail were present. They recommended that the request be approved as long as certain conditions were met, one of which was that the sale of eggs and or birds be prohibited.
Prior to this meeting, Jean Louis had spoken with Mr. Ron Jackson, the Councillor representing his ward, and asked if he could do something to have the above condition rescinded. Mr. Jackson had previously shown support for this project and commented at the meeting that Mr. Deveau wanted to be able to sell eggs and some birds to other hobbyists like himself. In the discussions that followed, one of the Councillors indicated that in approving this request, it might set a precedent and that other city residents might also want to raise game birds in the city including some larger species like pheasants and wild turkeys. City officials responded that if other requests are received, each would be treated separately and evaluated on its own merits. Mr. Deveau commented that the likelihood of receiving too many requests was small because raising game birds is more time consuming and requires considerable more effort than what's required to grow a few vegetables in one's backyard.
In the end, councillors voted unanimously that the request be approved provided that only 60 adults and 20 offspring be allowed and that all by-products be removed from the property. The restriction prohibiting the sale of eggs and or birds was also dropped. The matter went for a vote before City council on February 22, 1999 and was given final consent.
Quail - How to get started
Japanese have raised them for centuries. They were called "Bible quail" by the early American colonists. Modern homesteaders like myself call them Coturnix (from their generic name, Coturnix coturnix). As a wildlife biologist by training, agronomist by profession, and urban farmer by choice, I highly recommend to anyone wanting to raise animals for food in the city to give quail a try. Their small size makes them ideal for raising either in a garage, the basement, or on a outside deck. Beginners should start with the Coturnix quail . Six to eight of these can be reared within a square foot. A good number to start with is 20 birds: 12 females and 8 males. The males are polygamous meaning they mate with any and all females. The recommended ratio of females to male is 2 to 1 but I usually put in a few extra males to ensure good fertility. These quail possess a remarkable resistance to disease, start laying at six weeks of age, and can be consumed at four to five weeks of age. The meat is fortified with nutrients and has a very low cholesterol percentage. Dressed, the hens weigh about 4 to 5 1/2 ounces with the male being slightly smaller. Eggs weigh about 1/3 ounce which is about 8 per cent of the body weight of the hen as compared to three percent for chicken eggs. After you've been raising Coturnix successfully for awhile, the next step is to try Eastern bobwhite . These are larger than Coturnix quail, take about 14-16 weeks to start laying, and are monagamous. This means that females pick their mates so you need the same number of both sexes. Their eggs are white and smaller than those from Coturnix. The other species listed on the above web site are some of the fancier species and are raised more for pleasure than for eating.
By law, anyone raising quail needs to obtain a game bird license from their local department of Natural Resources as these birds are considered as wildlife. The license in New Brunswick is $10 and renewable each year.
Where to find helpful information
Beginners should give some thought to joining one or more game bird associations. As a member, you will receive a monthly newsletter containing valuable information on the different aspects of game bird breeding, find names of breeders from whom you can obtain breeding stock or eggs for incubation, and obtain lists of suppliers for materials and equipment required for this hobby. In Canada, there are at least five game bird associations and quite a few more in the United States. I am a member of the Canadian Ornamental Pheasant and Game Bird Association and the American Pheasant and Waterfowl Society . After becoming a member, you can request a breeder's directory containing a list of all the names and addresses of breeders as well as a listing of the different species of game birds each member raises. By contacting these breeders, you can make arrangements to have either live birds or eggs for incubation shipped to you. If you decide to start off with birds, ask a lot of questions from the game bird breeder to make sure that he/she has disease free stock and that male and female are unrelated. Hobby game bird breeders are not required to have their birds checked by a vet and sometimes you end up with animals that are not in too good a shape so buyer beware. Generally speaking though, most game bird breeders are honest and will provide you with good quality breeding stock.
The internet also has an abundance of information on quail as referenced throughout this article.
Cages need to be ready prior to obtaining the birds. People who are handy with tools can build their own cages or you can buy a pre-fabricated cage. Rabbit hutches are also ideal for quail. These are made of welded wire, are strong and very durable. There's also a sliding pan underneath for catching the droppings. I raise all my quail on wire. This prevents them from eating their faeces something which if left uncontrolled can result in a condition known as ulcerative enteritis causing sickness and even death.
I make all of my cages using one inch by one inch square welded wire for the sides and top; for the bottom I use one-half inch by one inch. You can buy the welded wire from your local farm co-op as well as the hog rings to attach the pieces together to form a cage. Size is a matter of personal choice and budget. My cages for Coturnix measure 24"W x 48"L x 16"H. For the door, you simply cut a square hole in the middle. Make it large enough for the biggest item you intend to place in the cage. Quail love to dust bathe so in all of my cages, I put a plastic stackable vegetable container from Canadian Tire and fill the bottom with clean sand. Feed troughs need to have a cover otherwise the birds will get in and scratch all of the feed out. The birds also need water. To provide water, the easiest thing I have found is a pop bottle fountain. These are made of plastic, snap securely on the neck of a bottle and project 2" through the cage. It comes with a spring that you attach around the bottle to hold it against the cage. If you should ever get into this is a big way, then you will need to rig up an automatic watering system. Cages, feed troughs and watering devices may be obtained from any of the suppliers listed below.
Location of the cage is also important. Inside the aviary, my cages are suspended on a wall using shelf brackets. Two holes large enough to be able to slide the cage along the metal brackets are cut on the back of the cage. I have eight cages, four in each row with newspapers beneath each cage on which to catch the droppings. Droppings are solid in nature making them easy to be collected, bagged, and dumped in a compost pile at a friends farm. If cages are put outside, make sure the birds are sheltered from cold, wind, sun, and rain. The birds will adapt well to cold winter weather provided they're able to acclimatize to seasonal temperature changes. Birds I want to stay outdoors all winter are first put outside in the summer. All of my outdoor pens were designed so that at least one-third of the cage is surrounded on all three sides and top with exterior grade plywood. It is suggested that wooden parts be painted to facilitate cleaning.
Being a city farmer, it is important to invest a bit of time and effort into building something that is aesthetically pleasing not for the birds but for the neighbours to enjoy. I could easily just slap a few sticks together and wrap some wire around these but I don't think I would have gotten very far with my request to keep quail in the city if I'd chosen that route. I encourage all urban farmers raising animals in the city to give due consideration to this important detail.
Note that Coturnix quail kept outdoors will not lay past autumn so if you want eggs year round, they must be kept indoors. I keep them in an aviary inside my garage. And the key to getting eggs year round is light. Mine are on a 15-17 hour photoperiod. A timer in the aviary provides lighting from an incandescent light bulb.
Apart from being able to eat fresh eggs and have a good meal once a month, one of the most fascinating aspects of this hobby is to artificially incubate the eggs. Starting around Easter every year, eggs are collected daily and put in a cool humid spot; the basement is ideal for storing eggs. Eggs are stored pointed end down and kept for no more than seven days. The eggs are then placed in an incubator for however many days are required for the chicks to develop inside the eggs. Coturnix quail develop in 17-18 days while Bobwhite quail require 23 days. There are all sorts of incubators to choose from. The HOVA-BATOR incubator was developed over 25 years ago and is the first one I started with. This incubator is made of styrofoam. It is very susceptible to changes in room temperature so if you decide to purchase one of these, it should be located in a room where the temperature stays constant. Get one with a turbofan to increase the air circulation within.
If you ever get into breeding rare and endangered species, you will probably want to invest into something a bit more sophisticated like a Sportsman 1202, a cabinet style incubator. Both the HOVA-BATOR and the Sportsman 1202 are manufactured by GQF Manufacturing Company located in Savannah, Georgia. Artificial incubation is both an art and a science. To get good results when incubating, you need just the right combination of good quality eggs, a temperature which stays constant, good ventilation, and right moisture conditions. Be sure to read the instructions and either buy or pick up a book from the library on incubation. And, if you decide to start with a HOVA-BATOR, you should invest in an automatic turner unless you want to turn the eggs yourself daily, at least three times.
Once the eggs are ready to hatch, you need to increase the humidity so that the chicks don't get stuck as they're pushing out of their shell. This is done by filling the troughs in the bottom of the incubator tray with water. Three days prior to hatching, the eggs should be placed on top of the hardware cloth (wire mesh) which comes with the incubator. If a turner was used, it should be removed. The hardware cloth gives them an excellent foothold when they attempt to stand. Some people put newspaper on top of the wire which is a bad mistake as it is too slippery and leads to crippled chicks. As a matter of fact, I have even started using something called "slip grip" on top of the hardware cloth in the incubator. You can buy this at your local Canadian Tire store. It's the same thing people use for lining the shelves in their cupboards to prevent expensive dishware from sliding off when positioned vertically. It's completely washable and reusable. The chicks should be left in the incubator for 24 hours. During hatching, avoid opening the incubator because it causes the moisture to escape and keeping that moisture in is extremely important for a good hatch. Depending on what model you're using, hatching can take place over a very short or somewhat longer time period. Eggs developing in the Sportsman will hatch within a few hours whereas those from a HOVA-BATOR take a whole and sometimes two days. That's because the Sportsman is a better machine than the HOVA-BATOR. Don't invest in a Sportsman until you've been doing this for a couple of years and you know that you want to stick to this for awhile. A Sportsman incubator is a huge capital investment if you're just trying this out to see if you like it or not.
Chicks should be placed under a brooding lamp after being removed from the incubator. Again, there are all sorts of sophisticated equipment on the market ranging in price from $30.00 to $280.00. I use a cardboard box with a brooder light base. The boxes used are fairly large ones so that the chicks will not outgrow their accommodations too quickly. For the beginner, this is what I suggest. Get a Y-shaped electrical socket from your local hardware store as well as a brooder lamp which comes with double insulated electrical components. Screw the Y-shaped socket inside the brooder lamp base and then mount two incandescent light bulbs inside the socket. In early spring, I recommend using two 60-watt bulbs; as summer progresses, use two 40-watt bulbs. The reason for using two bulbs is so that when one burns out in the middle of the night or when you're away at the office or something, the chicks still get heat from the other bulb. Always keep a good stock in hand and replace the burnt one as soon as possible. Also use two different aged bulbs so they don't both burn at the same time.
One last thing about light bulbs. I use a spray can called Beauti-Tone (Home Hardware brand) enamel and paint the bulbs either red or blue. I have tried other brands but the paint never seems to dry well on the bulb and produces a burning odour after the lights have been on for awhile. Chicks kept together in a relatively confined space such as in a brooder have a tendency to peck each other, a nasty habit which can lead to deformed beaks and sometimes even death. Poultry and game bird breeders have discovered that if you use coloured light bulbs, the chicks are less prone to peck each other. The lights should be attached about 16 inches off the floor. Wood shavings are used for bedding for the first four weeks. After the chicks have been in the brooder for 10 minutes or so, check their behaviour. If you see them huddled together in one large group with each of them trying to get to the centre, which is the warmest part, then they're too cold. Put a cover over the box leaving a space for air of course. If you see them with their beaks open panting for breadth, they're obviously too hot. Raise the light bulbs or remove the cover if one is present. If they're randomly distributed throughout the brooder or laying on top of the shavings in a circle surrounding the outer periphery of the brooder lamp, you've got the temperature just right.
Feeding these small chicks is relatively easy. I normally start them off with Turkey Starter which is medicated with Amprol to control coccidiosis. A non-medicated Turkey Starter does not exist. Actually, it's not such a bad idea to have a medicated feed to start them off with because the first few weeks, they walk, play, and defecate in their food and water all the time. The medication prevents them from getting ill. Turkey starter crumble is too big for the small quail chicks to eat, so for the first couple of weeks, I pulverize the feed by putting two cups at a time in a food blender. The food is then placed in a dish made from the bottom of a two-litre milk carton. They'll quickly learn where the food is if you lightly tap on the food with your finger. It's important to teach them where the food is during the first couple of days because after three days, they'll be scared of you and your finger and run off at the opposite end of the box whenever you come near.
To provide water, get a plastic quail base from one of the suppliers listed below. These have a narrow drinking slot to prevent the chicks from getting in and drowning. Alternatively, you may use a Petri dish or something similar and fill it full of marbles or small stones. The disadvantage in doing this is that the birds will defecate in the water which means more work for you as the water will need changing often. After about four weeks, I start introducing Purina Flight Conditioner in the food dish at a ratio of 1 part Flight Conditioner to three parts Turkey Starter. Seven days after that, I bump that up to two parts Flight Conditioner to two parts Turkey Starter so that after four weeks they're off the medicated feed and are eating out of the same troughs used by the adults.
After the chicks have reached four weeks of age, I transfer them into a cage of the same size and dimension as that used for adults. In early spring, I move the lights to this cage also and leave them there until I start noticing that the birds no longer use them as a source of heat. At six weeks of age, you will start noticing small eggs in the bottom of the cage. Two weeks after that, the eggs are more uniform in size and you can expect one a day and in some cases, as many as 250 a year. You can start setting eggs from those birds in your incubator after the birds are about eight weeks old.
One of the most comprehensive sites containing useful information on breeding quail, incubating eggs, and brooding chicks may be found at http://www.thatquailplace.com
The Mango City: Urban Agriculture in Belém, Brazil
"It is a tribute paid to a hard working and ingenious people, who against all odds survive in one of the poorest metropolis in Latin America, frequently complementing their monthly income with fruits, herbs, spices, medicinal plants, and all sorts of animals, cropped or raised in front and backyards, in idle public and private plots, existent either within the urban tissue or in the wider peri-urban areas." Posted September 24, 2002. A favourite book on quail which I'd recommend is entitled Quail, Their Breeding and Management by G.E.S. Robbins.
Preparing the birds for the dinner table
The usual method of slaughtering the birds is to sever the head in one quick movement. The most effective tool I have found are a pair of sharp pruning shears. The bird is then placed in a plastic pail with cover and allowed to bleed. After preparing enough for a meal, which for our family consists of a dozen birds, I take the bucket inside the house. The bled birds are immersed in scalding water (148 deg. F) for five seconds and then put in a large bowl. After being scalded, the bird is skinned starting from the neck down to the wings and the legs. Cut the wings and legs just below the joint. To gut them, a pair of scissors is used to slit the bird down the back. Don't slit the breast because that's where the bulk of the meat is located. Once gutted, with the neck cut off close to the body, the birds should be chilled. I normally dump them into a large bowl filled with cold water and some ice cubes. After I have skinned and gutted all twelve birds and left them in the bowl to be chilled, I pick each one up again and give it a thorough cleaning picking off any pin feathers left behind or any organs that didn't come off during my initial gutting. I then either put them in the fridge, freeze them, or prepare them for a meal. There are all kinds of quail recipes available. The thing to remember is that the meat has almost no fat so that if the birds are roasted in the oven it is important to wrap them in something like bacon.
The feathers and guts are taken to a local veterinary clinic and incinerated for a nominal fee.
A favorite recipe of ours is to put a dozen birds in a slow cooker with a couple of sliced onions, salt and pepper and the whole thing topped off with water. Leaving the birds to cook overnight or during the day while you're at work allows the birds to produce and cook in their own broth. Cooked this way, the birds are very tender and absolutely delicious. We also use the broth for making soup and as a base for fish chowder.
The eggs are consumed fresh. After they've been refrigerated for a couple of days, use a steak knife to saw through them and cook a dozen or so for your kids for breakfast on the weekend. Quail eggs have long been known as a good substitute for people who cannot eat eggs from poultry and for people with allergies. They can be hard-boiled and pickled also.
List of suppliers
Berry Hill Limited, 75 Burwell Road, St.Thomas, ON N5P 3R5.
Cutler's Pheasant and Poultry Supply, Inc.
1940 Old 51
Applegate, MI 48401
Ph: (810) 633-9450
Fax: (810) 633-9178
G.Q.F. Manufacturing Company, PO Box 1552, Savannah, Georgia, USA 31498.
Tel. no.: (912)236-0651
Ranch Cunicole G.L.R. Inc., 515, Rapide Plat Nord, St-Hyacinthe, Quebec.
Tel. no.: (514)799-5170
Seven Oaks Game Farm and Supply, 7823 Masonboro Sound Road, Wilmington, NC 28409-2672. Tel. no.: (910)791-5352
American Pheasant and Waterfowl Society, W2270 US Hwy. 10, Granton, WI 54436
Canadian Ornamental Pheasant & Game Bird Association, 221 Sheridan Street, Brantford, ON N3S 4R2
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