The ultimate easy livestock for any homesteader, regardless of their environment, is the Japanese or Coturnix quail. I have successfully kept a trio of them back when I was living in a basement apartment, and they took up as much space as a pair of guinea pigs and were vastly cleaner and quieter than, say, budgies. I only ate the eggs at the time and didn’t breed them (and therefore didn’t end up with a multitude of extra cock quail dubbed Soup or Stew) but it was still a remarkably simple and satisfying way to have fresh eggs while living in the city.
Now Douchebaggery Ranch has chickens, who conveniently recycle grass, bugs, kitchen scraps and some things I don’t want to know about (caught the rooster eating a dog turd from the neighbor’s yard the other day) into eggs. So why keep quail?
- My chicken coop doesn’t have a light. I let the ladies take a rest during the winter, because producing something the size of your head out of your ass every day can’t possibly be fun and they deserve a vacation. During that time, I bring a trio of quail into the house in a large rabbit cage, hook up a desk lamp over the cage and let the quail take over the egg duty for a couple of months. Sure, it’s a colossal nuisance to have to break 29 eggs to make a quiche, but Mother Nature never intended for the winter to be a time of convenience.
- Soup and Stew. Now that I have an incubator, I hatch the quail eggs when the chickens are on egg duty. I raise every other clutch, keep or sell the new hens and give the extra boys a glamorous afterlife in the freezer, where they will be used for just about every recipe that calls for chicken. Quail tastes slightly different from chicken, but if I didn’t tell you, you wouldn’t know. There’s also the added convenience that for a single-person household, quail come in perfect portions. One bird makes one pot of soup, or one side serving to go with rice. (Yes, butchering is nasty, gross, messy and a whole chain of other adjectives I could spew off here, but that’s the topic of a different entry.)
- Quail are still rare enough among the homesteading circles in most places that there’s a half decent market for live birds. It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme by any stretch, but it did help the incubator pay for itself.
Quail, however, have a Dark Secret that would make horror movie fans shiver with delight. There’s something insidious about these cutesy little birds that no quail book or website every tells you about.
Female quail are all homicidal maniacs.
Regardless of who is in the flock, how much space is available, what their diet is or how many toys they have in their enclosure, quail hens occasionally flip and start attacking anyone within beak reach. The most common victim is the husband, and death due to domestic violence is an unfortunate fact of quail social life. (This, I feel would make a fascinating phD thesis for any aspiring animal behaviorists who can’t think of anything better to do with their brain cells.)
My twice-daily checks on the quail, who currently live in a large barn stall, are generally accompanied by the creepy crescendoing background music stuck in my mind and the thought of “Anyone dead? Anyone bleeding?” as I survey the flock to make sure nobody’s head has been pecked open. On more than a dozen unfortunate occasion, I’ve had to dispatch a (usually male) quail who was pecked halfway to death at a time of day when I was still busy waking up or all ready to go to bed, and I have enough nasty variations of this story to fill the front pages of several cheap tabloids.
No amount of research, dietary changes and supplementations and environmental enrichment has done anything to alleviate the problem of the werequail, who goes from sweet little hen to bloody-minded psychopath over the course of a few hours. For the longest time, I thought maybe my birds were inbred and had the quail equivalent of schizophrenia or some such in their bloodlines, but recently I met a couple of other homesteaders who quietly admitted to having the same problem with their quail.
Moral of the story: quail are douchebags. They are cute, they are pretty, they are the easiest livestock in the world to keep, but they are not for the faint of heart.