Kat says quails are grouse, tips them to top chooks in backyard pecking order
What most people know about quails can be summed up in a short sentence: they’re small birds served up in posh restaurants.
In one year of keeping (live) quails in her backyard, Northcote woman Kat Lavers has learned a lot – and fallen in love with them. And she’s become convinced that quails are the ultimate inner-city pet.
She says it’s mesmerising, watching their antics. She calls it Quail TV.
Quails love bathing in dust, “it’s like a little hot tub for them”.
They will jostle like footballers if a fat insect is thrown in their midst. If frightened, a quail can fly two metres, straight up.
Her flock’s sole male, Atticus, is smaller than the females but likes to strut and pose for them, and will drop food to lure them closer.
Last week, Ms Lavers watched, excited, as seven fluffy chicks the size of apricots hatched in her incubator. The “quicks” as she dubs them, sometimes sleep sprawled on their backs.
Ms Lavers, an organic gardening teacher, will give a talk called Keeping Quails (bookings essential), including quail egg tasting, at her house next Monday (Nov 21, 2016) for the Darebin Backyard Harvest Festival.
She says quails trump chooks as suburban egg-layers because they are much smaller, so take up less space, and make far less noise.
Her nine hens lay about 60 eggs per week, equal to about 14 chook eggs.
She says quail eggs taste similar to chooks’ but have relatively large yolks, making delicious custards, quiches or scrambled eggs.
Among fascinating titbits she’s learned is that when you collect an egg from a flock of quails, you can tell which hen laid it from its pattern and texture.
Some hens’ eggs are splotchy, others are spotty. They can be shiny or matte.
A visit to a friend in Altona who kept quails sparked her interest. Ms Lavers’ block is too small for chooks, and the soil is lead-contaminated, so she set up an enclosed aviary which is still big enough to be free range.
The woodchips the quails walk on mix with food and manure to form non-smelling compost. She clears it out just once a year, to spread on her vegie garden.
She feeds the quails insects, weeds and plants from that garden, forming an ecological loop.
Ms Lavers happily admits to now being a quail evangelist, posting on Instagram about them, and recommending them for people with small backyards seeking an ethical but productive alternative to chooks.
She would consider using the male chicks for meat if she can’t find homes for them: males fight each other if kept together, so flocks, or coveys, are mostly female.
While usually vegetarian, she tried has tried quail meat from one of her flock and “quite liked it”.
She says it’s not a posh pet – a hen costs about $7 to buy.
While common in Asia, quail keeping is still very unusual in Melbourne, and she would be interested in forming a keepers’ group.
To read the original article by Carolyn Webb (and see a video!) check out The Age here.
You can follow Kat and her permaculture/sustainability/quail-packed adventures here.