[OPINION] Homesteading: Meet My Flock
Returning to the Utica / Rome area is something my family has wanted to do for some time. However, for the next several months, I will be commuting on a very irregular basis. For me the travel back and forth between states is fine - even as far as my children are concerned. However, I have others to consider, including the non-human members of our family.
Among the things to consider is everything that I have put together as part of my growing menagerie and homesteading efforts. That includes the quail that I have acquired. More accurately, they have acquired me.
The journey to quail actually started with my quest to find the perfect chickens. For years I have been researching the selection, breeding, and raising of chickens. I am a vegetarian, and, although have tried to be vegan at many points in my life, I have failed each time. I eat eggs, fish, and an ever-decreasing number of dairy products. So, the chickens that I wanted to raise were for eggs, not meat.
Last year, when it actually came time to purchase said chickens, someone told me that I should take a look at quail. Quail? That is ridiculous, I thought. Who has quail? I have done all of this research on chickens. Quail are so small. Chickens are friendly, like pets. And, if you believe that world according to Instagram, chickens run up to you when you come home and jump into your arms. What do quail do? As far as I could tell they did very little. But, one of my favourite YouTubers raises quail and has a whole channel devoted to them. So, I decided that it was worth a look.
More research followed. Like chickens, there are many different types of quail. Except for their size they are very similar to chickens. There are, however, two significant differences between chickens and quail that were repeated in my research over and over again. Quail are relatively quiet little birds. Another bonus? They take up very little space. I have a modest little home on a tiny plot of land. Quail were looking better and better.
For all of their attributes I had trouble finding someone who raised quail and who was willing to give me a lesson on the how-to's of responsible quail keeping. I did more research. Finally, I found David.
David is a chicken guy. He loves chickens. It is a story for another time but David believes that chickens saved his life. Despite his unwavering love of chickens, David also has quail. He says that he has them for fun. David thinks that quail are cute and during our first meeting he confirms that they are indeed quiet. These facts aside he spent the better part of an afternoon trying to convince me that what I really wanted was chickens and not quail. If I had met David a couple of months before I found quail I would probably be writing about chickens right now. His arguments and passion were very convincing. But new research changed my mind and I told him that what I was really interested in was quail. If I succeeded with quail I would again consider chickens.
Reluctantly he took me to see his quail. He was prepared to give me a whole covey. I just wanted two, to start small and see if I was up to the task.
David sold me a male and a female that he thought were about four months old. I later determined that they were much older. This fact does not really matter, except that quail do not live very long and I did not have as much time with them as I would have liked. In any event, Mara and Shredder became members of our family.
After many weeks with Mara and Shredder I told David that we were ready for some more birds. I was looking for younger quail so that I could handle them more and encourage them to be friendlier. Mara and Shredder were skittish. Shredder seemed fragile and I wanted to hold him but was nervous that I would literally scare him to death.
David obliged with five baby quail.
They started inside the house. They were just too small to go outside yet since temperatures were still freezing. (To those who would judge please know that I am aware that these birds exist in the wild and fully accept the fact that mine may be a little coddled.) So my first chicks took up residence in my office. Even though - in theory - the boys look like Shredder and the girls look like Mara, there were a couple about which I was not certain. So, I named them accordingly. I was wrong in almost every case.
These little ones were at the peak of chick cuteness. They were also at the peak of chick messiness. Quail are not for those who are not dedicated to their cleaning. They did make little chirping noises though and snuggled in warm hands. So, who cares if they poop in their food?
The teenage days (really, that is all it is for quail) are not the most glamorous. They were all exhibiting personalities by this stage and that made up for the lack of obvious cuteness. It was at this point that I learned that not all quail are quiet. The chirping of the males is more distinctive, for certain, but still pretty quiet. Even Shredder, who was a fully grown adult, was relatively quiet. There was one bird, however, who was extremely loud - loud enough to wake the whole family up at night. This was Max. He was either Maximus or Maxine. He did not have the coloration of Shredder or the other one that I absolutely knew was a male, but he had this very loud chortle. It was a sound more indicative of a male, but not a sound that even David recognized. I sent him a recording of it and he said that I must have recorded another type of bird. I have no other birds. Whether anyone believed that sound was coming from Max or not, it was that chortle that quickly got them all kicked out of the house and to their pen in the backyard. There they enjoyed the sunshine and the company of Mara and Shredder. Those of us inside the home once again enjoyed peace and quiet.
Shredder, who had always acted a bit differently, passed away shortly after the little ones joined them. It became obvious that two of the babies were males. Max was definitely Maximus. He is the most aggressive and, yes, the loudest. He may actually be the loudest quail in the history of quail. Whenever I talk to other quail keepers they look at me strangely when I tell them that one of my quail is incredibly loud. To David's credit, one even asked if I was certain that he is a quail. Rose, who I believed one hundred percent to be a girl, was actually Rosario, and he and Max had to go in separate pens. Popper, Gayle, and Regis - who I thought was a male until she started laying eggs - are all females.
While friendly, they are all quite camera-shy.
Gayle, as my children say, is the most "chill." Gayle is very content to soak up the sun for hours without doing anything else. She will take food from my hand but is always the last to do so.
Popper was so named because she would "pop" up whenever I walked into the office. Quail need an enclosure with enough space so that they do not hurt themselves when they jump up, which they often do when frightened. She was the tiniest of the bunch, the last to hatch before I got them. And, although she was easily the most excitable, she was one of the first to learn to jump into my hand.
Rose is the biggest, but started out as the second smallest. He rules the roost.
Regis is the friendliest of the bunch. He hops onto me every time I feed them and chirps a greeting. He and Max chirp when they hear me close by, or when my car pulls into the driveway. It is actually pretty adorable.
Unfortunately Max is housed by himself because other quail with whom he shared a pen mysteriously died one by one. Now he can interact with the others and touch beaks but he cannot harm them.
Max is looking a little rough in this picture. He jumped in the water dish just before this was taken. He is definitely the little rogue - a loud little rogue. True story - Max actually alerted me to an uninvited guest on our property over the summer. The dogs were silent. Max was the first one to sound the alarm. He made such a loud noise that it woke me up and immediately notified me that something was wrong.
Sheriff's Deputy: "How were you alerted that someone was in the backyard?"
Me: "Well, Sheriff, Max actually woke me up." I realized as soon as I said it that I should have phrased it differently.
SD: "Is Max your husband? Is he home?"
Me: "Max is, um...a bird."
Yep, I probably should have left out that part. Moving on...
When I clean their pen they are put in a cleaning cage until the pen is dry. In case you skipped over the sentence a few paragraphs ago - they are very messy. There are stories galore on the Internet about people who keep quail in their homes or apartments. If you choose to keep quail please note that they are more messy than many birds and require constant cleaning. I believe that they are worth it, but not many do. I have had birds and other pets (rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, etc.) that people describe as messy but - for me - none have ever been as messy as these little guys.
Their life expectancy is short (only a couple of years) even in the best of conditions. They are, however, extremely sweet - well, most of them.
It remains to be seen, as I continue this journey and relocation, how my quail operation proceeds. In the meantime these sweet pets are enjoyable and educational, and perfect for the average homestead.