Sunday, 24 June 2012

Food chains and feather fiends

It’s official with irrevocable proof that I reside right at the bottom of the food chain here at the farm. Some months ago I did a pilot test to see if we could raise quails for eggs, meat and sale of point of lay hens. I ordered three dozen fertile eggs off the internet and when they duly arrived by Royal Mail, wrapped in bubble pack and intact, I put them in the incubator. After eighteen days nothing had happened so I thought, oh well there goes another idea. I switched off the incubator and prepared myself to chuck the eggs out. The first one I lifted out however felt heavy and full, so I put it on the kitchen scales where it clocked in at a massive total of 8 grams. To my astonishment as I was looking down at it, it wobbled and gave out a loud cheep where upon many of the other eggs still in the incubator responded and started tapping and cheeping. In other words, the chicks were telling me in no uncertain terms to stop interfering with nature and to butt out of their forthcoming lives. Just under half the eggs hatched over a period of 2 days and these little yellow and cocoa coloured bumbles bees knew exactly how to get on with the job of living and growing. And boy did they grow! – like topsy as we watched. Interestingly they were totally self-sufficient from the moment they hatched. They took instantly to their chick crumb feed, knew where their water was and in general crapped in only one corner of the brooder. After 6 weeks, I felt confident enough to sex them and was disheartened to find that I only had 3 hens. This 75:25 male to femaIe ratio I established is normal for the bird world so I got on with the job of feeding the boys up for the table. At 9 weeks they went off “down the road” as our dear neighbour says when acknowledging where our meat comes from and they returned a few days later neatly packed in trays ready for either freezer or oven. This left us with 3 females and two cock birds (one stayed on by accident since I had not yet refined my sexing skills) and happily the hens have started laying eggs which are not only in great demand because they are delicious but they also represent the second phase of the quail project. But here comes the food chain bit and my rather lowly stature therein. One of hens is a feisty little thing. She clocks in at about 300 grams and I can easily pick her up in one hand so she’s not exactly the most terrifyingly huge creature. Nor do quails have scary sharp peaks or claws. Nevertheless, this little girl gets muchly bothered if her food bowl runs low and attacks me when I dare open their hutch to refill it. First time it happened I got such a shock I nearly fell over backwards. Now I have got wise to it. The other day I was feeling particularly put upon so instead of sacrificing my hand, I opened the hutch and glared in. There she was ready for battle, feathers puffed out. I squinted at her and shouted, “I have just eaten one of your brothers and very delicious he was too!” I did feel a little better until I realised that George the Romanian builder and Sean the English carpenter, currently doing some work on the farm, so happened to be in ear shot. I looked up to see them stare at me, exchange knowing looks between each other and then wander off in opposite directly shaking their heads. Round three to the little quail.

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