Your automatic association with quail might be the Crawleys of Downton Abbey, hunting with their fancy rifles and dogs. If you’re a 90s kid, the word may conjure the image of Doug Funny dressed as Quail-Man. Or you might just think of upscale dining.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="356"] Quail hunting at Downton Abbey. Photo: ITV / Carnival Films[/caption]
You probably know nothing about quail because in the United States, chicken reigns supreme. In fact, until the 1980s, quail was only farmed in the U.S.for hunting plantations. But recently, big things have happened for this tiny bird. In 2007, U.S. farmers produced nearly 40 million quail, which placed us fifth in global quail production (behind China, Spain, France, and Italy). In the last decade, the two largest quail companies—Quail International and Manchester Quail—established themselves in the retail market, meaning more and more home cooks have started working with them.
To learn more about quail and quail farming, tune into episode 262 of The Farm Report with host, Erin Fairbanks. But since quail is making its way onto more and more plates in the United States, you’re probably hungry for the lowdown on these little birds. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered here.
Quail eggs are nutritional heroes
Quails produce eggs every 36 hours (chickens are on a 24 hour schedule). Since they’re produced less frequently, quail eggs are a much more rare and expensive menu item. Quail eggs are extremely rich in protein and amino acids. In fact, a quail egg has three to four times the nutritional value of a chicken egg. There are even several Biblical references to quail eggs, including a passage where a divine intervention provides starving Israelites quail eggs to satisfy their extreme hunger. And they don’t just fight hunger. Regular consumption of quail eggs can help fight against diseases like digestive tract disorders like stomach ulcers. They also strengthen the immune system, promote memory health, increase brain activity and stabilize the nervous system.
Some breeds of quail are naturally kosher
There are 22 species of quail, but the Pharaoh Quail is naturally kosher, which, according to owner of Manchester Farms, Brittney Miller, means they are born “biblically correct.” You can tell Pharaoh Quail are naturally kosher because they have one extra toenail.I’m telling you, these are some seriously biblical birds. As the name suggests, Pharaoh Quail originated from Egypt and are believed to have been aboard Noah’s Ark.
This breed is also sometimes known as Japanese Quail. They were domesticated in Japan in the 12th century after a Japanese emperor fell ill and became miraculously healed after eating nothing but quail for 40 days straight. I told you they had magical healing properties.
On many quail farms, the quail are hand-sorted for egg production or meat production
Since quail have such magical properties, they get treated like they live in the wizarding world. Just like at Hogwart, at farms that have both meat and egg birds, quail are sorted based on their capabilities. There is someone called a “bird toucher,” who acts as the Sorting Hat, deciding which group (egg laying or meat production) each bird belongs in. On some farms, a bird toucher will touch about 80,000 quail a week.
Hens that are selected as layers have two different jobs: producing eggs for the next generation and producing eggs for us to eat.
Female quail mature faster than male quail
Remember in middle school how all the girls were about a foot taller than the boys? Well guess what, things are about the same in the quail world. Female quails are fully mature at 5 weeks, while male quail do not become fully mature until 6 weeks. This is why female quail serve as egg layers for the first stage of their fertile lives. They have to wait around for the men to be ready. Typical…
On many farms, 20% of quail eggs never actually hatch
Candling is the process of placing a light under an egg to see if it is fertilized. Fertilized eggs hatch into birds, while unfertilized eggs are sorted out from the incubators. This practice is commonly used on chicken eggs, which are white or brown. But because quail eggs are multicolored and speckled, candling is not possible.
There’s no way to see if quail eggs are fertilized before incubating them, so all of the eggs produced on a quail farm have to go into the incubator. This means that 20% of the eggs that go in the incubator actually never hatch. But it’s still easier than trying to keep up with which quails have been gettin’ busy.