Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Spring chickens. And quail.

Spring is nearly here, the signs are everywhere. The blossom is falling off the blackthorn trees, and the bluebells are flowering. Vixens have gone to ground to have their cubs. I saw my first swallow this morning, picking insects out of the air. I picked my own insects: the first tick of the season off of Quincy.

Well, technically a tick is an arachnid, but why split hairs.

The weather has been so favorable, from a gardener's perspective, that for the first time ever I'm caught up with my sowing and planting. That's my slapdash comprehensive garden plan for this year, scrawled on the back of an envelope -

And you can put your seed packets and notes inside the envelope so you don't lose them. Genius.

I'm using a four-plot rotation system, and companion planting. The garden is dug, manured, fed, and sown with everything but the late-season and tender plants. I've even remembered to put down enviromesh to prevent a repeat of last year's carrot root fly problem -

I was so on top of things, that I broke out the lawn chairs and cooked dinner in the chiminea - grilled mackerel and pheasant burgers, the gamekeeper version of surf & turf.

You'll have to allow me this moment of almost-smug success. It didn't last long, as you'll see.

Spring sap's not just rising in the plants. The cockerels - pheasant, chicken, and quail - have colored up and are beginning to vie for female attention. And fight. Cockerels love to fight. Even our heavyweight Buff Orpington cockerel was sporting a bruised eye, closed and puffy from a fight with featherweight Lloyd the pekin cockerel, a third the Buff's size. I'm not even sure how Lloyd reached that high.

But the quail seem to be the pugilists of the poultry world. The aviary has turned into Madison Square Garden. The weaker males have bloodied heads, and the females are missing the feathers from the back of their necks from frequent male attention. I knew it was time to put some quail in the freezer.

The sad truth of farm life is fewer males are needed than females. One ram can serve fifty ewes, a pheasant cockerel can easily hold ten hens. If a male isn't good enough for breeding stock, then he's only good enough for the freezer. If you're a male born on a farm, it's either the stud or the abbatoir for you: heaven or hell, so to speak.

When I sexed the quail, I had three hens and eight cocks, which explains all the fighting. I kept one cock for breeding and the rest I've started to process.

In case any reader is interesting in vent sexing quail - and who wouldn't be? - it's very easy to do. Start by turning your quail on its back, and gently push the tail up to expose the vent. If a small ball of foam comes out, it's a boy -

Once plucked, you can see that, just above the vent, the male has a swollen bottom -

It only swells during breeding season, and the foam is only produced at this time too. However, I find that vent sexing is a more definitive method for sexing quail than colour.

I processed three quail this morning, saving the feathers for a local fly fisherman. Apparently they make good fly-tying material. Spud and Lily kept me company through the laborious task of plucking. The skin on quail is very thin and tears easily when plucking. The finished birds couldn't have looked worse if I'd let the dogs chew the feathers off.

Well, I processed two birds and all was going well. I hung them on the back of the truck where they would be out of reach of dogs playing in the garden. I had just dispatched the third when my spidey senses started tingling. Where was Quincy?

Behind the shed eating a bag of rat poison she excavated from a hole, that's where.

She came out with the empty bag on her head.

I didn't waste any time. I removed the bag from her head, bundled her into the truck, and drove straight to the vets, which is thankfully only ten minutes away.

I forgot the dead, plucked quail were still hanging from the rear of the truck until I was halfway through the centre of town and looked in my rearview mirror. There they were - swinging left, then right as I navigated the turns to the vets - completely naked except for their feathered heads.

(I'd put the just-dispatched bird I was holding when I caught Quincy into the nearest recepticle, which happened to be the metal bin we use as a mail box. I came home and found the mail left on top of the dead bird. Thank goodness for country post men, nothing phases them.)

Quincy got the same treatment that Spud got when she ate the poisoned rat. All signs for recovery look good as we got the poison out quickly. With some gentle persuasion from his wife (i.e. I showed him the vet's bill), Mike has agreed to go back to trapping the rats, at least until Quincy gets older.

Quincy found the bag because of her exceptional gun dog nose. I know her scenting ability is already well-developed, even if her judgement isn't.

  Finished quail

Quincy - on the couch and on the mend


Maria said...

Well, dogs and puppies sure keep you busy. I hope Quincy makes a speedy and full recovery. She is growing like a spring weed!

Paula said...

Ohmygoodness did I laugh at that mental picture! Dogs, especially puppies, are so untrustworthy when it comes to temptation. I think I might have been a dog in an earlier life. It would explain my affinity with them and why I can't say no to a glass of Scotch.

Glad that you have spidey sense and that due to your quick reaction, Quincy will be ok.

Kate said...

Loved it. Thanks for the laugh about the postman. Glad to hear Quincy's prognosis is good, and that Mike is amenable to giving up the rat poison for traps.

Casey said...

Did not know that about quail sexing. Thank goodness the vet is so close! Good luck to Quincy. Dang things are always getting into something, eh?

Take care -


Sara said...

Your garden looks like it's going to be great! Nice work. I've got a small raised bed garden that's only the size of one of your plots, but I can't wait to start eating from it. Companion planting, too! I'm so proud!

And your "gamekeepers surf and turf" sounds really good!

Glad you noticed Quincy's bad culinary choice in time. Never a dull moment over there. Love how there's usually a random dog in the background of your pheasant pics. That made me laugh.

Karen Thomason/Gordon Setter Crossing said...

Oh no! How scary that must have been. Poor little guy. I'm so glad you caught him just as he finished his snack, and got him to the vet so quickly. I'm sure that made all the difference in the world and probably saved his life. Now if you can just keep the dogs out of the rat traps!

Poppy Cottage said...

Phew!!! Apart from the crisis of the moment, the picture of 'Quail-a-swinging in the breeze' brings a smile to my face.

Off to Yarn in the Barn at Lyme Bay Alpacas. Been staying at the old ladies again so I think a treat of some chunky yarn is called for.


Harvest Kitchen Sisters said...

I laughed, gasped and laughed some more! Poor Quincy but the visual of Quail swinging and in the mail box.. I had to laugh. My dog ate poison once, scary situation and even scarier vet bill. Just the other day I was working in the turkey pen and I unknowingly uncovered some rat poison and by the time I clued in to the situation it was all gone. I thought the turkeys/dogs had eaten it all. Turns out the mice did and no turkey or dog died because of my mistake...shesh You really have to be up on your game to have poison around, I keep learning that lesson. Garden looks great! Thrilled by the sexing lesson.. neato! Are quail easier to sex then other poultry?

Heidianne said...

If it will kill or maim them, puppies will get into it! Glad he's getting better. I have to say the image of the postman nonchalantly placing your mail on top of the plucked quail and closing the mailbox again made my morning. The finished birds look great, I think you did a fine job plucking them, and they are so well traveled.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

It is just a thrill a minute out there by you! Here's to Quincy's complete recovery, and a lovely quail dinner.

(I love the little parsley sprig on the plate of quail -- that's a nice touch.)

Christine said...

Thank you for the mental picture...your writing is wonderful. I actually laughed out loud, until I began to worry about your puppy. I had to scold my three-yr old to stay away from the mouse poison today. In low doses that stuff is great for clogged arteries.

Anonymous said...

Your posts never disappoint!

Dog Hair in my Coffee said...

omg, I laughed and laughed. Yup, I've ALWAYS wanted to know how to sex quail; thank you SO much for that lesson! And your surf & turf, although it sounds delicious, also made me laugh, as did the image of the quail swinging to and fro from the back of your truck, and the thoughts that must have momentarily gone through the postman's mind as he dropped off your mail. I KNOW your life is pretty ordinary for you, but oh my, the images you share are anything BUT ordinary for me. So glad Quincy is ok, though, for real. Dogs.....

Jennifer Montero said...

Thanks to everyone for their well wishes on Quincy's recovery. So far so good - she's wrestling Lily under the table as I write which is a good sign.

And thanks for sharing your own poisoning stories with me, it makes me feel lees guilty to know it's a somewhat common occurance with curious puppies.

My postman - bless him - asked me how my quail dinner turned out! This is why I tip him every Christmas.

Pomona said...

We lost a lovely Dorking and some layers to rat poison one year. Now we have those little locking black boxes that dogs can't get into.

I interplant my carrots with chives and coriander, and edge the beds with all sorts of flowers, and it seems to confuse the carrot fly (at least so far!).

Pomona x

Jennifer Montero said...

Pomona - It's so great to hear from you, even with terrible stories of rat posion and carrot fly. I have your card stuck to my fridge and I often see it and think of you. Hope all's well with the pigs and the orchards.