Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Earthy Realities about Food (and People)

Maybe you remember how my three girls were waiting eagerly for their quail to lay eggs.  Well, they waited and waited and waited and then....   Then Evelyn came to me and said, "Mom, we have eight males and one female."  They mail ordered their quail and had asked for chicks too young to sex, but the quail they got were a) not very cute anymore and b) plenty old enough to sex, except for the smallest and fluffiest which grew up to be the only female.

Now, they needn't, we discovered, have ordered these birds from across the country, when they are available all over the Bay Area.  Local quail farmers don't have much of a web presence, but you can find plenty of them on Craigslist.  

So I'm talking to a guy who is selling some quail and he says, "How do you know they are all males?"

Me: Kids, how do you know they are males?
Evelyn:  We vent sexed them.
Me: Uh, they vent sexed them.
Guy: How did they do it?
Me:  Yeah, how did you do it?
Evelyn: Well, you turn them over and squeeze the abdomen gently.  If foam comes out of their vent, they're a male.
I repeat what she said.
Guy: Well, that is how you do it.

I am raising some self-made farm girls!

But we have a problem.  We have too many males.  One morning Evelyn comes running in--Comma's head is all bloody.  The other quail have torn out all his head feathers and pecked a deep hole in his head.  We separate him.  It bleeds for the whole day.  His eye swells shut.  

We keep him in the house.  After two days of recovery his wounds are scabbed over and he is starting to open the eye.  And to crow.  All day.  And then, all night.  We bring the female in.  And get a good night's sleep.  But then the girls put her back out in the bachelor pad and in the ensuing frenzy they pluck her head, leaving a bald patch.  Attempts to reintroduce Comma are even more disastrous.  Our quail run is a gladiatorial arena.

It slowly dawns on the girls that they will have to get rid of some of the males.  I look on Craigslist and find that many people are trying to get rid of males.  And I find this:

Good home only. They are for pets only. It is OK that you eat quail eggs. But the quails are not for food or dog training  purpose.

Dog training? Yikes. Slowly the realities of farming are coming home to roost. Males are not wanted. Males are a problem. If you sell them you cannot be sure what will happen to them. We powwow and decide to ask a friend if she will give them a humane death and enjoy them for dinner. She says yes, and we are grateful.

When one of the quail, early in this process, was accidentally crushed we tried mouth to beak resuscitation and mourned with loud lamentation and buried it in the backyard.  Now, we're going to be packing up several for a friend's dinner, and grateful to have a friend brave enough to do the deed.

Meanwhile, Pastel, our one female, is dutifully laying one beautiful, speckled egg each day. Clementine, our in-house food stylist, set up this miniature tableau.  The plate is a saucer, and the silverware and cup are from a doll's set.  It is so neat and wholesome looking.  There is a lot of earthy reality behind it.


Mars said...

Bird politics can be really tough! Hadyn and I see it all the time at the wildlife rescue. They can all be fine then one day, they'll peck someone to death. Some of the sweetest birds can be the most fierce when dealing with other birds. Look on my facebook account for some pictures of our rescue friends.

LOVE the egg tableau. It's perfect.

Susan said...

Mars, re: bird politics---they are brutal! We tried to reintroduce our pecked male today after handing off 4 birds for meat this morning. He's bleeding again. I loved, loved your rescue pics. Deer! Groundhog! Squirrel! Hawk! Owls! One amazing cute fuzzy thing after another.

Dawn said...

We've got 25 meat chicks in the basement. One little on has a problem with it's vent so we have to keep it separate to keep it safe from pecking. Cute and vicious little buggers.

Kudos on having a friend butcher and eat the males you didn't need. A kind and quick death is always safer and surer then passing the animals on to someone else IMO.

Susan said...

Dawn, welcome! I looked at your meat chicks--so cute! What you say--that a kind death is safer and surer than passing the animals on to someone else--is what we came believe. I was really proud of the kids for making a hard but responsible choice.

Sasha said...

Aw, poor chicks.

Salim Ali said...

I sure hope PETA doesn't find this blog.

Kristin Sherman Olnes said...
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