the hatching begins: 5 quail and counting

2016/09/28 deej 1

The first little peep hatched yesterday, and more hatched overnight. So far there are five tiny, baby quail chicks in the brooder. So fluffy!

 

Japanese quail, Coturnix japonica (not Coturnix coturnix – that’s the common quail from which the domesticated Japanese quail is derived), are a small, round bird kept for eggs, meat, and sometimes for their voices. I’m unsure about that last, since they’re not especially tuneful; they’re not a noisy bird, though, and I imagine their quiet chattering and the occasional trilling crow of the males could be a pleasant background noise.

 

Because quail are relatively quiet, and because they’re such small birds (even the giant meat quail are only up to 300g at maturity, and strains bred for egg laying tend to be 90 – 200g at maturity), they’re perfect backyard livestock. You can even keep them indoors, in a small aviary, if you don’t have a back yard suitable for keeping birds. Many people keep them in aviaries with other birds (parrots and parakeets, canaries, pigeons, etc.) because quail are primarily ground-dwellers and will eat leftover spilled seed that the other birds waste, thus discouraging rats and mice.

 

These birds cannot be free ranged – they’re not smart enough, and they’re too flighty. Give a quail a scare, and it will shoot upwards in a panic; sometimes they land somewhere in the vicinity, sometimes they go further. I know one person whose panicked quail flew straight up until it died of a heart attack or hypoxia, and then feel like a stone right back down to where it started. Quail must be kept enclosed or you will lose them, and unlike chickens they cannot be relied on to come home at night. It’s recommended to either have a low ceiling on the quail enclosures (no more than 35 – 40cm) so that the birds don’t break their necks when startling upwards into the ceiling. I’ve found that giving them some cover to hide in makes the neck breaking less of a problem, as they prefer to hide under a bush or broken ceramic pot if there’s one available. Rabbit hutches make quite good quail enclosures, or make a mini version of a chicken tractor.

 

Like any other poultry, quail can be stinky if their coops or cages aren’t kept clean. They need daily cleaning, and their water needs to be checked daily as well because they do tend to poop in it if they can.

 

Female Japanese quail, which can be differentiated from the males (at least in the wild-type colour – there are a range of other colour variations) by their lighter breast feathers, begin laying at 6 – 8 weeks of age. They will lay an egg a day for the rest of their lives, about 2 – 3 years. They’re photoperiod layers, so they do need long daylight hours to keep them laying – not a problem in Perth, but in some places people use artificial lighting. Eggs hatch after 16 – 17 days of incubation at 37.5 degrees C. The chicks, like newly hatched chickens, can survive for 12 – 24 hours on the leftover yolk, so don’t worry if you don’t see them eat or drink at first. They’ll get it quickly enough.

 

They are voraciously hungry when they hatch, and basically from then onwards. They eat a variety of seeds and insects, and if exposed to the possibility of eating greens when they’re young they also love some greens – but quail are very habit-bound critters, and once they’re 3 – 6 months old it’s a real chore to get them to accept any new food as edible. My last lot of quail were terrified of greenery, and would circle around it and cheep plaintively that they were hungry because the scary green stuff was too close to their food to risk going to eat. Generally, quail should be fed a gamebird diet or turkey starter; chicks need about 22 – 25% protein for the first 5 weeks, and laying birds need about 24% protein.

 

Quail eggs can be used just like chicken eggs; they taste almost the same, although slightly sweeter and slightly richer. About 3 – 4 quail eggs are equivalent to one chicken egg in terms of volume, and they work perfectly in baking at that ratio.

 

Quail raised for meat should be killed humanely, just like any other bird or animal raised for meat. We use controlled atmosphere killing, using nitrogen gas (carbon dioxide will cause the sensation of suffocation, which is cruel; nitrogen is odorless and the bird doesn’t feel any suffering, it just goes to sleep), but you can also break the animal’s neck or cut off the head with a sharp axe or knife. Generally, plucking quail is very difficult, as their skin is quite delicate; most people just skin them rather than plucking. Gutting the bird is a bit tricky due to their small size, but it can be done.

 

If you want to hatch your own, you’ll need an incubator or a broody bantam hen – Japanese quail don’t go broody or set their eggs. The instinct to hatch their own eggs has been bred out of them.

 

Summary:

  • Produce: eggs, meat, fertiliser (bird poop is great fertiliser)
  • Space requirements: minimum of 125 – 145 sq cm per bird
  • Food: adult quail eat 14 – 18g per day, and need around 24% protein
  • Water: obviously
  • Other requirements: quail are flighty prey birds, and will be happier if they have some cover or something to hide under if they are frightened. They are also avid dust bathers and really need some clean sand to bathe in (they may turn to cannibalism and feather picking out of stress and boredom if they have no sand available for dust bathing).

 

More info and pictures? Try these sites:

so many eggs

2016/09/22 deej 0

The other great thing about spring is that the chickens have all finished (or mostly finished) moulting, and have started laying again. We’re getting 4 – 10 eggs a day. So today was an egg-using-up day.

 

(On that note, if anyone is interested in putting in a regular egg order, please contact us. We don’t have an endless supply, but we definitely have more than we can use. Note that our chooks are not free range, because we don’t have the ability to protect them from foxes if they’re out and about, but they do have very swish and spacious coops and runs, and get spoiled rotten with treats and fresh grass as well as their regular food. We keep mostly Transyvanian Naked Necks and Wyandottes, with a few miscellaneous other pretty-feathered floofs as well.)

 

Using up eggs isn’t a chore. I’ve always liked eggs and I love baking, so.. scrambled eggs on toast for lunch, hard-boiled eggs to have as morning tea treats tomorrow, and my new favourite tea-time treat / dessert: clafoutis. I can’t claim to be entirely authentic on this, since I made up the recipe based on having made it once before, years ago, and having a broad general idea of what the dish is mean to look & taste like, but it’s pretty nice.

 

Clafoutis is almost a baked sweet custard; it’s an egg-heavy, custard-like batter baked with fruit in it (traditionally cherries), kindof like a sweet quiche but less omelettey. It gets a crunchy, sort of cakey crust, but the inside is.. well, it’s a French recipe, so I’m sure you can imagine. Made with sour cherries, fresh peaches, or blackberries it is entirely amazing. (I may have to get the planned sour cherry trees in soon, and some berry brambles.)

 

Batter:

4 eggs

1/3 – 1/2 cup sugar, to taste (use more less sugar if using sweeter fruit)

1 Tbsp olive oil

about 1/2 – 2/3 cup milk

1 tsp baking powder

a scant 1/2 cup plain flour

2 cups of fruit, chopped or sliced (or whole if using berries)

 

Beat all those ingredients except the fruit together into a smooth batter. You may need to use a whisk. The consistency should be similar to pancake batter.

 

Pour the batter over your chosen fruit (I used caramelised chopped apple, but any fruit will do) in a cake pan or pie plate. Bake at 180 degrees C for 25 min, or until completely set. Serve warm (although cold is still pretty good).

 

If you want to use caramelised apples as per my experiment this afternoon, roughly chop your 2 cups of apple (about 4 – 5 small apples), then pan fry with 2 Tbs butter, 1 Tbs cumquat & lime jelly (yeah, I made that too – replace it with marmalade for the closest approximation), 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and 1 – 2 tsp brown sugar. Cook the apple until the jam and butter have melted and dissolved the sugar, the whole lot is bubbling and smelling of delicious appley caramel, and the apple is almost cooked.

 

spring by any measure

2016/09/20 deej 0

I love spring. I know that in a month or two I’ll be longing for a cold night to cuddle up, but for now (while there are still some very cold nights up here) I’m loving the sunshine and the flowers and the (slightly) warmer weather.

 

Almost all the stone fruit are starting to flower now, and the persimmon has put out a few green shoots. The wattles have put on a growth spurt, and most of

them are now taller than me – only 2 years in from being planted as 30cm high seedlings. The open soon-to-be-pasture in between them is covered with cape dandelion – I know it’s a weed, but it’s also a useful pasture plant for dry areas, edible and palatable to most stock and able to survive the summer without extra water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The wildflowers are out in force. I haven’t really gone and tried to identify any, but there were 8 different types within 2 sqm when I looked casually the other day.

Lagerfeld roseMy roses are flowering, too, although they didn’t really stop over winter.

 

And last but not least, I have some eggs in the incubator. Four pilgrim goose eggs (and I really hope at least 2 hatch!) in the hopes of some pasture eating soil improving critters, a dozen more guinea fowl eggs (this time the foxes won’t get them, for sure), a dozen quail eggs for the newly renovated quail coops, and two eggs form my eldest and favourite hen, Splash. I’ve seen the rooster mating with one of the other hens, so he’s clearly all grown up now, and I’m hoping he’s getting jiggy with Splash too – she’s such a sweet natured, smart bird that I’d really like to hatch some of her chicks. Also, she must be part aracauna, because she lays blue eggs, which is just cool.

 

 

And, in closing, I am really looking forward to some more beach weather. It’s too cold for me to want to swim yet, but it’s already walking-on-the-beach wind in the hair weather. 🙂

Drinking yoghurt and cultured milk products

2016/09/09 deej 0

A few years ago (quite a few, actually) I went travelling through Europe. Some of the trip I did with a dear friend of mine, some I did on my own. One of the things I discovered was drinking yoghurt.

 

Now, drinking yoghurt (i.e. yoghurt which is thicker than milk, but thin enough to drink like a smoothie) used ot be not uncommon in South Africa when I was little, but it’s almost unheard of in Australia to the best of my knowledge. I remembered liking it as a child, so I tried some in the Netherlands, and in Italy. It exceeded my expectations in every way. My cherry-flavoured (but not too sweet) yoghurt drink became a daily thing while I could get it, and I’ve missed it ever since. I like eating regular yoghurt, but there’s something about fruit-flavoured drinking yoghurt on a  hot summer day that is just very appealing to me.

 

I tried making yoghurt and just fermenting it less long, to get a thinner consistency. Did not work out well.

 

I tried making smoothies with yoghurt, fresh milk, and fruit. Those are pretty good, but not what I was after.

 

So I did some research, only mildly hindered by the fact that while I was enjoying my cherry yoghurt drink in foreign climes I couldn’t read the local language so I had no idea what it was called (brand name or generic term), or what was in it. I came up with a variety of alternative cultured milk products which are described as being yoghurt-like, and traditional to various parts of northern Europe. All are heirloom cultures, meaning that they’ve been maintained as live ecosystems over the years, and you can continue to use a sample form one batch to make more basically forever (many store-bought yoghurts only contain a few species, and without the support of their mutualist ecosystem partners will fail and die – and stop producing yoghurt – after a few batches, requiring a new starter).

 

For my birthday this year, my very on-the-ball mother acquired for me a selection of starter cultures. Today I’ve put three of them (viili, filmjolk, and langfil) in to ferment, to see how they go. I would have done the other two cultures as well, but I don’t have enough milk in the house to do that many batches, so the piima and the buttermilk will have to wait for next time. I’ll report back in the comments on the results of the fil mjolk, langfil, and viili experiments.

 

For anyone wanting to carry out the experiment themselves, this is what I did:

  • Start with some full-cream dairy milk. It can be whatever milk you like – goat, sheep, camel – but I used regular cow’s milk from the supermarket. Avoid UHT milk if possible. If you can get non-homogenised milk, that’s better as well, but go with what you can get.
  • Heat some of the milk (300 – 500 ml per culture type) up to almost boiling (about 60 – 80 degrees C, the scalding point or point where small bubbles start to form on the surface but before you reach a rolling boil). Be careful not to burn it. Once the right temperature is reached, turn off the heat and cover the milk; wait for it to cool to just below body temperature (about 25 degrees C if you have a thermometer, or luke-warm if you’re going by touch).
  • Stir your starter (about 1 tsp of dried or freeze-dried starter, or 1 – 2 Tbs of active cultured milk product) into the luke-warm milk. Pour into your cleaned and sterilised container (either a small thermos or a glass jar – sterilise with boiling water) and put the lid on. If using a glass jar, wrap a towel or tea towel around it for insulation.
  • Leave it alone for 12 – 24 hours, depending on the ambient temperature (less time if it’s warmer). The ideal temperature is 20 – 25 degrees C; if it’s warmer, the fermentation will happen faster and the result may be grainy. If it’s too cold, you might need to put your culture in a warm spot, like on top of the fridge or in the oven with the light on to keep it form getting too cold. During this fermentation period try not to move or knock the container. After 12 – 24 hours check the result. If it hasn’t started to change consistency and set or firm up, leave it for another 12 – 24 hours & repeat. (Making regular yoghurt I’ve had batches that fermented fully overnight, and batches which took a week to firm up, so give it some time.)
  • Once the yoghurt (or whatever) starts to firm up or change consistency, place the container in the fridge for 12 – 24 hours before eating. Remember to save some for the next batch.

 

All the cultures I’m using are mesophilic, which means they ferment at room temperature (around 20 – 25 degrees C). Standard yoghurt is thermophilic, meaning that it likes warmer temperatures to ferment properly. That’s why you use a yoghurt maker for regular yoghurt, and mix the starter in when the milk is around 30 – 37 degrees C.

 

FYI, the cultures I’m trialling are these:

  • Piima is a Scandinavian yoghurt which is known to have the thinnest consistency of the mesophilic (room temperature) yoghurts, similar to buttermilk. It is sometimes described as having the consistency of honey. It also has a mild, slightly nutty or cheese-like flavour. When used to ferment cream, it makes a good sauce for vegetables. Apparently it originates from natural (wild) cultures found in the milk of Scandinavian cows which have eaten the butterwort plant. It contain the following probiotic species: Streptococcus lactis var. bollandicus and Streptococcus taette. ; note that Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis. used to be known as Streptococcus lactis.
  • Cultured Buttermilk (as opposed to the liquid left after churning butter from cream, which is also called buttermilk) has a fascinating history. It can be consumed as a beverage (sometimes sweetened, but also sometimes as a savoury tomato-juice style beverage with salt and pepper and no sweeteners), but is more often used in baking and cooking. In baking, the acidity is used to activate sodium bicarbonate as a raising agent, or increase the activity of baking powder (which is itself sodium bicarbonate with an acid added to activate it when wetted). It can be used in marinades, where the acidity helps tenderise meats, or in sauces and salad dressings where the sour flavour works well. According to Wikipedia, the probiotics in cultured buttermilk are: Lactococcus lactis (Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis, Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris, Lactococcus lactis biovar. diacetylactis and Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris); note that Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis. used to be known as Streptococcus lactis.
  • Viili is thought thought to originate in Sweden, although it is consumed throughout Scandianvia under various names. It has a viscous consistency like thick honey, and forms strands and trails the way sugar syrup does. The flavour is reported to be mildly sour, almost faintly sweet by comparison to other cultured dairy foods. Contains the following probiotic species: Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris, Lactococcus lactis* biovar. diacetylactis, Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris and Geotrichum candidum; note that Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis. used to be known as Streptococcus lactis.
  • Langfil is a variant form of fil mjolk which has a ‘long and elastic texture’, a little like viili, due to the presence of yeasts and bacteria which form polysaccharides during fermentation. It can be thicker than regular fil mjolk, but the flavour should be very similar – sour and tangy. It’s sometimes eaten with ground ginger. In addition to the probiotics found in fil mjolk, it contains Lactococcus lactis var. longi.

 

There are some good comparisons of the probiotics in each culture online.

Chicken culling

2016/09/08 deej 0

A quick warning for anyone who is squicked by reading about killing animals – this post is about death. Specifically, the death of chickens (roosters). There are no graphic pics, however.

 

Wyandotte rooster from Wikimedia commonsOne of the parts of keeping pet chickens that isn’t so often talked about is what to do with the extras. The hens who’ve stopped laying, the roosters which inevitably hatch from about half the eggs you or your broody mama chook incubate. If the birds are pets, you can simply keep hens who’ve passed their laying years – but most people don’t. Councils restrict the number of chickens you can keep, and most people keep chickens for the eggs as well as the companionship so unproductive hens aren’t worth keeping. And roosters – well, most councils won’t let you keep them at all, and even if you can have them, having more than one or two is a noisy and unproductive pain in the rear.

 

We do have some roosters, because we want fertilised eggs to hatch more chickens, and because roosters are the last line of defence for your flock against foxes. Sometimes a devoted rooster will actually drive a fox or hawk off before they take any hens, although the rooster often doesn’t survive the conflict. However, there’s a limit to how many roosters we can keep, and the ones which try to peck me when I feed them are always going to be the first to go. So last weekend, we held a rooster cull; we killed, bled, plucked and gutted the two extra roosters (known for the last few weeks as Pecky McPeckyface, and Bitey McBiteyface). One gold laced wyandotte, one white silkie.

 

The lessons from this cull were as follows:

  • The nitrogen controlled-atmosphere-killing mechanism is vastly superior to using an axe. (We’re out of nitrogen at the moment and haven’t had the cylinder refilled yet, so we used the axe method for the first time. Leading to me being splattered with chicken blood as the newly headless bird jerked around and spurted blood everywhere. Not fun.)
  • Plucking really isn’t that big a deal if you’re only doing one bird at a time and can finish before full-on rigor mortis sets in. Dipping the bird in hot water to loosen the feathers is not necessary.
  • Naked Neck chickens have advantages other than being better suited to hot weather than most breeds. Plucking the neck of a fully feathered bird is tedious, and Naked Necks also have fewer pin feathers. (The last time we killed a chicken, it was a naked neck, so this time provided a good comparison.)

 

roast chicken and vegesThe birds sat in brine overnight (10% brine, with some added rosemary because the flavour really does settle into the muscles). The Wyandotte went in the freezer, but the silkie turned into roast chicken for dinner last night. The flesh wasn’t as dark as I expected (silkies have black skin, flesh and organs – it’s a genetic trait called fibromelanosis), but it tasted delicious anyway. K used a Jamie Oliver recipe which called for an entire lemon in the cavity to infuse the bird with lemony goodness, and it was amazing.

 

 


Rooster pic sourced from Wikimedia Commons: File:Golden_Laced_Wyandotte_Rooster.jpg

1 2