I imagine many (or even most) people who practice some sort of self-sufficiency involving DIY slaughtering would hold some reservations with the whole process. The subject of DIY slaughtering or even commercial slaughtering is a difficult one but it is part of life. For the majority who eat meat, we shouldn't take for granted the food we consume and home slaughtering has magnified this belief in me. For those who are vegetarian and are appalled by the thought of any animal being slaughtered for human consumption, I respect your views and will never stand on a soapbox trying to convince you otherwise.
I have been growing, cooking, and eating my own quail for several years now and I must say I rate this achievement as one of my best self-sufficient ventures so far. Quail growing suits me because they are an easy meat to produce. For someone who wants to grow animals for food but lacks the expertise, space and/or finances to keep larger livestock, quail is an excellent choice. Also, I kind of like the exoticness about quail, it's long history as a domesticated bird, the fact it's a highly rated restaurant dish, and in Australia keeping quail for food isn't widely common practice so it's an interesting pursuit.
My feelings on Processing Quail
The act of home-growing quail for consumption is 90% fun. The eggs are small, so a backyard incubation set-up can be very low cost ($100-$200) taking up little space to potentially generate 100-plus birds at a time. With a little innovation brooding the tiny chicks (which are just so very cute) is low cost too with a container and a light bulb doing the trick. Children love the chicks (and so do the adults) at the point of hatching a quail chick is no bigger than a USB stick. The chicks are feisty, easy to care for, fun to handle, and as they grow older looking after adult quail doesn't get any harder…Until it's eating time.
This is where the other 10% comes in as the 'not fun' part of home-growing quail for consumption. Let me divulge to you some inner truths about me… I hate killing anything. Sometimes I even have trouble removing a tomato plant from the garden that has self-seeded in the wrong place let alone ending a living creatures life! Kind of strange for someone who did spend 21 tough years in the Army.
Anyway, I do eat meat and I enjoy it; therefore, I figure if I am prepared to accept meat from others (like my local butcher) I should be able to process some of my own meat. However, I draw the line at slaughtering anything bigger than a quail (unless it's a fish – and no, I don't know why). And, that's how come I only have layer chickens rather than meat chickens because I would rather not slaughter and process any land animal from the size of a chicken or bigger. Occasionally, I am required to euthanise one of my hens due to illness etc and I carry the task out reluctantly indeed.
Once, I processed and prepared one of our hens for the table and whilst the family had a finger-licking, lip-smacking feast, I ended up forking my chicken nuggets around the plate like a two-year-old child's first encounter with brussel sprouts. It's not that I feel terribly sorry for the chickens –maybe just a little, more so, the processing (killing, plucking and gutting, to put it bluntly) of the animal suppresses my appetite somewhat. I have heard of people who happily work in abattoirs but then don't eat meat or like to catch fish but feel queasy about eating fish – perhaps psychologically I am similar to them.
Don't get me wrong, processing quail isn't a pleasant experience for me either just because they are small and I can feel a little queasy consuming a quail I have personally murdered. However, I do think I am getting better with time at eating my home butchered quail and I especially like them grilled on my Weber Q peri peri style (which happens to be my next quail post).
Post edit: I should update this article and state that I do slaughter ducks to eat occasionally also, but again, it's not something I have gotten used to doing.
My way of coping
My main reasons for better tolerating the process to bring quail from the pen to the plate are:
Quail are simple and quick to kill;
Butchering quail is easy and not as 'messy' as other animals;
Quail is a short-lived bird and the responsibility is on me to refresh my stock (so in my mind it's a necessity);
As a family, quail is one of our favourite foods; and
Last, but trivially, quail don't tend to bond with humans like other poultry or animals can.
So, how do I kill something I have provided for and watched grow? Not easily!
I try to justify the killing in the following ways:
My animals have been given the best care and have had a good life. Certainly, my quails are kept in conditions far better than quail farms just like home-kept chickens are generally better kept than battery farmed hens.
If I don't slaughter my animals someone else has to anyway. Thereby, I know if I do the killing just as my quail have had a good life, they have a quick and painless death also with no travelling or lengthy waits in crammed holding pens or unsatisfactory conditions causing undue stress.
As I previously mentioned, I prefer to consciously refresh my quail stock whilst they are healthy rather than wait for them to show signs of ageing and dying (possibly stressfully) through natural or other causes. Although my breeding stock is generally an exception and if they have stopped laying etc I will let them live on and they often pass naturally (usually by sudden heart attack). However, any overstock usually gets the chop within 12 weeks because past this point quail are not great eating and keeping too many birds just for the sake of it costs money plus increases the chances of disease, in-fighting, etc.
And finally, the “that's life” rule meaning I'm a carnivore and there's no way to pretty it up, I eat meat and so does my family, unfortunately for quail, they're part of my food chain.
Feelings are normal?
Will I ever get totally used to murdering quail? My belief is I am not isolated in feeling this way so I guess my issue with slaughtering my own animals is likely the same as others and therefore probably quite natural. I am not sure if I can become a cold-heartless-killer and then freely enjoy eating at the end of the process but I'm going to persist and hope I improve; because, there's nothing better tasting, fresher, or healthier than home-grown produce… even if you have to murder it yourself.
If you have a view on this subject feel free to start a thread in our forum or leave a comment below.
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Mark – Editor SSM