Legal and Stealthy Backyard Livestock

Our local bylaws are opposed to the keeping of livestock.  Urban farmers here have few options for raising their own proteins if they also want to be laws abiding citizens. These “pets” are exceptions to our rules: pigeons (with a fancier’s permit and restrictions), pond fish, and a single rabbit.

When I sought clarity from an officer about keeping quail which are not described in our laws or more than one rabbit, he said that what I did was only an issue if a neighbor reported me and he winked.

I took a chance and purchased three pullets, beautiful and hardy dual purpose heritage breed chickens: a Buff Orpington, a Columbian Wyandotte, and a Barred Rock, hatchery stock raised by by a nearby organic farmer.  They were quiet, too, as the experts on the interwebs told me they would be..until they began to lay. So, I got reported — but not fined, thankfully — and my chickens went to a friend’s farm. The Buff was killed by a weasel but the others are happy to free range daily now, two years later. I really miss the girls. They were fun to watch and so friendly, too.

What did I do with an empty, hubby-built coop and run? I tried Corturnix quail, of course. Those critters were very difficult to find where I live, but we came upon two trios of white birds for sale at a nearby auction. Hubby bid with enthusiasm. We paid a dear price for all six birds and carted our winnings home. Our smiles faded, however, when one by one each snowy critter began to crow. Loudly. At all times, day and night. They were not announcing eggs, they were all males, crying for a lady. We’d been had. One by one the boys were rehomed to our living room so as to avoid another report to the bylaw office, which surely would include a fine and/or court summons, I supposed.

I sold two, traded a third for an unrelated boy, and one of my dogs ate the weakest link. A month and a six hundred kilometer drive later, I had acquired four quiet females from an honest breeder. They joined my three boys in the backyard coop. When boy quail are kept busy with girls, they manage to be quiet. This ratio of boys and girls is not recommended, I really only needed one or two boys, but my run has lots of space for the teeny girls to hide.

Egg production from Corturnix quail is high. Each girl will drop a tiny delicacy almost every day. They don’t, however, use a nest of any sort, so rummaging for eggs can be a bit of a pain if the birds aren’t caged tightly. They tended to drop their eggs on the ground versus in the coop and they liked sheltered corners under the coop. This is where they tended to huddle, too. I used a Chuck-It dog ball tosser to help me retrieve eggs, its long handle reaching to tricky spaces.

Quail are also very skittish and, from my experience, don’t return home after free ranging, whether their freedom is intended or not. They are food producers, not pets with benefits. Although, when penned with other critters — I’ll get to that in a bit — they are terrific at scavenging the potentially wasted feed on the ground. They tend to spend most of their time on the ground.

When baking, three corturnix eggs make the equivalent of one large chicken egg. If you were to sell them, they may fetch a higher price than chicken eggs. Here they go for $15 per dozen, but I never sold any. I ate them. I hatched a batch in a borrowed incubator, too, but that was a disappointing experience. All but one of 18 eggs hatched, but only six survived 24 hours. I don’t know why.

To the pen I added a rescued meat rabbit. Nugget lasted a year. He likely passed from old age. He was eight. I never intended to eat him.

The corturnix quail didn’t last much longer. They have been bred for hundreds, nay thousands, of years for high egg production, not longevity. Its a good thing I didn’t get attached to them.

I did, however, get attached to Finn and Rachel, the Show King Pigeons. They are an infertile pair, sold to me by a local hobbyist. I thought they’d be happy to sit on quail eggs instead of their duds, but they kept kicking the corturnix eggs out of their nest.

Then, after much research, came the ultimate, stealthy backyard protein producer. I sourced two Muscovy hens.

Muscovy ducks, actually more closely related to geese, produce jumbo sized eggs almost as reliably as chickens and their meat, I’m told, tastes like veal. They tend to go broody, so are good for hatching all sorts of eggs. They are also very quiet. If close neighbors can’t see them or smell them, they’d likely not know they exist. My girls, Gertrude and Beatrice, are at yet another friend’s farm now while we put our house for sale.

Back to rabbits. I’m debating getting a pair of meat producers. I know they are great for urban farms. I do believe I should try rabbit meat first, though, before I make that commitment.

My point to all of this is that its possible to raise eggs and meat in even a small urban backyard depending on your local laws (or your willingness to break them). I’m experimenting.



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