Unlike chickens, who can be somewhat consistent in laying their eggs in straw-lined nest boxes, coturnix quail tend to lay their eggs just wherever the hell they happen to be at the time they feel the urge.
Considering that they also prefer their habitat to provide a lot of cover (read: weeds and shrubs), this generally means that every morning around here is an Easter egg hunt.
It also means that the eggs are often quite dirty, especially if it’s been raining, as the quail like to make dirt baths and lay in them.
Commercial quail egg production facilities (and individuals who model on them) “solve” this “problem” by confining quail to wire cages that are built on a slight slope so that the eggs stay clean (poop falls through the wire, and there’s no dirt for dust baths and therefore no mud), and roll gently toward the door after they are laid.
This solves the human problem, but at enormous cost to the actual producers of the eggs, the quail themselves.
This is emblematic of how humanity has dealt with many of its problems over the past couple millennia. Nature is inconvenient? Kill it. Confine it. Redesign it.
Make it work for me.
This is terribly selfish, this unilateral “problem-solving.”
And, furthermore, it ultimately causes more problems than it solves.
Take quail, for instance.
In most conventional coturnix-keeping circles, there is a strongly held belief that quail are flighty, delicate, anxious, aggressive creatures that can’t be kept from pecking the feathers off each other’s heads except by cutting off the ends off their beaks (which is an actual practice that is commonly recommended, I shit you not).
Is this because quail are flighty, delicate, anxious, aggressive creatures that can’t be kept from pecking the feathers off each other’s heads, or is this because *they are creatures under enormous stress dealing with ongoing trauma the best they can*?
Well. I mean. I can’t speak for the quail (yes, I can, and must since they don’t generally speak English), but I can tell you that MY quail are not flighty, delicate, anxious, aggressive creatures that can’t be kept from pecking the feathers off each other’s heads.
In fact, when I released the new batch into their pen, instead of losing their shit as one might expect from flighty, delicate, anxious creatures, they responded to the sudden and unexpected change of environment with alarm for only about one minute, then anxiety for about five, and then they settled right in, delighted with their new circumstances.
They settled in so quickly that within five minutes one of them had identified, stalked, and captured a large insect which it proceeded to share with its brood mate (such aggressive, anti-social birds they are!).
Yes, they are small prey animals with no natural defenses except to run and hide. Yes, they do tend to jump straight up when startled (which can lead to deaths in conventional factory settings because they break their necks on the top of the pen… which problem is commonly “solved” by making their pens so tiny and their roofs so low that they can’t build up enough steam to injure themselves when they jump). Yes, they will peck the feathers off each other’s heads when under ongoing, unremitting stress.
But this is not their natural condition. And making them more miserable is not the solution.
Let us return then to the egg problem.
It turns out, there is another solution to the egg problem. A bilateral solution that benefits the birds and their keepers, both.
I found it out simply by paying attention and listening to my birds, so many years ago when I was doing this regularly (after, to my regret, I tried – and failed – to keep them in conventional cages, where they were every bit as difficult to manage as I’d been led to believe, until the day I defied convention and actually listened to them).
The solution is a sandbox.
Quail love a good dust bath in a sand box. It helps them stay cool. It helps them stay parasite-free (the gritty sand in their feathers dislodges mites and ticks, etc.). It helps them digest their food. And it’s just plain old-fashioned good quail fun.
They also really, really like to lay eggs in a sandbox. Don’t know why, but it’s true.
So, you make a sandbox out of a cardboard box and a small portion of a $5 bag of play sand from Lowe’s, and you set it near the door to the run.
Each afternoon, the day’s eggs are presented to you neatly, cleanly, and conveniently in the sandbox.
Packaged like a gift, from the birds to you. As if to say, “Thank you for providing us this gift of a delightful, cool place to rest. Here is our gift back to you.”
Is this solution “profitable”? Certainly not from a conventional business standpoint. You can’t really make a ton of money from quail eggs the way I raise them.
But is it profitable? Well, I consider it profitable to have more joy and happiness in the world. I consider a quail’s experience of life to be as valid and important as my own.
I consider their joy to be part of my own, especially when I am the one charged with their care. Especially when I am the one who benefits from their production.
I believe that solutions are only solutions when they benefit all of the involved parties, especially those who are most vulnerable and have the least power in the situation.
I believe that if we, as a species, were to begin walking through the world with respect and honor toward all who share it with us, that we would find ourselves led to more true solutions and fewer unintended negative consequences.
I believe that if we follow a path of mutual respect and equality rather than authoritarian supremacy, that solutions to our small problems will present themselves, and that in solving our small problems we have the potential to solve the large ones as well.
Enough. I’ve got articles to write and sand to order and pick up from the store.
May you be well today. May you be at peace with yourself and all beings. May you find the solutions you seek in respect and honor with all beings.
May you be well.