Fresh quail, duck and organic chicken eggs

Quail Eggs

Bryconn Developments
Arnie and Shirley Morris, Ardrossan

Arnie Morris brought some fertilized quail eggs from his uncle’s farm in B.C. thinking it would be nice to have some quail around. “We had 12 birds hatch out,” says Shirley. “We never realized what good little layers they are. I said to my husband, ‘we could sell the eggs, we could use the extra money.’”

“I phoned a lot of people. No one wanted them, or even really knew what they were. We’re Christian, so my husband said ‘give some money away.’ We gave, I don’t know, $100 to charity. The strangest thing happened. I called Superstore and ended up talking with a man named Paul Halayko. He said; ‘I’ve been looking for a supplier for fresh quail eggs. I’ll send you six months of POs (purchase orders).’ They took everything we had. Now we supply three different Superstore warehouses across the West. Superstore is about 60 per cent of our business, we also sell to T&T and Lucky 97, and we’re looking at a value-added project to develop a ready-to-eat boiled egg.”

“We never dreamed in a million years it would turn out this way,” says Shirley.

The Morris birds are coturnix (coturnix japonica) an old breed from east Asia, found in Russia and the Middle East.

“Our birds are very hardy, I think because we have never manipulated them. We incubate here, we have breeders here, we’re a closed system, there are no trucks bringing other birds in and out. Game birds are not regulated, there is no quota system for quail eggs.

“There’s lots of research being done on how quail albumin seems to inhibit allergic reactions, they have the good cholesterol in the yolks and a natural resistance to salmonella. We are part of the Healthcheck program, and we’re looking for the kosher certification as well.

“The birds start laying at about six weeks, and lay until they are about seven months. We’re able to sell our birds into what’s called the spent bird market. Falconers buy them for their birds of prey.

“When we first got quail, we were told by a fella, ‘you can put them outside and they’ll come back to roost.‘ Well, we ended up with a lot of birds in trees, we lost about half the flock. Quail have been domesticated for a long time, but they still fly.”

Duck Eggs

Greens Eggs and Ham
Mary Ellen and Andreas Grueneberg, Leduc

The Gruenebergs raise geese, duck, cornish hens, guinea fowl, turkey and specialty greens and vegetables on their small farm near Leduc. They are a popular vendor at farmers’ markets in both Edmonton and Calgary and active in the Slow Money movement.

Duck eggs are prized for their digestibility and delicate flavour. Bakers desire them for their loft and their albumin has no known allergens.

“We let our birds lay eggs until they go down to about 50 per cent lay, then we molt them, a natural process wild birds go through every year,” says Andreas.

“We do this by lessening daylight hours and changing to a less nutritious feed. This way we can keep our birds for an average of four lay cycles.

“When they are at full lay, our lights are on for 14 hours a day so that we have a steady lay cycle. In conventional barns lights burn for 18-20 hours to push through as many eggs as possible.

“We have the capacity for 800 birds with a peak of 700/eggs per day, but we’re not there yet. Our ducks are fed a grain ration but never hormones or antibiotics, but when they first arrive on the farm they get a vitamin supplement.”

This helps the ducklings recover from the transport and adjust to the new surroundings.

Andreas’ favourite way to eat a duck egg? “I like them boiled, or in an egg salad, and I like to bake with them.”

The eggs are larger and if using in a recipe, you can cut the number of eggs needed by half.

“Ducks are always a surprise,” says Andreas. “We have been producing eggs for over a decade and find them to be inconsistent performers. They are strict and intolerant. Working with them is more of an art than a science.”

Organic Chicken Eggs

Sunworks Organic Farm
Ron and Sheila Hamilton, Armena

Sunworks Organic Farm produces certified organic meats and eggs and markets them at farmers’ markets and Blush Lane Market in Edmonton and Calgary.

They have quota. “Quota is a one time purchase to buy the right to produce dairy, eggs, chicken and turkey. It’s a very complicated system, and the price fluctuates as quota is on the open market,” says Ron. “Our population growth has meant that we should be growing more eggs, more turkeys and more chickens. Alberta was recently given more egg quota by the national agency. We have had challenges, we do have quota now for all our birds.”

The Hamiltons have 1,565 certified organic Sex-Sal-Link Browns, a small hybrid chicken, which Ron says is a “prolific egg layer, gentle, not high strung.

“We’re certified organic, certified humane and certified local by Local Food plus (out of Ontario ) They audit on all sorts of aspects — how do you treat your employees, what is their housing like, what about your wild areas?

“We have birds outdoors 24/7 from mid-May to mid-October. In the summer, the eggs are considered free-range and in the winter, free-fun as they are inside but not caged. Our barns have a minimum of two square feet per bird, and they have to have windows for natural light.

“They start laying at 19 weeks and lay for a year. Then they become stewing hens.

“We sell out of eggs every week. When Sunday comes, there are no eggs in the cooler. You can’t boil our eggs, you have to wait.”