Farmer Interview – Brien Darby, Cultivate KC
At Westport Commons Farm, Cultivate KC explored the use of the domesticated Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica) with trap-crops to eliminate the use of pesticide and the need to replant with the added benefit of providing meat, eggs, and fertility to a small organic farm operation.
The quail were housed in 5’x5′ pens on the edges of the cash-crop area. The trap-crop (blue hubbard squash) were planted within each pen. The intent was for pests lured to the trap-crop to be eaten by the quail. While others have experimented with the use of chickens in similar applications, we believe quail have the advantages of being small, less destructive, and less prone to eat vegetation. Quail can be housed continuously with the trap-crop, eliminating the need for pesticides or to replant crops damaged by pests or larger fowl.
We hatched the chicks at home in the incubator from eggs we purchased from a farm in El Dorado, Kansas.
The whole group of quail were raised in one cage until they were mature, while the other cages were growing the trap crop of blue hubbard squash. At around six weeks of age, the quail began laying vigorously, and the eggs were collected daily. (Photo 1)
In each cage we planted two blue hubbard squash to attract the common curcurbit pests. Two weeks following this planting, we planted two rows of cash crop, approximately 400 row feet. We waited until the squash plants were large and robust, thinking that the quail wouldn’t be able to damage them (Photo 2).
When the pests began to arrive, we introduced the quail into the cages with the blue hubbard squash. To our surprise the quail relished the flavor of the squash vines, and ate them aggressively. Within a couple of days, the trap crop was destroyed (Photo3). We chose the quail because we thought their diminutive stature, and their light scratching would prevent them from harming the squash plants. This proved not to be the case at all. They were just as destructive, if not moreso, to the squash than the chickens in the previous SARE grant we researched.
We have not heard of anyone adopting this practice as of yet, but we have heard from many farmers that inspired them to experiment with similar principles and applications for pest management on their own sites. We produced hundreds of quail eggs, and hundreds of pounds of squash from this project.
The presence of nonconventional farm animals on the site also drew visitors to the farm in a surprising way. Many would not have considered the value of the nontraditional poultry as a food product or pest manager. It was an engaging topic during tours for nonfarmers to learn about livestock and for farmers to consider alternative sustainable methods for pest management.
If explored further, we would like to see the same method applied with Brassica crops to see how quail manage pests drawn toward those plants. We would also recommend a design that prohibits damage to the trap crop from the quail while still allowing them access to pests on the plant as well as within the pen. Those who choose to implement or explore this method should take caution against quail predators particularly those capable of digging or tunneling into the pen from underneath.