When the Christie family from Ballinteer were looking for another option after the downturn in diary farming, little did they think that they would become the only quail farm in Northern Ireland.
Located just outside Macosquin, the family had been farming cows for around 14 years.
Linda Christie’s idea about quail farming was worth the gamble, and now eggs from the Christie farm are on plates at some of the top restaurants in the North West.
The Macosquin business is the only quail farm in the Province, and they are one of only two in Ireland.
Linda revealed that it has been a massive ‘learning curve’ for her, husband James, and their two children James (11) and Grace (8), who all play a role in the business.
“We were really looking for another option, away from the cows,” said Linda.
“I had done a bit of research into quails, it’s a very niche market.
“We visited a farm in Kildare and then another in Norfolk in England, and decided to dip our toes into the water.
“We only started this in January and already we have seen plenty of interest in the market.
“It has been a very steep learning curve. If you have cows there’s always an expert to fall back on, but no one seems to know too much about quail. So it’s been difficult, we have done a lot of research online and we are still learning.”
Linda and her husband James brought 200 birds home from the farm in Norfolk at the start of the year for breeding stock and they now have around 1,000 birds.
And, in the coming months they will employ staff to help with the production process.
“We started off with the eggs,“ explained Linda, “but everyone is asking about the meat.
“Quail meat would have more flavour than chicken, but it wouldn’t be as strong as pheasant, although it is a game bird.
“So in the next month or so we will start producing meat alongside the eggs.”
The family’s quail eggs are currently on the menu at Harry’s Shack in Portstewart, the Beechhill Hotel in Londonderry, and on sale in Supervalu, Ballymoney and Scotts Farm Shop in Coleraine.
And their eggs have even won an award, thanks to the Executive Head Chef from Sodexo at Bushmills Distillery , Darren Benham, who scooped the Northern Ireland Year of Food Award at this year’s IFEX exhibition.
And there are plenty of nutritional benefits of quail eggs, as Linda explained: “Although these little eggs are only a quarter of the size of a hen’s egg they give you two percent more protein and four to five times more iron and potassium. It really is quite incredible when you look at all the size of it,” she said.
“Quail eggs are just like hen’s eggs in that you can fry them, boil them or poach them, they are just smaller, and because of the way we are raring the birds they have much more taste,” she said.
The Christie farmis currently undergoing renovations so that the birds can live in, what Linda described as ‘aviary conditions’.
“We feed the birds on game feed, which gives extra flavour to the meat and the eggs.
“We are in the process of building an aviary system for the birds to live. The more exercise these birds have the more flavour there will be to the eggs and to the meat.
“Our aim is to give the birds as a good a lifestyle as possible so that we can produce high quality products,” said Linda.
The family have just completed a business development scheme was run by the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council - Journey to Market.
The Journey to Market programme provided applicants with the support they needed to establish or grow their food business.
This support included four days of expert mentoring and a series of seminars covering Innovation in Product Development, Marketing, Creating Experiences and Visual Merchandising.
Commenting on the programme, Linda said: “I am a hands-on farmer, so Journey to Market has helped me focus on what I need to do to run a new business. We have learned so much from the programme, and made some great friends as part of the process. We have had a great launch and now we look forward to growing our family business.”