2020 Farm Update


Welcome back! It’s been awhile. Lots of changes have been made here at Abernathy’s. The most exciting one is that we had a (human) baby! Our human baby is now 2 years old and we couldn’t be happier with our new little family.

Rabbits! Ah, so much has happened with the rabbits. We’ve made the decision that we will no longer be breeding any purebred rabbits for the time being. The reasoning? Primarily, the reason is that purebred rabbits are just never quite as healthy as hybrids. They get sick, they get hurt, they die for no reason while our hybrids stay healthy and happy no matter what. There’s nothing worse than putting energy and heart into a beautiful rabbit that just up and dies for no reason way before its time. What can you do? Purebred rabbits are bred to look a certain way. Health comes second.

That being said, breed one purebred meat rabbit with another purebred meat rabbit and you get… An amazing healthy litter of F1 hybrid mutts. What will they look like? Who knows! That’s part of what makes it fun, for me at least. Then you can save the best rabbits from that litter and breed them out again to another purebred rabbit. Then you get… Even healthier mutts? Sometimes! It’s called hybrid vigor and it’s for real.

You can select for whatever you want. I have a strain of rabbits that does particularly well on forage. Not that they don’t all enjoy their fresh greens, but this strain will eat forage first over pellets, do better on it and eat more of it than my other rabbits. It’s pretty obvious why I find this trait desirable. There’s no guaranteeing rabbit pellets are going to be available forever.

First and foremost I breed for health, temperament, grow-out rate, litter size, mothering ability, pelt quality and appearance. When you buy a rabbit from me, you are buying nine years of that selection process. It’s pretty great.

We have also stopped raising Coturnix quail. It was interesting while it lasted but it became more work than it was worth. Quail eggs are charming and healthful, but they’re annoyingly small and don’t keep well. The birds themselves are cute and delicious, but they’re also dusty and violent, and the males can be noisy. Maybe we’ll get back into them someday when we have more space.


My Coturnix Quail Eggs are Too Big!


Standard quail egg on the left and one of my typical eggs on the right

It’s that time of year again when I do my first big quail hatch of the season, so I’ve been dutifully collecting eggs and placing them in the turner in a cool place until I have enough to incubate. I get about 12 to 20 eggs a day so it takes about a week to fill my turner up with the best eggs. But there’s a problem this year… My eggs are way too big!

I’ve come back to the turner to find crushed eggs almost every day now. The quail rails on my Hova-Bator turner are just not large enough, and when the turner goes all the way to one side, the largest eggs get crushed by the edges of the rail next to them and fall through making a huge mess.


Regular untrimmed rails

I know this is not the worst problem a person can have… I select for large birds and I guess I’ve finally reached a point where their eggs have outgrown the turner. These are not double yolkers either, they are just very big. It was getting so that less than half of my daily egg collection would fit in the rails safely. But I wanted to hatch out those big eggs, they probably have big chicks in them! What was I going to do?

Solution: Trim the rails. It turns out that you can make some simple alterations to the plastic rails with a Dremel tool that allows for even very large quail eggs to fit without being crushed. The integrity of the rail is maintained, and it’s quite easy to do. In fact, the rails really should have been designed this way to begin with!


Two bottom rails have been notched

Eggshells Instead of Bone Meal for the Garden


Plants need calcium, especially things like tomatoes which will suffer from blossom end-rot without sufficient amounts.

I save all my eggshells and my birds generate about 5 to 10 pounds worth per year. I dry them, crush them and every spring I spread them all over my gardens. Today was eggshell-spreading day! There are usually none left over, but when there are they get fed back to the birds who love them.


I really appreciate that I don’t have to purchase bone meal, which is a by-product of the beef industry. It’s nice using fertilizers that are generated right here on the property and it saves me money. I don’t bother crushing them to a powder, I just do the best I can and they decompose over time.

It’s a myth that eggshells will prevent slugs in your garden. Tests have shown that they actually attract them! If slugs are a concern for you, turn your eggshell into the soil so they’re covered. I don’t bother with this because my ducks eat most of the slugs around here and I like the way the shells brighten things up.



Deformities of Coturnix Quail Chicks

It’s quail hatching time again, and I managed to fill the incubator right before the egg laying season ended. A little late this year, but that’s ok.

When you hatch large numbers of quail chicks you will occasionally get deformities. The chances go up if your incubator conditions were not ideal, or your breeding birds are old.

So far, 82 of my 120 eggs have hatched out and for the most part everyone looks good. There are a couple of chicks with splayed leg, which may or may not resolve itself. This always seems to happen regardless of the fact that I offer a surface with good traction right from hatch.


Chick with splayed leg

And there are a couple of chicks with bulging eyes. This also seems to happen every time and I’m not entirely sure why. These chicks look healthy enough for the first few days but in my experience will usually die. You can see in the photos how much larger the eyes are than in a normal chick. It looks very uncomfortable but I always like to give them a fighting chance.



This chick has bulging eyes


Compared to normal eyes in this chick

Today I had a deformity pop up that I’ve never seen before. This little chick has the whole top of their beak twisted into a 90 degree angle from their lower beak. It also seems like they may be missing an eye on the squished side. How on earth did this little bird even get out of the egg?


Anyway, with a deformity this severe, you can be pretty confident that this chick would just suffer and eventually die from hunger or thirst, so I euthanized it. Its little body did not go to waste and was happily eaten by chickens to be converted into more eggs.


Raised Beds at Last


“I am helping”

I’ve been here three years now, and come a long way in the gardening department considering there was nothing when I started.

This garden plot was dug the very first spring, and it comprised many hours of backbreaking work, only to succumb to an influx of weeds that were impossible to control. The soil, which looked great at first, turned into a hard-packed hydrophobic carapace, and my harvests were pitiful.

The next year I smartened up and used a thick layer of woodchip mulch which resisted most of the weeds and protected the soil from drying out. However, there is still a pronounced slope to the yard here which causes constant erosion and is vulnerable to chicken, duck and dog attacks. I don’t allow much free ranging of birds precisely because of this issue. A single hen can cause a lot of damage in a very short time.

The whole area needed cleaning and tidying up and I thought the best way to do this would be to convert it to raised beds. I had the best garden of my life when I was using a raised bed in Vancouver. They look nice and neat, are higher up so easier to tend, they are level, you can fill them with whatever you want, and it keeps the lawn from creeping into your plots. It also creates a sturdy foundation for all kinds of cool projects, like trellises, hoop houses, chicken tillers and quail pens.

My first raised bed project after completion of the bed itself is to build a large segmented quail pen with a living roof to sit partially on top. There will be a metal mesh insert buried about 6″ under the earth and screwed into the sides of the bed to prevent rodents from getting inside. This will give the quail more space, an earth floor (which I know will make them lose their tiny minds with happiness) and access to vegetation, rain and added sunlight. (Rain? My experience at the raptor centre has taught me that sometimes birds just like to sit in the rain…) The earth floors will also keep their feet and feathers healthy and I will have space to add more natural hiding areas. I’m hoping this will help cut down on bullying. The pen will be segmented down the middle to make two separate living areas so I can keep certain individuals apart.

Here’s what the area looked like this morning:DSC_0002

And here’s what I accomplished today:


First the little apple tree had to come out. It had barely any root ball, just one giant long taproot that ran horizontally about 20 feet. Should be fun replanting it later…

I was able to get the first bed aligned, level and square. The beds are 12 feet by 4 feet and the top row of boards are 2″ by 12″ fir. The ends are spruce because they were out of fir. We’ll see how that turns out.

The next step will be to add an 8″ by 12′ board on the bottom of the low side to bring it to the ground. This is an easy method for building raised beds on a slope. The side pieces will be long triangles that will give the appearance that the bed is half buried.

You can see that I’m also placing a thick layer of newspapers under the edges of the bed. This is just to keep weeds down in these areas. I will not cover the insides of the beds, but I will put down a layer over the paths and cover the paper either with straw or wood chips. I’ve been saving paper for awhile now and I’m glad to finally convert it to worm food.


I’m planning three beds in total, with 2 or 3 foot wide pathways between them. The supplies for this project (wood and 3 inch deck screws) cost me just about $250 CAD.

Of course, now that I look at this first bed, it seems it will be almost impossible to fill. It will be almost 20 inches high on the downhill side! Luckily, it’s time to dig out the chicken pen floor and replace it again with woodchips. It’s taken a year or so, but the chickens and worms have transformed the chunks of wood into beautiful, rich black earth. It’s gorgeous stuff and I know it’s going to grow me some amazing produce.


Better, Cheaper Rabbit Pellets

DSC_0004There’s just one thing I like better than finding cheaper alternatives to necessary purchases, and that’s finding BETTER quality products for cheaper!

While picking up little MR16 last week, the topic of rabbit pellets came up and I was informed of a source of locally-made pellets that were non-gmo, animal product free, 1% higher in protein than my current brand, and $2 cheaper per 20kg bag. The breeder told me that her rabbit herd had made a dramatic change when she switched to these pellets; they were having larger litters, growing out faster and had better immunity. I was sold.

Today I checked it out. This magical place is Top Shelf Feeds in Duncan BC. Boy, what a fantastic store! It might be a 40 minute drive away, but this is definitely where I’m going to be buying all my livestock feed from now on. I was told they work closely with rabbit breeders to formulate their rabbit pellets, and almost everything they sell is a little, if not a lot cheaper than in Nanaimo.

For instance, for Coturnix Quail rations I normally buy 26% Gamebird Starter from Share-Kare, a shop near me, for $22.50 a bag. Compare that to 26% Quail Diet from Top Shelf at $14.50 a bag! Just one bag pretty much pays for the whole trip. I can also buy their original non-gmo layer pellets for about $0.75 more per bag, which is a very good deal. I may even switch to their organic layer pellets since I’ll be saving so much money on everything else.

They also have cool, real farmer stuff like replacement tattoo clamp numbers, stethoscopes (I bought one), scalpels, bulk bins of milk replacement powder, 20kg bags of baking soda, vials of medication that say for veterinary use only… As well as blocks of exotic frozen raw pet foods.

And when available they sell heritage, sexed chicks for a reasonable $3 or so instead of $10-15 at my local Buckerfield’s. I also bought a 50 foot roll of 3′ wide, 1/4″ hardware cloth for about $30 cheaper than I could find anywhere else. This will be used for my new pigeon loft/aviary. A bale of straw is currently about $12.50 there, but it’s $20 in Nanaimo. These are fairly significant discrepancies, especially if you buy in quantity.

To top it all off, you get to pull into a covered loading area and they pack all your feed into your vehicle for you. Love it!

Quail Chick Bonanza

DSC_0001Quail chick time again! I have lots of people interested in quail so I finally just filled the incubator to capacity with quail eggs, which is 120. Today was hatch day and 69 zippy little chicks were out and about and transferred to the brooder. Many more eggs have pipped so I won’t know the final count for a couple more days, but overall I’m very happy with the way this hatch has gone.

DSC_0004I’ve hatched quite a few batches of chicks thus far, so I know a little bit more about the conditions that are right for Coturnix. This time I had the incubator set a little bit lower, about at 36.5 to 37 degrees Celcius, while normally 37.5 degrees is recommended. I’ve noticed that when it gets a bit too warm in there I get a few chicks with problems like splay legs or bulging eyes. I had read somewhere that quail do best with it a bit cooler, and this has worked amazingly well. There are no sick chicks yet in this group and everyone hatched right on time except for a handful who hatched yesterday. I’ll keep the temperature lower from now on.

DSC_0008I have a very nice assortment of colors this time. Many A&M Whites of course, since my males right now are predominantly white; but also lots of Tuxedo, Tibetan, Silver and Pharaoh. Amazingly there were only two males that I know of hatched out of my last batch a few months ago, so those were the males I had to use to fertilize these eggs.

I’m hoping to get some more males this time (never thought I would say that!) with more variety of color so I can balance things out a bit. I enjoy all the colors but I prefer the wild type/Pharaoh as they can be easily sexed by plumage color quite early on. Every other color (except Italian) can only be sexed once the males begin to crow. No way I would attempt vent sexing on such tiny birds.


Empty eggshells from hatched chicks

Quail Fairy Egg

DSC_0009 I’ve had chicken fairy eggs here before, but this is the first one from the quail. It’s so tiny! Here it is compared to a normal-sized quail egg. Fairy eggs can occur when a bit of reproductive tissue breaks away and the quail’s egg producing glands treat it as a yolk and wrap it in a shell. Thus these eggs are usually yolkless.


Quail Chicks Have Hatched

DSC_0042It’s day 18 of incubation and so far 33 chicks have hatched out of 72 eggs. This isn’t too bad considering my adult birds are getting a little on the old side. I’ll be choosing my new breeding flock from these chicks and retiring the older birds.

It was a good hatch this time, no issues, but I did get another chick with bulging eyes, like last time. This chick uses a scanning motion to look around which is very unusual. I don’t expect him to make it. There is also another chick who took three days to come out of his shell and who I finally helped break free. He can’t stand up and will likely not survive either. Other than that, it’s a great healthy clutch. Lots of whites as well as quite a few silvers and tuxedos. Mushrooms is very proud.


The Trick to Easy-Peel Quail Eggs

DSC_0025Anybody who has ever tried peeling a hard-boiled quail egg knows that it’s a tedious chore, at best. Anybody who raises their own quail knows that fresh quail eggs are next to impossible to peel cleanly.

The solution? Never boil another quail egg. Steam them.

Simply use a vegetable steamer in a pot with about an inch of water and a tight fitting lid. Turn the heat up to maximum and when the steam starts coming, set a timer for six minutes.

After that, rinse your eggs well in cold water and let them sit in the water for a few minutes.


This egg is so fresh it was actually laid today, not bad huh?

Then peel. Quail eggs have a thin shell and a thick membrane, so pinch through the membrane at the fat end of the egg, where there is an air pocket, to make sure you get a clean removal.

Of course, this method also works for fresh chicken eggs. Steam them for about 12-15 minutes. You’ll be amazed!