Quail Farming in Zimbabwe: What You Should Know Before You Get Started!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Quail farming

Quail farming is becoming one of the most popular forms of farming for current and future farmers in Zimbabwe today.
  • They're said to consume less feed than chickens
  • They're said to be less susceptible to disease than chickens
  • They're said to take up less space than chickens
  • They're said to be a superfood that cures ailments such as cancer, hypertension, and insomnia
These all sound like great reasons to jump on the quail farming bandwagon. But if you're going to just jump in without evaluating these claims and doing your homework you are going to find yourself in a farming disaster. 


Farming business cannot be based on hype alone. You need to make sure you are serving a real consumer demand if you want your farming business to survive..and thrive. Do your research, determine if you can really succeed in the quail market or if you are just going to waste your time and resources?

Let's break this down to find out.

Many of the health and financial claims attributed to quail birds are simply not supported by any scientific or market evidence. While the birds are a good source of protein, it is questionable that they can cure serious ailments such as cancer or hypertension.

Let's assume of a second that these health claims were supported by evidence. Knowing that something is healthy does not necessary translate into consumers buying that product.  

On profitability: quail birds (zvihuta) are simply not something that Zimbabweans eat regularly or prefer. What is being sold is the live birds, not the eggs or meats.  Yes, some people (mainly breeders), can make money selling something most people don't regularly eat  but it's extremely difficult and expensive. You will need to spend a lot of time educating people to want to eat quail.

We learned this lesson with mushrooms even though we had done our homework. Yes, there was a market with middle and high-income consumers, but that was not a big enough market to support multiple suppliers and reduced consumer incomes due to the economic downturn. We soon pivoted to diversify into mushroom value addition and marketing to stay viable. 

According to Joel Salatin the speculative cycle for raising or growing a new exotic or niche product such as quail follows a 5 stage cycle:

First is news: A new animal or plant gets a lot of press and promotion. Much like the recent press articles on quail farming in the Sunday Mail and on ZBC. These articles quote industry insiders promoting the benefits of quail farming.

They make statements like "quail farming is lucrative" and "there is increased demand for the birds meat and eggs". These statements are usually not supported by any official data on consumer demand. By the time you are reading these press articles about the next big thing you are usually too late!

Second is hype: interest rises from the publicity and everyone jumps on the bandwagon as industry associations promise unusually high returns. This becomes the new big thing, just like sack potatoes were in 2014.

Third is disillusionment: the market crashes. People realize that there wasn't a market and demand was artificial. The only people who were making money were the people selling breeding stock, and not many people were actually eating quail. This stage can be depressing for a lot of people. We can learn a lot about agricultural bubbles from the boom and bust of quail farming in Kenya.

The fourth is a trough: things hit bottom. Birds and eggs that were worth a lot drastically drop in price and farmers have to accept lower prices. People who borrowed to get into the business go out of business or just open their gates and let their birds loose. This brings the market down to a realistic demand.

Lastly is the steady growth: the price slowly starts rising. This can take years if it ever happens.

This speculative cycle is repeated time and time again around the world. Joe Salatin advises against growing or raising exotics as the main part of your farming operation.

Yes, some people will make money selling quail birds and eggs, but most people will end stuck with a product they can't offload. This is true even if Chicken Slice started selling quarter quail and chips at all its outlets! People are just not going to switch from quarter chicken to quail anytime soon.

Too many people read headlines like "the next money spinner" from promoters and quickly jump in without doing any homework or proper planning to understand the resources, skills, and requirements needed to be successful. 
Speed is only useful if you're running in the right direction. {Joel Barker}

Preparation will help you avoid making expensive mistakes or deciding to quit farming to go try your luck in Mzansi.

Now that we know the common signs of an agriculture bubble, here is what you should do to save yourself the heartache and dollars of learning to farm the hard way.

Step 1: Determine if there is real consumer demand to make a viable business

Potential customers must be willing and also able to pay to make your farming venture viable. Go on cooking groups on social media (Facebook/ Whatsapp/Twitter) and read the conversations. See what most people are cooking with to see where there is real consumption demand. Relying on the high end of the market especially in our depressed economy is not sustainable.

Step 2: Find a market for quail bird consumers

Figure out when and where to sell your quail birds and eggs. Do you know anyone including strangers who are willing to buy quail birds or eggs to eat at home? I have seen quail listed on menus of upscale restaurants like Amanzi and KwaMurongo but not much anywhere else. Don't start raising any quail birds or any other product before you know where you will sell it. You need to link your production to your marketing. If you start raising quails track market prices and adjust your production based on market supply and demand. Farming is cyclical with high and low prices throughout the year. 

Step 3: Start small

Try out a few birds and see if you can sell them profitably. Don't go into heavy debt on something speculative that you don't fully understand. It's ok to speculate just don't bet the farm or all your savings by making quail farming the centerpiece of your farm.Starting small will save you money and heartache down the line.

Step 4: Build a promotion and sales strategy 

Provide consumers with samples and get their feedback. Talk to restaurants owners. New products do not sell themselves, you need to influence demand through sampling. Set up a Facebook page to communicate with customers and share recipes. Get creative with ways to sell quail-related products.

You can join the conversation on our facebook page here.

Image source: Purple Moon Designs/ Flickr









2 comments:

  1. Great article, well done. Sack potatoes hype is no different from quails. I have a contention on mushrooms though. Current market stats will prove you wrong. Not just stats but real demand

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We would love to be proved wrong, especially with mushrooms. We love mushrooms. This was our experience and may not representative of all mushroom farmers. In Sunningdale, where our supermarket is located we faced an uphill battle educating consumers and getting real demand. We would love to hear more about your experience. Feel free to submit a guest post, debate is healthy:)

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