At 13, many expect Will Taber to lock himself in his bedroom, crank up the Xbox and rejoin society only when Mom yells at him that dinner is ready. But Will has no time for that while running a thriving quail aviary and selling eggs to Raleighs high-end restaurants.
Two years ago, Wills parents agreed to let him and his older sister raise poultry in the backyard of the familys Five Points home.
My sister got chickens, and I was always a fan of birds, so I kind of wanted to get quail, said Will, a rising eighth-grader at St. Timothys School.
On a recent Friday morning, Will, a longtime bird lover, showed off his operation. He has roughly 75 quail of varying species in the backyard. This number does not include the young quail fowl in a separate cage or the 100 fertilized eggs in an incubator in the familys basement. Nor does it include the chickens Will and his sister received as a Valentines Day present earlier this year.
He pointed to the top rack of the quail cage. These are bobwhite quail, and they are some of my favorite birds because they make a really distinctive sound. A chorus of bird calls, somewhere between a squeak and a squawk, screaming bob, bob-white! drove the point home.
The aspiring ornithologist picked up this hobby around age 4 from his maternal grandparents, who travel all over the globe to go birding. His mom, Julie Taber, said her son can recognize a species based on the noise it makes, which in the birding world is akin to having perfect pitch when singing.
Later, at the kitchen table, Will whipped out his iPhone to show off his iBird app, an essential when identifying species in the field.
Will has a very scientific approach to his avian friends. For a school science project, he experimented with heat lamps of different colors to see if it would have an effect on the number of eggs the birds laid. No surprise that red gets the birds in the chick-making mood the most.
[I expected] a lot less eggs, Will said of his initial expectations of raising quail. Just from yesterday and the day before we got about six dozen eggs.
The idea of selling eggs came to Will and his father, Rhett, an airline pilot, when they realized that they had an absurd number of quail eggs on their hands. When a neighbor told them that nearby restaurant Mandolin was serving deviled quail eggs, they offered up their surplus. Will solicited other nearby restaurants and now has a bustling business that includes Carolina Country Club, Second Empire and Flights restaurant at the Renaissance Raleigh North Hills Marriott.
Quail eggs, common in Asia, are similar in taste and consistency to chicken eggs. A delicacy in North America, they are about a third the size but still pack a powerful number of nutrients.
Attractive little eggs for fine dining
The owner of Mandolin restaurant near Five Points, Sean Fowler, is one of his regular clients. He said he always keeps Wills product on the menu.
Its certainly not what people would expect for an agricultural commodity to be from Five Points, Fowler said. It makes us feel a part of the neighborhood and community.
Fowler said he serves the quail eggs in a variety of dishes, from steak entrees to cocktail hors doeuvres. Since these eggs are smaller, they provide a less eggy taste in dishes as well as an attractive presentation. He likes to cook them in beet juice, which turns the egg whites a bright purple and leaves the yolk yellow.
Even with a handful of fine dining restaurants buying his quail eggs, the Taber family still has plenty to eat.
We fry them, Julie Taber said, and I put them in omelets sometimes with just regular eggs, and theres a couple poached egg recipes you can make with greens, and a lot of hard-boiled eggs.