Game of birds

Gourmet de­lights wan­der round this block, and its own­ers can’t get enough of what is turn­ing into a de­lec­ta­ble lit­tle bird busi­ness.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Feature -

It’s ironic that Rod­ney Alexan­der and Joyce Lloyd don’t con­sider them­selves food­ies, de­spite be­ing sur­rounded by gourmet game prod­ucts which flap their way around their Nuhaka block, an hour’s drive south of Gis­borne.

They used to be con­ven­tional sheep and beef farm­ers. Now they are sup­pli­ers of quail eggs, pi­geon squabs, and Mus­covy duck sous vide served with an or­ange sauce.

Their old farm was 1200 hectares with a sup­port­ive net­work of fer­tiliser reps, stock agents, ac­coun­tants and es­tab­lished pro­ces­sors and mar­kets. Rod­ney and Joyce are now hav­ing to ed­u­cate their po­ten­tial mar­ket about what their prod­ucts are, what they taste like and how to cook them, be­fore they even start selling.

“We took 30 dozen quail eggs to our first mar­ket, and sold one,” says Rod­ney. “So I went to Briscoes and bought a pot. Ninety-nine per­cent of New Zealan­ders have never tasted a quail egg so how could I sell them one?”

Tiny quail eggs pack a tasty nu­tri­tious punch, and are the foun­da­tion of their busi­ness which has since ex­panded to in­clude a range of gourmet game bird meats and their by-prod­ucts.

Go­ing from sta­tion owner to stall­holder at the lo­cal farmer’s mar­ket has been a dra­matic lifestyle change. Rod­ney rates the learn­ing curve as near ver­ti­cal and Joyce ad­mits the work com­mit­ment is colos­sal. “It never stops, there is no time off.” They’re learn­ing about breed­ing and rais­ing game birds on a com­mer­cial scale - the first in New Zealand for many species - but also meat pro­cess­ing, sup­ply chains, brand­ing, mar­ket­ing and selling. The breed­ing and rais­ing of the birds is the as­pect they are most au fait with. They are both farm­ers who have spent a life­time on the land, peo­ple who un­der­stand an­i­mal’s and na­ture’s quirks, in­put costs and re­turns, and how to raise prime food to meet the mar­ket.

Their bi­ble is the 54-page Quail Man­ual by Al­bert F. Marsh, the go-to ref­er­ence for ev­ery­thing, even how to cas­trate 100 male quails which when penned up be­fore pro­cess­ing “fight worse than bulls in the

back pad­dock,” says Rod­ney.

Joyce’s re­fusal to as­sist was im­ma­te­rial. Quail are very light sen­si­tive so Rod­ney ‘cas­trated’ them by throw­ing a horse blan­ket over their pen. On June 30, 2008, Rod­ney and Joyce handed their two farms in north­ern Hawke’s Bay over to Rod­ney’s sons and re­tired to a block around the cor­ner.

Un­til then they had been play­ing with birds.

“I would raise 150 pheas­ants and let them go, and duck shoot­ers would come up the river and shoot them,” says Rod­ney. “We had some pi­geons that bred up and moved into the shed. They shat on ev­ery­thing. The boys got sick of the bikes be­ing cov­ered in shit ev­ery morn­ing so even­tu­ally shot them out.”

Once they re­tired - a term you ap­ply loosely to this cou­ple - they placed an ad­ver­tise­ment in the Ag­trader news­pa­per for quail and re­ceived about a dozen replies. On a road trip which in­cluded a train ride from Auck­land to Welling­ton and hir­ing a red con­vert­ible, Rod­ney and Joyce drove up the North Is­land pur­chas­ing bobwhite, Cal­i­for­nian, Chi­nese and Cor­turnix ( Ja­panese) quail. They ac­quired a boot full of quail but, more im­por­tantly, got the op­por­tu­nity to talk to bird en­thu­si­asts and glean in­for­ma­tion. It was a Whakatane breeder who told them the Cor­turnix quail was the one they wanted for egg pro­duc­tion.

“Next minute, we had all these eggs,” says Joyce. “Eggs for Africa and we had to learn how to deal with them.”

The Quail Man­ual pro­vided a recipe for pick­led eggs which, once packed into 270ml jars, then needed a la­bel.

That led them to Dana Kirk­patrick and the world of mar­ket re­search and brand­ing. Look­ing back, Rod­ney and Joyce con­sider the ap­prox­i­mately $10,000 spend on mar­ket­ing a good in­vest­ment.

“Per­haps oth­ers wouldn’t need to, but we are quite naive about com­put­ers,” says Joyce. “We wouldn’t be where we are to­day if we hadn’t done it.”

Rod­ney agrees. Mar­ket­ing is their big­gest ef­fort he says, and needs to be a strong em­pha­sis in any small en­ter­prise.

“It was hard to spend the money up front,” he ad­mits. “But it made us think ahead.”

Dana iden­ti­fied their tar­get mar­ket: Yup­pies, DINKS (dou­ble in­come, no kids), Food­ies, and Care­ful Eaters (re­tirees with dis­cre­tionary in­come who care about what they eat). She worked out where they lived and shopped (Hawkes Bay and Auck­land, but not their clos­est towns of Wairoa and Gis­borne), cur­rent sup­ply is­sues (vary­ing price, in­con­sis­tent sup­ply,

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