Rancher Spotlight: Ryan Louge from Diamond H Quail Ranch
Diamond H Ranch in Bandera, Texas, is humanely raising high-quality quail and supplying some of the most esteemed restaurants in the country. We interviewed Ryan Louge of Diamond H Ranch to learn about raising quail in Texas, the benefits of humane production, and his favorite ways to cook quail for the family.
Who works on the ranch in Bandera?
Outside of myself, I've got a hatchery manager, a farm manager, and a processing manager. The hatchery manager and the processing manager are brothers and they've been there since the place started as a quail farm back in 1998. This is what they do and this is what they love. I'm dedicated to this job a hundred and ten percent – they're dedicated to this job to a percentage that I can’t even imagine.
How are the quail raised?
Our farm has everything, including the hatchery, on site. We have a room full of breeder birds where we collect our eggs. Those eggs go into our incubators and hatch 16 days later. We raise them out in brooding areas and then they're free-roaming in large barns.
Most producers in the industry actually only raise the quail to six weeks, because that last week they are full grown and they are consuming a significantly higher amount of food than they were the first six weeks. So your cost into that bird goes up astronomically. In the last week, the birds will gain anywhere from an ounce or two. And that's what sets us apart from our competitors: we raise our quail for longer.
Where do you sell your quail around the country?
Every week, we ship to restaurants around the country, like Per Se and the Rockefeller Center in New York City, and a ton of restaurants in Napa Valley. We also sell locally to Barley Swine and Odd Duck.
What does humane animal treatment mean to you?
I truly believe in ethical animal raising. That's the reason I hunt. I believe that an animal should be living a very free lifestyle, and that's what I'd like to harvest, and what I want to eat and feed my family.
Our barns have curtains that open up so the sun is going through there. They're getting wind, they're getting fresh air. We spray an organic spray on the manure that is actually good bacteria that helps eat away all the bad bacteria. And what that does is help to recondition the soil to turn it back into soil.
We want the birds to be happy. A happier bird makes happier meat. I mean, it's just like any other animal; a cow that's trotting around a field is a happier animal. They're getting a little bit more muscle exercise, they're producing different muscle flavor profiles and all that. It's the same thing for a quail.
If you went to where the most chickens are raised by USDA standards, they are only required to have one square foot per bird. Our birds have just about that and they're about a fourth of the size of a chicken. A happy quail is going to be a more delicious quail, and that’s why we raise the animals right.
Is your quail raised naturally?
I hate the word "all-natural" because it's an animal, so it should be natural ... but, I mean, we are as natural as possible.
We will never medicate and we will never put anything in our birds that are not food or water. That adulterates the meat and, honestly, I wouldn't have taken the job if they did that.
Birds are not the same as mammals when it comes to what they're supposed to be eating. They talk about how beef and certain animals ... that grass-fed is the best way to go because of all that. Well, birds are ground peckers, so we feed them grain. That is just part of their diet.
How do you tell people to cook quail?
I love smoking and grilling 'em. I like grilling because I can blacken the skin. Some of that grease drips off, the flame comes up and it just kind of gives you that crispy black skin that I love. I've stuffed our semi-boneless with venison sausage. I'll cook the venison sausage about a third of the way through just so it does, it's done when the quail's done.
How do you cook quail when you need to make a quick dinner?
We do 'em in that pressure cooker. Nine minutes from frozen to cooked. Last weekend, we made quail and grits as a breakfast spread, and it was awesome. I cook the quail, then I pour the quail and the juice over the grits. It was just kind of falling off the bone.
The best part about quail is you can cook them just like chicken, but they take less time. It's a little bit easier, so the options are endless.
We eat quail a lot. Everything that we harvest gets used, even the bones. My wife and I even turn quail bones into bone broth.