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October 20, 2013

Little birds are big business for Georgia firm


Georgia may be the poultry capital of the U.S., producing billions of broiler chickens a year. But a company in Greensboro has found success raising and selling another meat bird one-tenth the size of the typical commodity chicken.

Quail International, which turned 30 this year, calls itself the largest grower and processor of quail in the U.S. A tan hatchery and offices front Highway 15 just outside of downtown Greensboro, and acres of pasture sprawl out behind it, the fields dotted by aluminum houses where some quail lay small, speckled eggs and others grow fat until old enough for slaughter.

From the facility comes the company's signature brand, Plantation Quail, found in grocery stores around the country and at local restaurants like Five & Ten and The National.

The game birds grown by Quail International are a breed called Pharaoh that's meatier than the North American bobwhite quail. Quail International's owners, who are based in Europe, brought the birds to America more than 30 years ago when they purchased the Greensboro plant from a chicken processor.

The U.S. quail market was almost non-existent 30 years ago, marketing director Arnold Cardarelli Jr. said. Now, Quail International sells more than 16 million quail a year with plans to increase production by a few million.

A major difference between the chicken and quail industries, obviously, is size. Because quail isn't a major business in the U.S., there's little research money devoted to it, Cardarelli said. So in the past 30 years, Quail International has conducted its own research on important factors like hatching practices, growing conditions and feed mixes. Each leg of Quail International's production — hatching, laying, growing and slaughter — is maintained by a team of poultry industry veterans and certified veterinarians.

Alexandra Castro maintains the hatcheries, where tens of thousands of eggs on any given day are kept warm until they hatch.

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