Never too old to learn

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I have been breeding quails for many a year now and was absolutely sure that I know the birds and can colour sex the Pharoah Breed of Coturnix coturnix at the age of four weeks, 100 % successfully. Today I was selecting breeding hens out of a pen of 29 four week old female quails which were all very well marked with black spots and no red / brown feathers on the chests, as I have already separated them in male and female groups at three weeks of age. It is normal procedure for me to handle the birds and on feel and visual appearance select a few more than what I would require and then weigh them as well to assist my final selections. I selected 8 birds as I only needed one group of 6 females for a pen. There was this one female that caught my attention every time I handled or looked at her and when I weighed them, she was, at 220 grams, 24 grams heavier than the next best weighted bird of the selected group.  I was overjoyed with this wonderful specimen and ringed her for future identification purposes. I worked through the rest of the birds and ended up with a very handsome group of 6 females. As I was clearing the workbench for the next task I heard a crow from the pen of selected hens and on closer inspection found my prized hen crowing.

This is very confusing as she has perfect hen markings and above all the males are always much lighter than the females. I am going to keep a close look at her / him and whichever way it goes, it will be a special bird. Either a VERY HEAVY male or a CROWING female.

 

Keeping Records in Quail Breeding

 

It is in my nature to measure and monitor, which makes life interesting and the only way should you want to select and make progress with any animal breeding. I slaughter about ten old Quail Hens every two weeks and 20+ Young Quails every alternate week and always weigh all animals and carcasses at slaughter. Obviously there are many other measurements and observations I frequently collect and record to assist in selecting that “perfect” bird.

Here are some of the figures I collected over the past week and which are fairly representative for the past six months.

Mature Birds – g % Young Birds – g %
Live Bird 294 211
Carcase 1 265 90.1 193 91.5
Carcase 2 176 60.0 138 65.4

BYF Special 3

Live Bird – Average live bird mass after food and water were withheld for 12 hours

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Carcase 1 – Average carcass mass after heads and lower legs were removed and feathers plucked

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Carcase 2 – Average carcass mass butterflied, which in my case means the removal of the entire backbone, all internal organs removed, wing tips removed and excess skin trimmed.

After all this lovely Quail Meat you have harvested there is still the Coratella that makes a wonderful meal on its own and Quail Stock which I use in almost all of my daily cooking.

How Heavy should my Quails be?

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I post this question, of which I receive similar questions very often, as well as my answer.
“Do you weigh your quail, and if you do, what weights do you expect them to reach on a weekly basis?
The reason I ask, is that my last lot have a really large range.
The smallest is almost 30g below the weight of the biggest. Granted these were eggs hatched from two different places, which could well explain it (bred for size vs improvement of the breed), but I’m curious what those who’ve been doing this a while expect.
They’re 2 weeks old now, and they range from 32-59g.
Funnily enough, the only two white ones are both the heaviest and lightest!”
Thank you very much for the question. Yes, being the Mad Scientist, I am a strong believer in MMM (Man Must Measure) to know where you are and where you are going to. if anywhere. I weigh all my quails at 3, 5 and 8 weeks of age and then also weigh all my mature quails at least every two months. These weights give you a lot of information to work with on individual animals, as well as your project as a whole.
The average figures I achieve at present are about the following:
5 Weeks old (all sexes – all birds) – 200 g
8 Week old Males (all birds) – 210 g
8 Weeks old Females (all birds) – 240 g
All mature Males in my Breeding Groups – 240g
All mature Females in my Breeding Groups – 280 g
There are obviously wide variations between animals as result of the limited genetic pool and small numbers of animals we have, as well as the quality and level of inbreeding in the New Zealand Coturnix coturniox we have to work with. Males are always much lighter than females at all ages.
I have some groups where all the females are all over 300 g – work in progress!!
Obviously the optimum results can only be achieved with good husbandry, feeding and housing.

HOW DO I LOOK AFTER MY QUAILS

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This is an abstract of an answer I provide regularly to some of my Coturnix coturnix friends requesting general advise on quail keeping
“You seem to have a lovely palace for your quail and by the looks of it about 4 X 2 meters or more. That size would be more than adequate for 20 females and about three males. You need about one male per 6 or 7 females to ensure a high rate of fertility in the eggs. If you do not mind to have lower fertility rates in the eggs, you can cut the number of males. If, as in your case, the quails have enough space to stay out of each other’s way, more than one male per cage should not be a problem. See if the males and females have resolved the pecking order (no fighting) and if so, they should all be happy. If you do see fighting or restless birds, try to identify the culprit, which may be dominant or subordinate, whichever will cause interruptions in the pecking order and stability of the group, and remove the bird. If the fighting stops and the group becomes calm, you have done well, if not, try and replace the bird with another bad apple. Sometimes it is possible to stabalise the group by removing individual birds, sometimes not, but it is worth the try. The other alternative, as you mentioned, is to have individual breeding groups of 6 – 7 girls and a boy – this however would not guarantee stability of the group as they may still have issues with each other and destabilise the group and you would be back to square one to try and resolve the domestic violence!  If everything fails to calm the groups, you need to look at OTHER STRESS FACTORS, such as housing, disease and parasites, feed quality, etc. Also remember that temperament is highly hereditary and I select very heavily against this.
Housing needs for Coturnix coturnix is simple – remember they are ground dwellers and would not roost. Hence they need a lot of space to hide from the weather, other birds, have some private time or whatever. They love low growing vegetation and / or hiding spaces in the form of upturned boxes or plants, etc. The cage must be DRY AT ALL TIMES and the quails should be well ventilated, but OUT OF DIRECT DRAFTS. If the cage is dry and sandy, they will find their own dust bathing areas which you could encourage by turning the dry soil over and maybe ad some wood ash or lime to encourage them to bath. It is also a very easy and convenient spot to ad a bit of diatomaceous earth or flea powder to keep them free from external parasites. Furthermore clean and well balanced food and water needs to be available at all times (Ad lib).
Deworming once every three months is advisable
Live meal worms, table scraps (especially protein in the form of meat off cuts (cut into quail bite sizes), etc are always welcome and enjoyable for the birds. Not only does it provide additional nutrients, but it also keeps them occupied and less time to fight with somebody they do not like. Lettuce is a great delicacy for them and the additional vitamins do them well. The question is however at what level do you like your quails to produce at – if you want maximum production and feed a well balanced diet to achieve this, table scraps and other foods should not make up more than about 20 % of their daily requirements. Remember that young Coturnix need about 28 % protein in their diet and the older birds need 22 % protein. If you can provide them with these levels of protein and balance all the other nutrients to compliment the protein, they will be some of the most effective PRODUCTION MACHINES you have ever encountered. That is why I only feed my birds a WELL BALANCED COMPLETE QUAIL FEED and supplement daily with some greens for their enjoyment.”

Casatiello Napoletana (Stuffed Easter Bread)

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There are many Easter Breads in Italy and each region has its own version, but most include whole, sometimes coloured, eggs. This specific recipe is from Napoli and is made in a pan with a hole in the middle, called a ruoto. The recipe is enough for two breads in 270 mm pans.

  • 800 g Bread Flour (Tipo 0)
  • 300 g  Water – luke warm
  • 5 g Honey or Molasses
  • 23 g Yeast – fresh
  • 500 g 1:1 Biga (Mother plant of yeast)
  • 100 ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil – plus extra to smear the pans
  • 20 g Salt
  • 50 g Salami –  about 5 mm cubed
  • 50 g Pancetta – about 5 mm cubed
  • 50 g Cheese  – any melting mild cheese of your choice – about 5 mm cubed
  • 50 g Parmigiano or Grana Padana Cheese – about 5 mm cubed
  • 12 Quail eggs – fresh – Plus two to glaze the bread

Mix the honey, water and yeast and let it stand for 5 minutes. Now mix in the flour, biga, oil and salt and knead well. Let it proof until at least double in size, then knead briefly again. Divide the dough in two, but keep about 50 g to make strips to secure the eggs,  and roll each into a square of about 300 mm. Spread all the cheeses and meat on the squares and roll up. Place each roll in a well smeared pan in such a way that it fills the entire base of the pan. Now place the whole eggs evenly on the breads and secure each with two thin strips of dough. Proof until at least double in size. Glaze the top of the breads with beaten egg and bake at 220 C for 13 minutes. Turn the pans around and bake for another 20 minutes at 190 C.

Enjoy hot or cold, or the next day on the Easter Picnic.

 

 

Quail Breeding in Italia

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There are many quail and pheasant breeding farms in Italia which all breed for release as hunting is still very popular. It is almost impossible to visit these farms for quarantine reasons as well as keeping the secrets and knowledge within the family. I managed to visit a farm through a contact I had who had a friend that knew the second cousin of the neighboring farmer’s daughter to the quail farm I visited. Even with my good contacts, I still was not allowed inside the cages, but gained enough information. This farm breeds Coturnix coturnix as they still appear in Europe and North Africa in the wild. The birds are small and only weigh about 130 g at maturity. There is a general concern among breeders that some breeders may cross the natural occurring birds with domesticated birds which definitely result in a bird much less adapted to local conditions and also have poor survival capabilities when released. The crossbreeds are a bit heavier and a much inferior flier.

All the following figures are rough estimates, but I think very close to reality. This specific farm sells about 250,000 live quails a year at €1.50 each. For this he has 1,300 breeding hens and 450 males producing 1,000 viable good eggs per day.  He has 6 incubators that takes 3,500 eggs each and fills two of these every week. At 14 days the eggs are transferred to a Hatcher where about 5,600 chicks hatch every week, of which 5,000 grow to eight weeks of age when they are sold for release.

The interesting thing is that his Incubators run at 80% humidity and the Hatcher’s at 90%, which I thought are way too high, but apparently it works that way as I witnessed these levels personally.

The other interesting fact is that the growing cages are sheds with only canvas sides with holes in so the quails can come and go and fly in the adjacent aviaries if they wish. The quails are in these semi open cages from day one.  Gas heaters keep the temperature at about 37C at ground level for the first four weeks. There after the temperature is slowly reduced to day temperature over about one to two weeks, depending on outside temperatures, to harden them up. It gets very cold and it was – 12C on the day I was there and the quails seemed to be happy – my quails would have been dead after the first day. The growing houses are all the same size of 10 X 20 meters each, with two aviaries of 20 X 20 meters each attached to the  sides of each house. Each house holds half of the 5,600 day old chicks.

I was glad to have visited this successful third generation family business which is at present operated by the grandson only as the grandfather is retired and the father attends to the rest of the farm.