Every so often in the farming industry you realise that progress is slower than expected, which is where I am at present with my Quail Breeding Project. I have made substantial progress over the past three years breeding Coturnix coturnix Quails in New Zealand, but find it more difficult to keep the coefficient of inbreeding low whilst applying the same selection pressure. One of the problems is small numbers of animals and the second being the lack of similar, or better, breeding animal availability in New Zealand.

To maintain progress, I have decided on a two pronged approach for the immediate future:

1) I am going to amalgamate the four breeds I presently have into only two breeds. I am going to join the Pharoas and Tibetans (Back Yard Specials as I have been calling them) and call this my Back Yard Dual Purpose Bird and apply the same selection pressure on both egg production and body mass. Then amalgamate the Italians and Whites and call them my Back Yard Egg Laying Bird. This will give me larger numbers to use in each breed and as I am not going to select for colour any more, progress will hopefully be faster. I suspect the two breeds will eventually be a darker coloured bird for the dual purpose breed and a lighter coloured bird for the egg laying breed.

2) I have had a very close look at the latest developments in animal nutrition and have incorporated some very exciting new elements into the feed. For details about the feed developments I have adopted, see my next post on this matter.

Hopefully these two changes that I have adopted will enhance progress in my project.

Raising Californian Quails (Callipepla californica)


Raising Californian Quail in captivity has never been, and never will be easy. Their nervous character and wild instincts make them very unsuitable to captivity. Unfortunately, because of their disappearance from the wild in New Zealand, they will have to be multiplied in caged conditions, should we want to preserve this pretty little bird. The cavalier attitude of New Zealanders regarding nature will probably prevail and our efforts for conservation would have limited success – I know I am going to get a lot of criticism because of this statement, but with New Zealand and Australia being the number one countries in the world causing species loss, my argument is more or less proven.

Survival rates of Californian Quail during their first few weeks seem to be abnormally low, and I have adopted a number of strategies and designs to try and overcome this problem – all with varying levels of success, but none solving the problem entirely.

My latest survival strategy however seems to have addressed many of the problems. Instead of sending my old Coturnix coturnix quail hens to the stock pot, I selected a number the  calm and motherly ones  as foster mothers for the Californians. I put the mothers into the brooders a few  days before the Californian chicks hatch so they can get acquainted with the environment and the warm conditions. When the chicks hatch I place them straight into the brooder with their new mother. Her presence seems to have multiple positive effects on the chicks – i.e. she teaches them to eat and drink immediately, calms them down and also broods them. The end result is that the little chicks have shelved their desire to become Kamikaze Pilots every time I want to change food or water. Everybody seems calm and happy and mortality for the last four groups, at five weeks of age, each with their own foster mother, has been almost zero (lost one).

There are a number of younger groups at present, each with their foster mothers and they are  very calm and doing well. I do notice that some foster mothers are better at the job than others and will continue selecting the better ones, even though their has been no difference in mortality rate between the groups.

Going back to nature can teach us a lot!!


Californian Quail

California Quail, Point Reyes National Seashore

A male California Quail stands on a rock overlooking his covey.

The disappearance of Californian quails is a general trend all over New Zealand – Loss of habitat, chemical pollution and predators. I am presently engaged in a project to breed and release some 1,000 birds every year for ten years – a very ambitious project with a high possibility of failure. The only advantages we have, are – 1. A “suitable” habitat of about 100,000 hectares. 2. A lot of enthusiasm and able people.
Birds and eggs are virtually unavailable in New Zealand because they are rare and not easy to breed (compared to other quail species that I regularly breed). That is why we are trying at present to build numbers and breeding lines for our project which has been going for its third year now – yes we are making progress and hopefully shall have the first fully fledged release by the end of this season.
We are still building numbers and lines and would be interested in obtaining some birds and / or eggs and if you are aware of any, please let me know.
Thanking you
Back Yard Farmer
Tel – 0211 34 14 52 / 03 473 0521
9 Lucan Street
North East Valley
Dunedin 9010
New Zealand

Hatching difficulties and Breeding progress in Coturnix coturnix quails


Attached find correspondence between me and a Customer, which I felt may have some value to other quail keepers and may also attract valuable input from others.

Hello Domenico,

I thought I had better update you on the eggs you sent, and perhaps learn a bit in the process.
You shipped 36 eggs, and after 24 hours rest at room temperature they were set along with around about 24 of mine..
Sadly I only managed to hatch 7 of your eggs and about 10 of mine, ending up with 13 viable chicks. They are now 40 days old and range from 155 to 180 grams.
The heaviest birds are Tibetans – 165, 180, 180, 180 grams. There is also a Pharoah at 165, one at 160 and two at 155 grams.  White and Italian Golds (4) 150 – 160 grams.
So I am guessing that the Tibetans and half the Pharoahs have come from your stock. (2 of the Tibs have a few white spots on their breast and they all appear to be hens!!) Have definitely one Pharoah cock bird.
So not a stunning result, but at least I have some stock to start with… and with them ready to start laying pretty soon, I should be able to lift numbers pretty quickly. Most of the eggs (yours) that did not hatch appear to have been fertile, but died early on – so I imagine the handling in the courier was a bit rough…but then I only managed a poor hatch of my eggs…so not sure where I have gone wrong.  Am using a Brinslea 48 (chicken) egg, fan forced air incubator, auto turn, but not auto humidity. Was advised after two poor hatches with chickens that I had them too wet, and they were unable to fully develop adequately…so with our quail eggs I did a dry incubation until Lock Down and then added water to lift Rh for last 3-4 days. Have done another hatch just this last few days – 83 quail eggs, hatched 33 with 3 dead in shell. Balance 80% fertile, but failed to make the last few days. Also noted that hatch did not start until Day 18/19. Temps appear to be about 37.25, rather than 37.5 – 37.75°C.
So, would appreciate any ideas you may have, and also, does the weight of the Tibs and Pharoahs suggest to you that they are your stock?
Hope to hear from you soon,
Kind Regards,
Thanks for the Email and information. Yes 7 out of 36 is very bad even for shipped eggs, but then 10 out of 24 “fresh eggs”, (or 33 out of 83) is not good either, as you mentioned. First and foremost I am prepared to send you another three dozen totally free if you are interested – let me now. If they hatch late it probably points towards too low temperatures. Yes humidity is always a factor and depending on the environmental conditions you may or may not have to ad moisture. The point is that the research has been done and we more or less know what the humidity should be – so I would get a meter and manually keep it as close as possible. With the little information I have, it probably points more towards low temperature than too much humidity. Calibrate your incubator temperature, as ALL incubators are out to a certain degree, unless you want to trial and error until they hatch.
I have the various breeds that I breed and the more characteristics you select for in a breed, the slower overall progress is. For this reason I have a breed (call them Back Yard Specials) where I only select for functional efficiency and not for color at all. The result is that I have this group of birds that resemble Tibetans / Dark Rosettas with some patches of white in some of them. This group of birds constantly outperforms all the other on most of the production parameters and I suspect is the reason of your heavier “Tibetans”. I only weigh growing birds at 7, 21, 35 and 56 days, when I expect them to have reached about 95% of final body mass. The back Yard Specials are at about 200 g on 35 days and 260 at 56 days. The rest are between 10 and 20 g behind at 35 days and about  30 – 40 behind at 56 days. I do not have a cut off point for body mass at present as the mean mass varies and I always select the best animals as replacements to just keep my numbers up – the rest are either for sale of slaughter. These weights are for Females and the Males are always smaller. So I would say your 180 g at 40 days is on par, even though I would have liked one or two 200 g individuals, but with small numbers it is sometimes difficult. Yes the variation within the breeds are still huge and a lot more selection is required.
It is very tempting to terminate all the breeds and keep only one efficient breed of Quail. In this case progress will be even better as I shall have larger numbers of the breed. 

Coturnix coturnix Breeding Progress

When selecting for multiple characters in a single breed, progress is slower the more characters that are selected for simultaneously and vice versa. I have four breeds of Coturnx coturnix for which color is one of the selection parameters. I have therefor decided to have a breed of birds where color does not matter and I am selecting for functional efficiency only. It is remarkable and exiting that in only two years, with relatively small numbers of birds, this new breed (call them BYF Specials) are slowly, but definitely, outperforming the other four breeds. At present most of the birds are dark brown with patches of white. Interesting times ahead!

Golden Italian Quails

Coturnix coturnix

Two years after engaging in this breeding program to improve quails in New Zealand we are starting to see results.  Golden Italians, one of the five breeds we are breeding, are 250 – 300 gram live mass for the females and 230 – 250 for the males. Many of the hereditary defects were eliminated and birds have excellent fecundity and vitality. Egg production is constantly in excess of 90%. One of the traits we also select for is temperament and my birds at present are very calm, docile and happy, a trait that is essential for Coturnix coturnix as they are, and always will be, cage birds in New Zealand.

It may be that in the nearby future we may shelve some of the breeds for which progress seems to be slower than for others. Being a small time breeder, numbers are always important and the less breeds you keep, the more you could keep of the remaining breeds and hopefully will make selection and progress more effectively.

002 - Vitamins