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.

NEW QUAIL FEEDING AND BREEDING Coturnix coturnix

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)

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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
byf@backyardfarmer.co.nz
9 Lucan Street
North East Valley
Dunedin 9010
Otago
New Zealand