During the Dunedin Science Festival my eye caught a title while briefing through the program “Quails and Plastic Bottles”. I obviously was immediately interested and booked my ticket for the 1 hour lecture. The talk was a big disappointment as it discussed quails for about 10 seconds, in which some very inaccurate and irrelevant information was conveyed. The talk about plastic bottles, which was not quail related at all, lasted for another 10 seconds. With this in mind, I am giving you another look at Quails and Plastic Bottles. Needless to say that recycling old plastic bottles is the correct thing to do and it makes me tremendously happy to do my bit in limiting the carbon footprint and plastic pollution of our dysfunctional world. The alternative is to purchase some poultry feeders. at exorbitant prices, from companies here in New Zealand that import vast quantities of more Chinese plastics and the irony is that these purchased feeders are by no means so effective as the home made ones.
I use 2 liter used plastic milk bottles to make my quail water drinkers and feeders. Once the quail chicks reach another stage of maturity and size I introduce a new drinker and feeder to suite their needs until fully grown.
I start off by giving them open feed and water covered by a wire mesh to teach them to eat and drink.
At 7 days of age I introduce the next drinkers and feeders. The water drinker with the 25 mm openings, 50 mm of the ground, on two sides of the bottle (it stands in a corner) allows them to investigate and mostly by accident have their first drink. For the first few hours I drip water in the drinkers from above so the little quails come and investigate the noise and water sound and find themselves drinking by surprise. It only takes them a few hours to be master the water drinkers. It is however important to not have these drinkers before 7 days of age as the little quails are too small and fit through the hole and drown. If the hole is exactly 25 mm and round , not oval, the chicks will not fit through at 7 days of age and you will have 100% success. The feeders have 50 mm holes and the quails can eat from the outside, or get themselves into the bottle and eat inside. This teaches them where the food is and soon enough they will be too big to fit through the hole and only eat from the outside, like the mature quails do.
I cut the tops of the bottles in the beginning stages so they can fit into the brooders which is only 200 mm high. It is important to cut the height such that their is very little space between the top of the drinker and the roof of the brooder so the little quails cannot jump into them, which is a trick they learn early in life.
At 14 days of age, I change the water drinkers to a 35 mm hole and 60 mm of the ground as their heads are getting too large for the 25 mm hole. I now also switch to only one water hole which makes it easier to fill to the rim without water flowing out of one of the other holes. Use the 35 mm 70 mm off the ground if the bedding becomes too high. The feeder remains the same.
At 28 days of age I change to adult feeders and drinkers with 40 mm holes and 70 mm off the ground.
At 49 days of age when I take them from the brooders to the breeding pens outside, they stay on 40 mm holes and 70 mm off the ground, but have a section at the top cut out to make feeding and washing of the feeders easier. I do not top up the feeders, but dump and refill. The water feeders are without the opening to prevent birds landing in the water as my cages are 600 mm high and they can fly and land in the water if open. These feeders hold about two days of feed and water for a breeding group of 5 females and a male which make it easy to go away for a weekend without having to feed.
All the water drinkers you will require
All the feeders you would require
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.
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!!
As there are so many interesting discussions going on about quail housing, here is a closer look at the inside my quail house.
Units consist of 30 cages (six high and five wide) each being 600 X 600 mm, housing four females and a male or six females. All cages have a easy removable front feeder which gives easy access to individual cages, should it be required. Each cage also has a water drinker fed from a feeder tank. Some of the cages have a removable wire partitioning for gradual introduction of new birds. The units are inside a room with adequate cross ventilation but no direct drafts. No additional heating is supplied.
Clean home mixed feed is fed on a ad lib basis with easy access to feeders for regular supervision. Enough feeder space, easily accessible for the birds, is supplied to eliminate competition at the through
Clean fresh water through water cups is provided at all times
Floors are laminated ply wood and is removable, much easier on the birds than wire. The second photo shows how a clean floor board is slid under the used board, and the latter pulled out from the top. In the pictures the feeder has been removed for demonstration purposes only, but in practice the change of floors, which takes a few seconds, is done with the birds inside and feeders in the normal position – often the birds do not even notice that the floor is being changed. Now the dirty floors can be cleaned and be ready for the next change. I do mine about once every two weeks.
Each cage is fitted with a sand bath large enough for all the birds to be inside the bath at the same time if they so wish. Lighting is shielded, providing a soft glow that has a calming effect on the birds.
The unit accommodates up to 180 birds and takes up about 2 square meters of floor space, with enough space for the individual birds to relax and produce optimally. Birds are not kept on wire at any stage in time, as so many people do, as it is not beneficial to their health and well being. My birds are docile, calm, relaxed and happy and most of the time, when entering the room, with many hundreds of birds inside, there is not a sound as all the birds are calm, quiet and happy.