Quails and Plastic Bottles

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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.

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I start off by giving them open feed and water covered by a wire mesh to teach them to eat and drink.

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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.

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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.

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At 28 days of age I change to adult feeders and drinkers with 40 mm holes and 70 mm off the ground.

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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.

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All the water drinkers you will require

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All the feeders you would require

 

 

 

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.”

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.

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!!

 

Inside the Quail Production Unit

As there are so many interesting discussions going on about quail housing, here is  a closer look at the inside my quail house.

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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.

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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

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Clean fresh water through water cups is provided at all times

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Raising Quails -Two Weeks to Five Weeks

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It is of the utmost importance for any living organism to have a good start in life. Because of the many questions relating to Quail rearing and feeding, I have decided to post a series on the subject, mostly reflecting my own point of view and experience over a long period of time, backed by scientific facts.  The series will consist of  three chapters, i.e. 1 – Hatch to Two weeks ; 2 – Two weeks to Five weeks and 3 – Five weeks to Eight weeks.

2 – TWO WEEKS TO FIVE WEEKS

The birds, at two weeks of age, are old enough to have resolved all the genetic, hatching and birth defects and mortality should almost be zero from this point onward. Keep the brooder at 38 C and make sure the bedding is dry and clean. If there were to be any spillage of water or dirt, remove the soiled bedding and top up with clean dry bedding at all times.  Dont overcrowd them, keep them dry, warm,well fed and watered.

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As they are growing at a phenomenal rate and are due to reach 90 – 95 % of their final body weight at five weeks of age, it is good to split the groups into two now. This will give every 10 birds about 0.25 meters square – enough to make them comfortable. Remember, we are trying to give our birds OPTIMUM conditions so as to allow them the opportunity to express their genetic ability to the maximum. Five week old birds are almost mature and it is a good time for selection on phenotype and measured production parameters to be able  to eliminate sub standard birds early.

Remove and dispose immediately of any animal that has any defect, being it a hereditary defect or otherwise, or is in the bottom 30 % of measured production parameters.

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The mass of the birds are increasing rapidly during this stage so always ensure that the birds have enough space and that the feeders and drinkers are positioned in such a way as to allow free movement and not cause dead traffic spots inside the brooder.

The time has also arrived to teach the young birds not to enter the feeding and drinking areas, which is exactly the opposite to what has been thought up to now.  Any change in feeding and drinking routine should happen over a period of time. Leave the old feeders in place and introduce the new systems in parallel, then after two days, remove the old ones. This should minimise stress and assure continuous optimum performance.  Allow 30 mm slots, at an appropriate height, for the birds to poke their heads through to eat or drink – this will also be small enough to not allow them to enter the feeders.

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Feed should be a well formulated 28 % protein Quail Starter diet containing the correct ratio of amino acids and other macro elements, supplemented with the correct trace minerals and vitamins. Mix one chicken or four quail eggs (without shell) per 2 Kg of feed for the age groups two weeks to five weeks. Raw egg is beneficial if correctly and well mixed, alternatively mix in boiled eggs. Feed consistency must be fine and uniform bite sizes, but not dusty.  If using a commercial diet, it is more often than not beneficial to supplement the diet with a trace mineral and vitamin pre-mix over and above what is supposedly already in the diet. It is virtually impossible to over dose with these nutrients, but deficiencies often occur effecting vitality, fecundity, mortality, disease resistance and production negatively.  Trace mineral and vitamin deficiencies are very difficult to detect or measure under normal conditions, unless their is a severe shortage, but will always effect the animal negatively.

Lighting intensity is still the same as for the juveniles and still at 24 hours per day. allowing them maximum time to feed

Should you adhere to these few simple guidelines, you will not only have happy Quails, but also raise Quails successfully that will perform to their ability when mature

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