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!!
Every so often one finds a unique bird in your flock. At present I am breeding four different breeds of Coturnix coturnix, one which is a White breed that was originally developed by the A & M Texas University as a dual purpose bird. The Americans claim their Jumbo Browns to be 450 – 500 g in body mass, but trying to locate such birds or breeders of these large birds appears to be very difficult – I do not know why the Americans want to hide these. Anyway, unlike our friends from abroad, I am not trying to breed the Coturnix coturnix bigger and bigger (if I wanted to breed big birds, I would have started with ostriches), but have put my mind on breeding two of my breeds to be about 280 – 300 g for the females and 220 – 250 for the males – a milestone I have already reached in New Zealand after two and a half years of intensive selection. Hence, I am presently selecting against too big birds in these breeds and made my primary selection criteria egg production, feed conversion, fecundity and body conformation. This is a good size eating bird, which is still an effective producer of both meat and eggs. But back to my unique bird – the A & M Texans are white, but almost always have a black or brown spot somewhere on the body. It is a breed I have had little experience with, but breeding more than 1200 Whites over the past two years, I have bred only three ALL WHITES with no other coloring at all. The first two did not make it on my selection criteria and color not being important to me, they only made it as far as the stock pot. This third all white I have will definitely make it to the breeding pens as he is a magnificent specimen and weighed in at 230 g on 33 days of age. This is my UNIQUE BIRD! (I presume there are other breeders in New Zealand with strains of the pure whites)
Whenever I read anything my interest is immediately caught by the word ‘Quail’. I was reading a piece about Hilary Mantel when I came across the following quote by her regarding Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII :
“Jane Seymour, during her pregnancy with the future Edward, couldn’t get enough quail, and they kept sending them over from Calais,”
I can fully understand her addiction, I love eating quail and fortunately I have to cull now and then. There are so many delicious ways to prepare quail (pasta sauce, risotto with the livers and gizzards, tasty stock etc) but my favorite remains Qualie Saporite con Pancetta, Salvia e Polenta
Treat them well and they would reward you for your efforts !
Give your birds :
1. A balanced and specie specific correctly formulated diet
2. Clean water and fresh feed at all times
3. Optimal environmental conditions with correct temperatures, dry and drafts free with correct lighting patterns and intensity
4. Enough space with clean dry bedding in well designed cages providing proper ventilation
5. Well bred animals housed in the correct male to female ratio
6. An owner that enjoys keeping and attending to poultry
It is easy and enjoyable to breed and keep poultry
6. Free of insects and other vermin