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Japanese Quail (Coturnix Japonica) are fascinating little birds. We’ve been caring for a small group of them for a few months now. Not long I know, but enough to learn about a fair bit about their behaviour, which is so different from our chooks and turkeys, and to get a grip on the practicalities of raising them longer term.
Japanesse Quails are kept as a dual purpose breed for meat and egg production both by hobbyists and in commercial conditions (check this you tube clip as an example of intensive quail farming in the phillipines- not to my liking but please form your own opinion)
They originate from East Asia, and in their native environment would typically exist in grasslands. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists them as ‘Near Threatened’ in the natural habitats which ‘ is a conservation status assigned to species or lower taxa that may be considered threatened with extinction in the near future, although it does not currently qualify for the threatened status.’
Behaviourally, they seem a lot more nervy than our other birds. Children really seem to irritate them (my boys have learnt quickly to be very quiet when they are feeding them, with no sudden movements), and they will attack each other quite viciously when stressed. We originally had them in an open pen, but decided to put a cardboard box upside-down in there with a cut out door so they could have somewhere to hide – this seems to have worked well, and they like jumping on, around and in the box.
I’m feeding them game bird finished micropellets (22% protein). I had to do a bit of hunting around to find suitable feed – turkey crumbles had been suggested but this had medication for coccidiosis in it, and given we wish to consume their eggs I didn’t fancy that. According to Michael Roberts, in his book ‘Quail, Past and Present’ they should be fed a diet containing 26% protein up to 4 weeks of age, then 22% after that. I have not been able to find anything that has 26% so I’m still researching alternatives for any chicks we may hatch. As per other birds they need fresh clean water available at all times.
Currently our birds are living in a raised pen in a shed (by the always open door so they get natural light). I had read that they needed to be brought inside in winter to prevent them from getting pneumonia, but have since been advised they are hardier than that, so I’m thinking of trialling that next winter. My plan has been to keep them under shelter for winter them move them onto grass in spring. The biggests risks I foresee are rodents and other predators so I’m in the process of designing appropriate housing which I’ll post on later. Where they are presently is rat proof which is a relief as we’ve had a sudden increase in vermin that I need to deal with.
In order to lay well they need up to 15 hours of light a day – tricky in Tasmania in winter, so I’ve rigged up a portable low-energy light which is set to come on at 4pm and switch off at 11pm. This seems to be working well, and they’ve started laying in the last few weeks. Quail’s start laying at approximately 6 weeks (amazing!).
Interesting Japanese quail facts and info:
- Ideal breeding group size : 1 male to 3 females
- Hens should lay approx 200 eggs in their first year
- According to the NSW DPI their lifespan is 2 to 2 1/2 years – although I have a friend who has 4 year old birds in her aviary, so dunno about that…
- Hatching/Incubation time for eggs is 17/18 days
In theory Japanese quail make are an ideal addition to a suburban farm – they require little feed, little space and will reliably produce eggs and meat. The only eggs we are getting currently in winter are from the quails… the chooks are all off the lay. On the other hand you’d need to make sure they’re sheltered from dogs, cats, rodents which might attack or frighten them (they will stop producing eggs if stressed), and they are not as friendly as chooks can be if you have kids who want to interact with your animals. You may have also have to provide extra lighting.
Snapshots from our suburban farm:
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