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Quail farming

Dr. Adeel Sarfraz, Dr. Tauseef Ur Rehman, Dr. Musadiq Idris

Quail along with chickens, pheasants and partridges belong to the Family Phasianoidea of Order Galliformes of the Class Aves of the Animal Kingdom.

There are different species of quail that live in different regions of the world.

The most popular among them are Japanese quail of Japan where they were domesticated, Bob White quail and California quail of America. The bob white quail is native to Eastern North America.

In Pakistan and India Japanese quail has been raised in captivity for many years. Bob White quail is mostly utilized for hunting purpose.

The quail has many advantages in comparison to any other small animal for home food production. A Japanese quail reaches sexual maturity at about 6 weeks of age.

At this age body weights range from roughly 100 to 150 grams. Females are slightly heavier than males.

The females begin to lay eggs at average of six weeks of age, and continue to produce eggs economically for at least a year. The males can be slaughtered for meat at the age of 6 weeks. Even older animals are easy to butcher and can be prepared for food in a variety of ways.

These birds need only a small amount of space. Quail are efficient converters of feed. With each egg female deposits an edible package of 8 percent of her own body weight (compared to 3 percent in the case of chickens).

Housing
A comfortable and well-ventilated environment should be maintained for the birds. The brooder building should be built so that it can be closed in cold weather and opened for ample ventilation in hot weather.

It should also be rodent-proof, specially with the floor and lower 3 feet of the walls having no cracks or holes. A cage permitting each bird 225 cm2 of floor space (44 birds per square meter) is the minimum requirement. The cage need not be more than 15 cm in height.

Breeders are typically housed in one of three ways: in large community floor pens, in smaller communal cages designed for 10 to 20 birds each, or caged as pairs or trios. Each of these housing types has advantages and drawbacks.

1.Floor pens
Traditional floor pens may be the least desirable type of housing for quail. The greatest advantage is the least cost to build but the disadvantage is the intensive management of the cages.

When birds are housed directly on the floor, egg collection is often more difficult and time consuming, which can lead to less frequent egg gathering.

The infrequent collection can cause egg loss due to shell damage and contamination. Moreover, birds may consume the eggs. These factors will lead to lower harvested egg numbers, reduced hatchability, poor chick quality and pre-incubation of the developing embryos problems (if they are intended to use for incubation).

Furthermore, low producers cannot be identified and culled. Lastly, birds raised and maintained on the floor have increased exposure to parasites or other disease-causing pathogens.

However, modifying floor pen housing can eliminate many of these problems. For example, housing birds in large pens on slatted floors similar to the traditional floor pen setup is successful.

The house design is the same, but the problems associated with birds raised directly on the litter are eliminated. There is an added expense to cover the majority of the floor with a removable slatted or wire-type floor, but both bird’s health and eggshell quality often improve.

Birds do have a tendency to lay eggs on the slatted floor instead of in the nest boxes, but the eggs do not come in direct contact with fecal material.

Suggested Minimum Space Requirements for floor pens*

—– 1-10 days 11 days-6 weeks 6-14 weeks
Floor space 4 birds/sq ft 3 birds/sq ft 2 birds/sq ft
Feeder space 0.6 inch/bird 0.6 inch/bird 1.0 inch/bird
Waterer space 0.15 inch/bird 0.25 inch/bird 0.3 inch/bird
*Facilities, equipment, and management will affect space requirements.

2.Wire Cages. 
There are several advantages of placing birds in wire cages over the traditional floor pen design. The quality of the eggshell improves and the eggs are much cleaner because they don’t come in direct contact with fecal material as they roll away from the bird shortly after they are laid.

Wire cages can be modified into automatic egg collection system, which further improves egg quality since the egg gathering process is faster and occurs more regularly.

In addition, when new breeding stock is to be produced from the current flock of breeders, the ability to select replacement birds based upon genetics and performance is possible. This system also facilitates the identification and removal of low or non-producing birds from the breeding stock.

3.Colony Cages 
A colony cage is the most practical system to house breeders. The birds showing Pecking and cannibalism can easily be controlled if approximately one-third of the upper beak of hens is removed at housing.

On the other hand, sore feet, reduced fertility and mating frequency due to wounds of wire are the limiting factors in this system. In addition, open wounds increase the chances of infection, disease and death.

Moreover, greater expense is incurred and additional attention to detail is often required, as each cage must be equipped with a feeder and waterer.

Lighting
Young chicks and immature birds are maintained in a dimly lit environment to reduce cannibalism (intensity should not exceed 1 foot candle) and to allow uniform sexual development. Immature birds do best on as little as 10 to 11 hours of light per day. At 19 weeks of age, the amount of daily light is increased by an hour per week until birds receive 17 hours of light per day (at about 25 to 27 weeks of age).

The additional hour(s) of light is/are equally distributed at the beginning and end of the natural daylight. For example, when birds require 16 hours of light daily, but the natural daylight and time of year produce 12.5 hours of daylight, breeders will require an additional 3.5 hours of light per day.

Use an automatic timer device to turn lights off and on each day. The lights are turned on two hours before the day break and turned off about 1.5 hours after the sun set.

Interior walls of the house should be white or light-colored to reflect the light provided and reduce dark spots in the house. After the light has reached 17 hours per day, it is extremely important to maintain this day length. Any sudden decrease in hours of light per day will cause a decline in egg production.

Lighting requirements for Bobwhite quail at different ages
Bird age

(weeks)

Hours of Light

per day

19 11
20 12
21 13
22 14
23 15
24 16
25 17

Temperature
Chicks face difficulty in self-regulating their body temperature during the first 10 to 12 days of their life. They may lose significant quantities of heat through their feet, which explains the emphasis on maintaining the litter at 95oF. Chilling causes the chicks to huddle, causes premature closure of the yolk sac stalk, and makes the chicks more susceptible to disease. Brooder temperatures must be monitored at chick height – about 2 inches high – because temperatures can vary as much as 5 to 8oF from the ground to 4 or 5 feet above the floor. The brooder temperature is reduced by 5 degrees per week until reaching 70oF.

Temperature is kept between 65 and 85oF to achieve acceptable feed conversion and production levels. Research indicates that temperatures lower than 65oF increases the bird’s energy requirement, which will lower feed efficiency and, more importantly, reduce egg production. At temperatures greater than 85oF, feed intake is often reduced, which may also lead to reduced egg production. In contrast to most other domesticated birds, Bobwhite quail often peak in egg production during the warmer portions of their production cycle, this suggests the possibility that they are more heat tolerant. However, excessively high ambient temperature often results in reduced fertility in other avian species.

Water 
Chicks have sufficient material in their yolk sac to survive the first two to three days without feed (assuming the temperature is correct), but they do need water. It is important that the chicks find the water source shortly after arrival to prevent dehydration and death. It is suggested that 10 percent of the chicks should be introduced to the water by placing water onto their beaks.

These birds will teach the others the location of the water. In order to help the chicks get a good start, place a vitamin mix into the water.Nipple waterers are usually preferred as they significantly reduce the occurrence of wet litter and are simpler to clean than trough waterers. As a general rule, each nipple supplies water to approximately 15 birds.

Feeding and Nutrition
Quails eat crumbles or mash, but a change from one type to the other may cause problems with acceptance. There should be a gradual change by mixing the two types of feed together for a few days may help. Usually, feed wastage is decreased when crumbles are used. The birds consume 0.59 to 0.68 kg per bird of feed during the first 8 weeks. Between 8 and 16 weeks, they consume 0.91 to 1.36 kg per bird. Feed loses some of its nutritional value if it is stored improperly or too long.

During the hot summer months, feed should not be stored for more than 2 or 3 weeks nor allowed to become damp. Molds and mold toxins can be a serious problem with quail because they are very sensitive to these toxins. During the cooler months, feed may be stored up to 4-6 weeks with a minimum loss of nutrients. Feed consumption varies from farm to farm, season to season and formulation to formulation.

Recommended total protein levels for Quail

Species Starting

0-6 weeks

Grower 1

7-14 weeks

Grower 2

15-20 weeks

Holding

21-30 + weeks

Breeding1
% age
Bob White Quail 26 20 15 14 24
Japanese Quail 24 Mature at 6 weeks Mature at 6 weeks 14 2 20

Start feeding the breeder diet three weeks before first egg is anticipated.
2. Japanese quail usually are not put on holding ration; a holding diet is sometimes used if they are held on short days to delay production.

Beak Trimming
Beak trimming involves removal the tip of the bird’s beak to reduce cannibalism and increase feed intake. Quail beak trimming is sometimes performed with nail clippers, scissors, or electric debeakers. It is frequently done at 1 day of age and at 6 weeks of age, when the birds are moved to the grow-out pen.

The recommended method is to use an electric beak trimmer. With this instrument, the beak can be trimmed in one of two ways. The first method involves cutting off the beak with the blade. The second method, or touch-burn method, involves touching the beak (upper and lower) to the red-hot metal surface of the blade. The touch-burn method of beak trimming at 1 day of age is preferred because it allows for sufficient regrowth before the birds are released. With either method, the beak should be trimmed back 1/4 of the distance between the beak tip and the nares.

Eggs
Quail eggs are characterized by a variety of colour patterns. They range from snow white to completely brown. More commonly they are tan and dark brown speckled or mottled brown with a chalky blue covering. The average egg from mature female weighs about 10 gram. Japanese quail are prolific layers. The average egg weight is about 10 percent of the hen’s body weight (more than twice the egg weight ratio that is typical for most birds).

The young breeders may begin to lay a few eggs as early as 18 weeks of age, do not expect consistent egg production until about 22 weeks of age.

Brooding
The brooding period is the first six weeks of the chick’s life. This critical period is important for getting the chick off to a good start. It is a basic fact of game bird management that chick quality cannot be improved after hatching, but it certainly can be impaired. Proper management during this period can eliminate some of the health problems that occur later on. It is important to be prepared for chick arrival. Cleaning, disinfecting and quail brooder house setup should be complete several days prior to the chicks’ arrival. Regardless of the season, the brooders should run for at least 24 hours before chick arrival, and the litter temperature should be approximately 95oF.

Brooding is generally accomplished in circular units about 7 to 8 feet in diameter and 18-inch-high called “brooder rings” they are commonly made of cardboard or inexpensive sheet metal. The brooder ring keeps the chicks in the vicinity of the heat, water and feed. Chicks will be able to fly over the ring by about nine days of age, so remove the ring at about eight days of age. Stocking density can be as high as 10 birds per square foot during brooding.

In floor pens, clean, dry and absorbent litter is used to a depth of at least 2 inches in each pen. Litter materials such as wood shavings, pine straw, peanut hulls, sugar cane bagasse or crushed corn cobs are satisfactory. Wood shavings are the best, although hardwood shavings contain materials toxic to young chicks. Check to ensure the litter is free of pests such as fire ants.

Place minimum of 3 of the feeders and waterers, fill them and space them evenly around the brooder. Place marbles or gravel in the bottom to prevent the chicks from getting into the water and drowning. The water should be allowed to reach room temperature. To encourage the chicks to eat, additional starter feed should be placed on rough paper. When chicks arrive, count and move them to the brooding area. Any weak or deformed chicks should be culled. Check the brooder temperature regularly.

Growth
At six weeks of age, chicks are typically moved from the brooding facility to outside fight pens until 17 weeks of age, when they are marketed to hunting plantations. Flight pens consist of wire or netting supported by 4 x 4 wood posts. They are relatively inexpensive to create, although the actual cost depends on the resources available on the farm. The density of birds placed in a fight pen is estimated at 0.70 birds per square foot. Approximately 20 percent of the total fight pen space should be enclosed for shelter and dry space for feeders and waterers.

The disadvantage of fight pens is a high mortality rate, which probably occurs due to exposing quail to a cold, wet environment. Flight pens also create an excellent environment for disease outbreaks such as Bronchitis, Capillaria, Histomonas and Ulcerative Enteritis.

Additional advantages of quail barns include a lower incidence of cannibalism and reduced feed cost. From five to 14 weeks of age, birds are grown in the dark to prevent cannibalism. Light stimulates bird activity; thus, less cannibalism occurs with birds grown in dark-out housing.

However, dim light should be provided to the birds at 14 weeks to stimulate feed consumption so that they will have adequate energy reserves for flying when marketed at 17 weeks of age. Another advantage of raising quail in barns is that feed consumption may be decreased about 25 percent compared with fight pens, likely as a result of reduced temperature variations (which can fluctuate up to 40 ?F in outdoor fight pens). During cold temperatures, birds consume additional feed to compensate for lower ambient temperatures.

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