A little while back our good friend Blanche was kind enough to gift us some wonderful Texas A&M and Jumbo brown coturnix quail.
I admit, at first I was hesitant to add such a small bird to our already growing animal repitoire for fear of how they would handle the cold, I also didn't like the idea of leaving them cooped and having to provide 100% of their diet 100% of the time, nor was I particularly fond of the idea of having to maintain breeder cages of trios. I also wasn't particularly happy about the fact that according to many experts caged quail have lost all sense of brooding and hatching capacity. Fortunately I have found some alternative solutions.
My frist solution was to create a quail aviary, easy enough, I simply consolidated the turkey flock to the larger of the two turkey coops after culling what was sold for meat for the holiday season and created a new seperate pen in the Peasant barn to house the guinea flock. This freed up the smaller of the two turkey coops for conversion into a coturnix quail aviary. Roosts are not needed for coturnix, so I removed the roosts, put down a heavy bed of straw and added an old scraped together doghouse as a communal laying box, to this I also added a couple of florescent light fixtures. Two days after the move the male coturnix started to belt out their characteristic "crow" and the breeding commenced. Unfortunately male coturnix are increadibly territorial so fighting commenced.
This was less of an issue than I figured it would be, simply because of the fact that I had included in my move all the male texas A&M white quail. I'm not generally a fan of any type of white poultry, both because they are easy prey targets, but also because they are terrible pickers towards themselves mostly so I simply culled out all but the two very best white males from the flock, allowing the genetics of the jumbo browns to move forward (dominant over white genetics). Since then I've been getting eggs consistently and regularly. High quality, delicious quail eggs which I've been enjoying for breakfast on a near daily basis.
The first thing you will notice about coturnix as a breed other than their meat to bone ratio (which is fantastic 12-14 ounces each) and the fact that the turnaround is quick (16 days to hatch, 8 weeks to maturity) is just how proficient they are at laying eggs and just how large those eggs are compared to the size of the bird, one egg can account for 7% of a females body weight.
As always I have been experimenting with feed and feed ratios. The common information sources on the net all suggest high protein game bird feed, but as I am attempting to be as self sustainable as possible I decided that should circumstances ever get downright terrible in this country, that obviously would not be an option, so I switched over to something that I can fairly well replicate on my own, locally milled laying mash. 16% protein, egg production picked up dramatically over the gamebird feed and the birds not only maintained weight but added weight! So in the spirit of experimentation I then decided on a new "Homegrown" ration to experiment with. Ground eggshels from coturnix of course, dolomite lime (when shell was not available, this also makes a fantastic dust bath), finely ground Amanda Palmer corn, and an organic dogfood for protein (back to 27% protein plus the protein content of the corn, so roughly 35-40% protein). Laying went up even more, weight was maintained and birds were more energetic..........and they started brooding eggs!
And yes, before you say to yourself, well if things get bad or if your trying to be self sustainable why dog food? The answer is because it's cold outside and that's the quick answer, the alternative should things get really bad are twofold, refuse from butchering of farm animals (don't say it! Poultry are omnivores and scavengers!) or insect protein, likely dried or live weight worms from "The Wyrm", our vermiculture operation........of course we have not yet mentioned millet or other small grains nor have we mentioned the most important vector of all.....range feeding.
A few weeks back a friend of ours dropped of a 8 x 3 cage made from concrete wire, just big enough for quail to stick their head in and just small enough to keep them from escaping. I fixed the cage up and sturdied it with some heavy duty wite, to this I wired some old bread pallete casters to the bottom along with wiring in some carboard for the quail to stand on, one the tractor is pulled onto range it is then fliped over on it's back, placing the quail directly onto the ground where the quail can scratch for bugs and seeds and fertilize the ground, we will also make a small shed inside the tractor for the quail to seek refuge from hot or cold weather. Pictures coming soon.
To this I would add from my experiments that for the amount of food consumed the quail produce an inordanite amount of meat and eggs, much better conversion than any other poultry or rabbit that we have here on the farm. For nearly 60 quail at the moment we feed just roughly two lbs of feed a day, much easier to manage than turkeys or guineas in confinement, once on range come spring I imagine that the rate will drop substantially. Of course like chickens the egg laying nearly comes to a cease during the low light level months so in a sustainable situation it's unlikely that you will keep them laying eggs, however I have experimented with light requirements as well and the results are stunning. From my observations the only light needed is just enough for the quail to see their feed and water and breeding and laying will commence.
I am currently trying to amplify my flock as we speak with three days left on two incubators full of eggs of jumbo brown, XLD-1, Cinnamon, and Tuxedo varieties. In time I will breed out the white trait I dislike so much and I can afford to play around with some alternative rearing methods for no more than it takes to hatch and raise these little birds.
I am intensely interested in recall abilities. When I first got ahold of these quail I kept them in my rabbit meat hutch, one morning while feeding a Texas A&M took off into a local tree, I figured he was gone and was about to close the cage down when suddenly from nowhere he flew back, directly through the door of his cage, on the call of an anxious female......possibilities abound.
More Blogs Soon!!!!
-Peasant barn update
-Dofer Blacksmithing update
-Peasant Root Cellar update
-Poor mens water and fish gardens
-Terra Preta Pit