Joined: April 26th, 2008, 4:57 pm
Location: Bartlesville, Oklahoma
Raising coturnix quail organically for eggs and meat
Coturnix or Japanese quail are a delight to raise, their space requirements are small, they donâ€™t eat a lot, convert feed into protein efficiently, and are much more congenial creatures than even the sweetest-tempered chicken. These engaging fowl have been raised under domestic conditions since the Pharos ruled beside the Nile.
The modern Coturnix has been bred to begin producing eggs when less that two months old. Once she starts laying, the hen will produce an egg daily for at least a year. The males are equally rapid growers, being ready for the table at six to eight weeks of age.
Coturnix eggs are nearly identical in taste and nutritional quality to chicken eggs. Coturnix hens, however, need less than two pounds of feed to produce a pound of eggs. Chickens need almost three pounds of feed to make that same pound of eggs. You can use the eggs yourself or sell them in gourmet markets. Because of their small size, they are especially attractive as hors dâ€™oeuvres, either pickled or hard-cooked. Five Coturnix eggs equal one chicken egg. Quail eggs are all different in appearance, being speckled and mottled.
Coturnix are very easy to prepare for eating, also. Because of their small size, three can be beheaded at the same time. Bleed the birds and then dunk them into scalding water briefly. After scalding in 148Âº F water plucking should be easy. Chill after plucking, remove the entrails (reserve giblets) and either cook or freeze. Recipes for quail are easy to find, they can be prepared any way chicken is cooked. Two birds are considered a serving.
Quail meat is delicious. Even the breast meat is dark, as is true of all birds that fly. The taste is nearly identical to chicken but really needs to be tasted to understand the difference. The meat is tender and can be broiled, baked, roasted, stir-fried, or stewed. Stewing would be a good way to used old hens that are no longer laying eggs every day.
There are three ways to get your first birds, you can either buy adult birds, chicks or hatching eggs. If you are only interested in keeping a few dozen birds for eggs, buy young hens. However, to get both meat and eggs you will need to purchase young chicks or hatch your own eggs.
The hatching rate for Coturnix eggs is about 60% and generally half of them will be young cocks. The same ratio usually applies to day-old chicks, as it is impossible to sex them before they are at least two weeks of age. At this age, most males will start to show their distinctive color differences. The males have reddish breast feathers and the females are speckled and grayish. Separate the cocks and hens as soon as you can determine their sex.
If you are going to keep your own eggs to hatch for replacement birds, it is a good idea to get a few males from another source so that your gene pool remains varied. If you keep breeding related birds back to one another, you will weaken your flock and recessive abnormalities will begin to show up. At the very least, you will soon have hens that do not lay daily and fertility will decrease.
Because of their small size, Coturnix can be kept in small pens. Plan on a square foot of space per bird. When startled, quail tend to fly straight up and can gain enough upward momentum to break their necks when they hit the top of the cage. If your cages are high enough to allow flight, make the tops of burlap, nylon netting, or canvas, otherwise you will be removing dead birds as they smash themselves on the solid cage tops.
Cages can be raised or rest on the ground. Many quail breeders favor raised cages because they are easier to keep clean. The droppings fall through to the ground and can be raked up and removed to the compost heap without disturbing the birds. In raised cages, the birds will never be standing in manure and the eggs will remain clean.
A nesting or brooding box is necessary if you want to get eggs. This should be a solid box with a small opening for the hens to enter and leave by and a large door for you to collect eggs and change bedding. You should be able to get into the nesting box from outside the cage. You can keep 40 birds in a cage three feet by three feet by seven feet. The nest box should be 16 inches by three feet by three feet.
Cock birds being raised for meat can be kept in outdoor pens constructed by draping bird netting over shrubs. This will give them room to exercise and fly. They will also get some food by capturing bugs. Encircle the shrubs with wire mesh and anchor it to the ground so predators can not get underneath. Drape the netting over the shrubs and fasten it to the wire securely. Remember that raccoons are very good at invading pens to steal free meals and make your quail enclosure safe.
Like most birds, Coturnix like to take dust baths in hot weather. If your birds are in raised cages, give them a cat-litter pan full of dry soil for dusting.
Always provide the birds with fresh, clean water. Very young chicks can easily fall into water and drown, so take this into consideration when selecting water dishes. Special waterers made for small birds can be purchased. These containers have small openings for the birds to get at the water but too small for them to fall in and drown. Study the ready-made water containers and you should be able to duplicate them with a little ingenuity and some empty milk jugs.
Birds being raised only for meat will thrive and grow plump on a high-carbohydrate diet. Hens will need laying mash if they are to produce lots of eggs. Most feed stores sell special feeds formulated for quail and other game birds. Be sure to read the label carefully and do not purchase feeds that have been treated or medicated. You should not have any trouble buying untreated feed for your birds. Tell the feed store people that your are raising birds organically and they will steer you to the correct products.
You can supplement your henâ€™s diet with chopped greens from the kitchen. Food scraps that you would normally put in the compost pile can be processed through the Coturnix hens first. Chop leaves and other vegetable scraps fine enough for the birds to eat easily and there will be almost no waste.
Cock birds can be given all sorts of table scraps like stale bread and cakes. You only need to keep these birds plump and happy and they do not require extra nutrition for forming egg shell. Even if you use a few of them for breeding to get fertile eggs, they will still do very well on a basic diet of quail scratch and stale bakery products.
The added bonus of raising quail is their pleasing voices. They are not raucous and shrill like chickens and listening to them coo and whistle to one another can be very soothing after a stressful day. Your quail cock birds will never wake you from a sound sleep by crowing loudly under your bedroom window.
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