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velacreations

Triggers for Broody Quail

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We've had quail for a while, and we incorporated them into our Rabbit/Earthworm Food Web: http://velacreations.com/blog/365-quail-and-worms.html

 

They work ok in that role, but not great.  They don't scratch enough to really keep the top of the rabbit manure stirred up, we have to go through with a rake every few days.  They do eat the fly maggots, though, and they produce eggs well.  In the winter, not so much, below the cages is a bit dark.  In that space, they have lots of space and plenty of room to move around (about 5 square meters for a dozen quail).

 

In our area, there are feral quail and wild quail.  The distinction I make is that the wild quail are native to this area (mostly scaled quail).  The feral quail are courtunix.  Now, Courtunix are known for not breeding readily on their own.  But, the feral courtunix here obviously do.  Assuming their ancestors were the same domesticated courtunix we all raise, how could they have survived and bred in the wild?

 

My hypothesis is that the quail require environmental "triggers" to make them broody, and raised in wire cages, the quail do experience those triggers.  So, most of us never see any of our quail go broody.

 

I provided a space with lots of straw in our quail/rabbit/earthworm setup, figuring that being on soil/compost with lots of bugs to eat and more space, possibly the protected straw area there might be a trigger in there somewhere.  No luck.  Not one quail went broody.  They laid plenty of eggs in that space, though.

 

We've got the chickens tilling the hillside for us right now, so we like to take the rabbit manure out there to them to get incorporated into soil.  So, we decided to try something different with the quail, as we don't need them in that space right now.  We have a garden (~150 square meters) that's full of wicking beds, enclosed by 1m tall chicken wire. There's lots of cover from the squash, tomatoes, etc.  There's plenty of bugs around to keep the quail occupied.

 

We clipped the wings of the quail, and made them a home base, with feed and watering station.  It's basically a small, protected cage that gives them some protection. We locked them in this cage and set it in the garden for a few days.  Then, we opened the door and let the quail free range within the garden space.  The quail do good in the space, and have established small areas below the canopies of the plants.  They've been keeping the grasshoppers in check, so we're letting them stay there until we see something that needs to change.

But yesterday, we discovered something interesting. A quail setting on 9 eggs, in a very well protected nest on the edge of the garden in the tall johnson grass.  She is absolutely invisible, even if you know she's there.  Somehow, some way, this space/area/environment "triggered" this quail to make the nest and set those eggs.  This is a quail that was raised in wire cages her whole life and never before even hinted at being broody, even though she had many chances.  She's a couple of years old, and has laid hundreds of eggs.  What was the trigger?  The open space?  Open to the elements (outdoors)?  The tall Johnson grass and "hands off" approach?  I have no idea. 

 

All I know is that something "triggered" her broody instinct, and she knew exactly how to make the nest in a very good location that's well covered and well protected.  What will happen?  Will she hatch a clutch?  I have no idea, but we watch with great enthusiasm.  I have since noticed several other nests around, depressions around plants and in the grass.  A few have eggs, and we're letting them be, just to see what happens.  If more quail go broody, we know we've stumbled on to something here.

Edited by velacreations (see edit history)

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Very cool!  I'd like to hear what happens with her.  I have had quail go broody on me twice in a large cage that had plastic boxes with pine shavings.  It didn't last long though, and she gave up long before hatch time.  I have been told that it was unusual.

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In my view, her maturity and her environment are the drivers.  She's a mature female.....in a semi-natural environment.  That's probably as good as it gets for a quail. 

 

The other thing that may be a factor is the inter-breeding between the local native quail and the Coturnix quail.  That happens in Australia.  Coturnix quail will cross bred with stubble quail.....and that, I suggest, is where the "natural" behaviour could be coming from.  

 

Behavioural inconsistencies are less likely with selectively bred stock.  Quail are valued for use in laboratory genetics trials because of their ability to produce several generations within a very short time.  

 

I love quail, too.  They are the ideal micro-livestock......and a perfect integration companion for any aquaponics system.

 

Abe, have you considered housing quail over your chicken pens?.  The quail droppings and spilt feed fall through onto the chicken pen with reach of the chickens.  This is a good system for rabbits, too.

 

Gary

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The other thing that may be a factor is the inter-breeding between the local native quail and the Coturnix quail.  That happens in Australia.  Coturnix quail will cross bred with stubble quail.....and that, I suggest, is where the "natural" behaviour could be coming from.  

I don't know that they are breeding.  I think we'd have to do a DNA analysis to be sure, but if you consider that the very first feral quail had to breed, and they were likely escapees from a cage, then the trigger hypothesis has more merit.  Our native quail are considerably different than Courtunix, being larger, grey, and having display feathers on the head.  I have seen none of these traits in the feral quail, though it is certainly possible that they interbreed.

 

Here's what our native quail look like:

Alan%20Scaled-Quail-2.jpg

 

 

 

Abe, have you considered housing quail over your chicken pens?.  The quail droppings and spilt feed fall through onto the chicken pen with reach of the chickens.  This is a good system for rabbits, too.

Yes, we considered that, but we wanted to give them the solid/soil floor to see if that had an effect on egg production and/or broodiness.  We do have part of the rabbits over the chicken area, and it works well.

 

Currently, though, most chickens are out working in the orchard, so there's no one around the rabbit cages, and we take the droppings from the rabbits over there once a week to set up a compost "tractor"

 

 

I love quail, too.  They are the ideal micro-livestock.

I agree, aside from the breeding part.  That is their biggest downside.  Most other micro-livestock are prolific breeders, requiring little more than space and good food.

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Ok, a little update.  A second quail built a nest and currently has 5 eggs in it.  She's started setting as well.  The first quail is a real trooper, she's been out through a few thunderstorms and hasn't budged.  Sometimes, I have to get real close to make sure she's alive, because she doesn't move.  It's like watching a statue impersonator.

Edited by velacreations (see edit history)

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Hi Abe,

 

Your native quail (very attractive birds in their own right) are very different in appearance to our stubble quail which are almost identical to Coturnix (Japanese) Quail.....with whom they will interbreed.

 

Ensure that your setting quail have food and water very close.......and remove any males from the space if you can......'cos they'll be dragging the hens off the nest for a little romance otherwise.

 

Gary

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Sometimes, I have to get real close to make sure she's alive, because she doesn't move.  It's like watching a statue impersonator.

 

It's an essential survival skill for all ground-setting birds.

 

I agree, aside from the breeding part.  That is their biggest downside.  Most other micro-livestock are prolific breeders, requiring little more than space and good food.

 

A cross-bred bantam will do the job in your situation......and a good electric incubator will suffice for mine.

 

Gary

Edited by GaryD (see edit history)

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Ok, a small update.  The two hens continue to sit on their nests, even through pouring rain.  Egg production has dropped to zero, and we only see the other hens maybe once or twice a day, which leads me to believe that they may have nests, as well.  The eggs of the first nest are due to hatch early this week, Tuesday/Wednesday.  I have no reason to suspect she'll abandon the nest at this point, so I'm eager to see what happens.

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no predators, really.  They are in the garden right up against the house, completely fenced in.  I may gather the mom and chicks up, though, not sure if I should just leave them or try and protect them.  I think the rain could threaten them, at least for the first 2 weeks.
 

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Don't know much about quail, or how much rain we're talking about, but my philosophy is usually to let nature take its course and leave things alone. Disturbing them, even if to protect them, might upset the whole deal...

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yeah, I'm tempted to let them be, but at the same time, I'd hate to loose them.  We sometimes get thunderstorms that drop 2-3 inches of rain in an hour.  Needless to say, it would be hard for a day-old quail to survive that (though some ultimately would).

 

As far as protection, just moving them to an area where they have access to the barn for shelter would be the extent of that.  I wouldn't put them in a cage.

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You're breaking new ground from my experience.  All of the quail that I've had have been thoroughly domesticated and having them set their own eggs has been very rare......probably made so by the housing that we've typically used.

 

Congratulations.....and good luck with the rest of the journey!

 

Gary

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Yeah, all the other housing I have tried (cages, tractors, compost bins) gave us plenty of eggs but no quail going broody. The trick now is to figure out what exactly is the trigger. I think it's likely to be a combination of things, but some cover and lots of space seems to be necessary.

 

The housing we currently have could be achieved with anyone that has a garden area.  They like cover, even a few straw bales stacked around gives them places to hide. We have a lot of thick, coarse grass around the border of the garden, and they love that.  I'm hoping they can contribute a bit to pest patrol.  If some of these hens hatch a clutch, there will be a lot little mouths to feed.

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Hi Abe,

 

Congratulations on the new arrivals.    It's one thing to have quail setting their eggs.....but something quite different for the hen to go the distance to hatch.  

 

The trick now is to figure out what exactly is the trigger.

 

 

One of the triggers has to be light.....since day length (photo-period) is what causes the onset of egg laying.  As the days get longer (moving into spring), birds that are not otherwise laying eggs will begin to do so.

 

Gary

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well, we are currently at the peak light for the year, or just past it, actually.  Light definitely plays a role in laying, not sure what part it plays in setting.  I think population density might be a factor, as well.  Because I had these quail in a tractor for some time, and they didn't set then, even though they were outside and had access to the coarse grass.  So, it's not just outside + good nesting spots.  It's also a freedom thing to pick and choose where to nest, and possibly to be able to escape other quail.

 

I'm excited to see if more hatch. 

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Hi Abe,

 

I took a look at some of my reference material and broodiness triggers include increasing day length, genetic predisposition, the sight of other broody hens and even the sight of clusters of eggs.  The increasing day length thing is interesting because the light stimulates the pituitary gland in the bird's head (behind the eyes) and this stimulates the production of a hormone called prolactin.....and broodiness follows.  The poultry industry has invested big bucks looking for ways to eliminate production of this hormone in layers......for obvious reasons.

 

Gary

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