THE JAPANESE QUAIL a.k.a. COTURNIX

Reproduced with permission from Feather Fancier

The Japanese Quail, also known as Coturnix quail, pharaoh's quail, stubble quail and eastern quail differs considerably from the North American Bobwhite quail. The Bobwhite is larger than the Japanese quail, however the Coturnix produces larger eggs. The incubation time needed for fertile eggs is shorter (14-17 days) compared to Bobwhite quail eggs (23 days). Coturnix may start laying eggs as early as 6 weeks of age compared to 16 weeks for the Bobwhite.

HISTORY: Japanese quail have been widely distributed in Europe and Asia. Egyptians used to trap large quantities from their farm lands for meat. In Japan, these birds were kept as pets beginning in the eleventh century. By 1910 however, Japanese quail became popular in Japan for egg and meat production. They were introduced in the United States by bird fanciers around 1870.

It has been reported that wild Coturnix lay eggs in small clutches of 5-12 eggs and incubate them naturally. Certain mutants of Japanese Quail have been developed for their color of plumage, color of egg shell and body size.

DESCRIPTION: Japanese quail can be sexed as early as three weeks of age, based on the feather color which is distinct for the male and female of the species. When matured, the Japanese males weigh in the range of 100-140 grams (4-5 oz.), and they reach sexual maturity at 5 to 6 weeks of age. The plumage color on the throat and breast will be cinnamon or rusty brown. When males are sexually matured, a large glandular or bulbous structure appears above the cloacal opening. If this gland is pressed, it will produce a foamy secretion. Males generally live longer than females. Males crow and their sound has been described as "Ko-turn-neex". Adult Japanese quail females are generally larger than the males and weigh in the range of 120-160 grams (4.5-6 oz.). Through proper selection, heavier birds can be produced for meat. The females can be easily identified by their slightly whiter plumage under the throat and upper breast, different from the characteristically black stippled feathers of the male. In this area, the feathers of the female quail are longer and more pointed than those of the male birds.

The female Japanese may start laying eggs as early as 35 days of age under proper conditions, laying approximately 200-300 eggs a year. Fertility in breeder flocks is high between 2-8 months of age although after that, it is considerably less. To obtain better fertility, a ratio of one male to one or two females should be considered when mating.

EGGS: A Coturnix egg weighs approximately 10 grams (.4 ounce), an estimated 8 percent of the female body weight. The basic shell color is white or buff with patches of brown, black or blue. Individual hens characteristically lay eggs with a particular color pattern, shape and size. Certain recessive strains of Japanese quail lay almost white-shelled eggs.

Care of Fertile Eggs Prior to Incubation:

1. Collect eggs 2 to 3 times a day if birds are raised in colony cages or on the floor. This will prevent cracking of the shell by the birds.
2. Handle eggs very carefully; the Coturnix egg shells are thinner than chicken egg shells.
3. Eggs stored prior to incubation should be kept in a cool place at approximately 55F (13C) and at about 70 percent humidity.
4. Do not hold eggs more than 7 days prior to incubation, as hatchability will be reduced considerably after that.
5. If eggs have to be stored for a considerable time, cover them with a polyethylene plastic bag which helps to prevent drying of the egg content.

INCUBATION: Domesticated quail do not have the tendency for broodiness and hence eggs must be incubated under a broody hen or by artificial incubation. If you plan to set eggs under a hen, do not place eggs of other species with them. The difference in the size of the eggs can influence temperatures from the body of the hen and result in poor hatchability. Japanese quail eggs can be successfully incubated by using almost any type of commercial incubator. The egg trays of large commercial type incubators will have to be modified to accommodate the quail eggs.

Temperature, humidity, turning and ventilation are the four important factors in incubation. Failure in any of these will result in a poor hatch. Always follow the manufacturer's recommendation very closely.The eggs should be turned a minimum of three times each day. A turning schedule might be 8:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. A good idea is to mark an X on the side of an egg (with a felt tip pen). This mark will be up on day one, down on day two, etc., rotating eggs with a 180-degree turn. Do not turn quail eggs after the 14th day of incubation.

Japanese quail eggs will generally hatch on the 17th day of incubation, but hatch can take place as early as the 14th day and as late as the 19th day. This difference in quail incubation period is not yet scientifically understood. After every hatch, the incubator should be cleaned, disinfected and fumigated.

Reasons for Poor Hatch:

1. Eggs are infertile.
2. Eggs are cracked and contents dried out.
3. Eggs are too old when set.
4. Eggs are held in extreme temperatures prior to incubation.
5. Shells are contaminated.
6. Eggs are not turned often enough.
7. Temperature is too high, too low or too variable.
8. Too little humidity or too much humidity in the incubator.
9. Improper ventilation.

Once the quail chick pips the egg, it may take up to 10 hours before it comes out of the shell. It will take a few hours before the wet chick is completely dry.

After the first chick is hatched, at least 24 hours of incubation should be allowed for the others to hatch. Chicks can stay in the incubator safely for a day, and then they should be carefully transferred to a warm (approximately 95 degrees F) brooder unit.

BROODING AND CARE OF YOUNG: A few important things to remember are:

1. Never allow the young to become chilled.
2. The brooder temperature should be maintained at about 95F.
3. The temperature of 95F should be maintained continuously in the brooder for the first week; after that the temperature can be decreased 5F every week until the 4th week.
4. A regular light bulb (60 watt), infrared bulb or any other heating unit can be used as a heat source. However for small-scale operations, a light bulb will provide both heat and light. If you do not have a thermometer, watch the behavior of the chicks for a while to determine whether they are too cold, too hot or just right. If too cold, the chicks will huddle together under the heat source; if too hot, they will walk away from the source of heat.
5. Quail raised for early maturity and better egg production should be given a 24-hour period of daylight for the first 4 weeks, using an incandescent light bulb.
6. Placing a sheet of paper in the brooder makes cleaning easier. However, never use a smooth paper since the chicks will develop spraddle legs and later die. Use regular newspaper, paper towelling or similar material.
7. Proper ventilation is a must for the young.
8. A balanced ration high in protein should be available to the quail chick at all times. A turkey starter of 28 percent protein will provide excellent growth. Gamebird starter or chick starter may be substituted if a 28 percent protein turkey starter feed is not available in your area. To prevent feed spillage, float a wire-mesh on top of the feed for the first few days.
9. Always keep plenty of fresh water in a waterer inside the brooder. Take precautions to avert drowning since this is one of the main causes of early mortality among chicks. Placing a wire mesh cut in a donut shape on top of the waterer prevents chicks from falling into the waterers and drowning. The cup of the waterer could also be filled with marbles or pebbles to prevent drowning.
10. Clean the waterer, check the feeder and change the litter. Discard the litter daily to avoid odor problems.
11. At the end of the 4th week, transfer chicks to the floor or cages.
12. Debeak the chick to prevent pecking and cannibalism. Use a nail clipper to remove the tip of the beak of the quail chick when about 2 weeks of age.

CARE OF THE ADULT QUAIL: Young birds can be transferred from the brooder to the cages or to the floor around the fourth week, depending on the breeder's purpose in raising quail. If the birds are raised for dog training or as a hobby, they can be raised on the floor. If the birds are being raised for breeding or for egg or meat production, they will perform better in cages. Pedigree cages of 5" x 8" x 10" will hold a pair of quail. Colony cages of 2' x 2' x 10" will accommodate up to 25 adult quail while a 2' x 4' x 10" will accommodate up to 50 adult quail. However, it is recommended that more space be provided for the birds; this will reduce or eliminate odor problems if they are being raised indoors. For cage construction, 1/2" x 1" welded wire is recommended.

Adult quail will perform better if given 16-25 square inches of floor space per bird. They need 1/2 inch to 1 inch of feeder space per bird for feed, and 3/4 inch of trough space for water. Adult quail hens require 14-18 hours of light per day to maintain maximum egg production and fertility. Egg fertility lowers considerably after the birds are a year old. Litter materials such as chopped straw, chopped corn cobs, sawdust or wood shavings should be about 2 inches in thickness for birds raised on the floor. Daily cleaning of the cages and removal of droppings is necessary for sanitation, if the birds are kept in indoor cages.

NUTRITION: The exact dietary requirements of the Japanese quail are still controversial. Turkey starter, chicken starter or a gamebird starter which can be purchased at local feed mills, should be adequate for proper quail egg and meat production. A free choice supply of calcium (lime stone or oyster shell) should be available to laying hens. Adult quail will eat 14-18 grams (.5 ounces) of a balanced ration. Fill the feeder only half full to prevent feed spillage. Fresh water should always be provided. Water is one of the most essential nutrients for the bird.

DISEASE PREVENTION: Although Coturnix is a hardy bird compared to poultry, it can be affected with most of the common poultry diseases. Sanitary management is the best guarantee to prevent diseases. Use commercial disinfectants to thoroughly clean and disinfect the cages, feeders and waterers. Take measures to control rats, mice, and flies which may bring disease organisms to the quail.

USES OF QUAIL: Japanese quail comes under the category of gamebirds, and in different parts of North America, the breast and leg muscles are considered a delicacy. Fried quail, European quail delight, roasted quail and marinated quail are common forms of culinary preparation. The eggs are similar in taste to chicken eggs and can be used for banquets and other such occasions. Plain hard-cooked eggs or colored eggs can be used for decorating salads. They are good appetizers and snacks. Quail eggs can be pickled using standard canning procedures, by adding hot, white vinegar (diluted) salt and pepper and bacon, sausage or hot pepper etc. for flavoring. Pickle the eggs at least 24 hours before serving. Roasted quail eggs in a spicy sauce are great if one desires a little zest.

(by Sam K. Varghese, Cooperative Extension Service, Mich. State Univ., as published in the Feather Fancier Newspaper, Canada's monthly publication dedicated to the promotion of pure-bred poultry, pigeons, waterfowl, pheasants & other avian species.)

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