Coturnix Quails in the Tropics

One morning in January, I awoke to a strange sound outside of our bathroom door. As close I can guess, it would be spelled.


Not a particularly-awful sound, but certainly not a familiar one. Since that time, arickaa-rehr has been the soundtrack to our mornings and afternoons on the little homestead. As it turns out, quail crow. Not nearly as obnoxious or as loud as roosters, but they do make some racket.

We've had our 16 Japanese quail now for about 3 months. We bought them as immature little guys and now they've grown up into mature little guys. They're dual-purpose as meat and egg-laying birds. They're starting to lay or going to slaughter at 8 weeks - so they're fairly quick turnaround. Our 12 females are laying 8-12 beautiful little eggs a day now, and they've quickly become one of Alida's (and maybe Dad's) favorite snacks. We keep a pile of them hard-boiled and peeled in the fridge for a little bite-sized protein pick-me-up. In theory, 5 of them equal up to one full-sized chicken egg - so you have to eat quite a few to fill up, but with a dozen a day around here, they're certainly on the menu.

One fun little fact is that they fly quite well, something that I had read in several places but not experienced until this morning. When I opened their little door at 7AM (at eye level mind you), the hungry little booger hopped right past my face onto our garage floor. After a confused moment for both of us and some quiet staring at one another, she hoisted her fat little tennis ball body to the heavens and fluttered off into the school yard. The grass was recently cut, so I could see her standing as straight up as her toothpick legs would let her and taking a good luck around her unfamiliar surroundings - analyzing the endless possibilities of her newfound freedom. I jumped the fence and hollered at a couple of kids arriving to school to help a brother out. As we circled and slowly crept closer and closer (kids giggling profusely at the giant gringo stalking the tiny chicken), she suddenly remembered those wing-things and once again leapt skyward. Fortunately she hasn't used them much and is rather fat, so she seemed limited to 50 foot spurts. After a couple more creeping, jumping, running, and giggling episodes, we finally cornered her next to the fence, and I grabbed her as she floofered past my head again. This was not the result I expected when I saw her first fly off into the sunrise, but I'm grateful to have her back with her friends.

The following info is going to be a little more specific, but I thought it might help those interested in something similar in the tropics since I found very little info to help on this specific subject within the development world. Here's my thoughts.

Food - Most literature I found recommended very high protein feed (28%+). Up to this point, I have found that a mixture of broiler growth concentrate and laying hen provides 20% protein feed and what seems to be adequate egg production. I also augment with perennial peanut, moringa, grass clippings, and leuceana 2-3 times a week. They eat approximately 1 lb of feed per day for the 16 of them and pick quite a bit at the greens. I have their food in a narrowly cut piece of 2" PVC pipe. The opening is just big enough for them to stick their heads through (~1" or less) since they are extremely messy eaters and tend to flick food all over the place.

Water- I have a rabbit waterer (bearing type) and a low dish. They regularly knock over the dish, but drink from both quite easily. On hot days they easily go through a liter or more for all 16 birds.

Laying material. When I clean out the cages, they lay on bare wire, but they certainly prefer making a little hollow in the green and other dry organic material and laying all the eggs together. Apparently nesting boxes aren't desirable for quail. It's worthwhile to dig around in the material at collection time as some eggs tend to wander deep into dry grass. At times only 4 out of the 12 eggs are visible. The birds very much enjoy having branches and grasses to scratch and root through.

Cage construction. Mine have a floor of a fairly solid grate with small (~1/4") holes. Cheaper, thinner 1/4" screen was used for the walls. The roof is just a thin piece of roofing laminate. It is important to consider their small feet and their ability to (frequently) fly into the roof. I wouldn't want anything super-hard for the roof or anything that they could get their heads snagged in. In theory, nearly 100 birds can live on a 4x8 sheet of plywood, but I would not consider such conditions unless the birds were strictly being raised to fatten and slaughter as young broilers. That being said, in my 2.5' x 5.5' cage, I feel that I could easily have 40-50 birds without causing any undue suffering.

Daylight Hours/Temperature. We're currently running about 12-13 hours of daylight here in Honduras. I did install a fluorescent light for a couple of weeks (providing a total of 15 hours/day of light) and it did seem to increase the production with production not dropping below 10 eggs/day (as opposed to 2 days a week as low as 6-8/day). It would certainly be worthwhile if consistent production was a concern. In general our temperatures at our altitude (3000 ft) are fairly mild for the tropics, but these past two weeks we have consistently passed 38 degrees C. The birds drink more and get lethargic in the afternoon, but otherwise seem to be unaffected.

Aggression. Compared to the chickens that I have had, these little guys are fairly savage. Especially the males amongst one another. I occasionally have to pull a male apart for a couple of days with some females in order to let him recover from inordinate amounts of head pecking. I have a male:female ration of 1:3. I think that 1:4 might be preferable in these hot bright conditions though. They seem to breed with shocking frequency at this ratio.

Reproduction: Due to inconsistent electricity in our area, I have purchased some bantam chickens to hatch the eggs. As soon as one of these chickens get broody, I will be attempting to hatch 15-20 eggs. My neighbor currently is trying 8 of the quail eggs with his bantam. Supposed hatching time is 18 days. I have read that most full-size chickens tend to break the eggs when they stand on them, but if you have a smaller/lighter broody hen it might be worth a try as the eggs seem to be much sturdier than I expected.

Cohabitation with Chickens: Quail should definitely be kept under cover due to their little flight habit and desire to do so (I haven't tried clipping wings, but I'm guessing that they wouldn't do as well with this as my chickens have). I have also read that quail can get sick quite easily from chickens. That being said, my quail live directly above my  chickens and even occasionally peck at each other through the screens, and I have yet to see one get sick. Not impossible, but hasn't happened yet.

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