Breeding Coturnix Quail
As some of you may know by now if you follow us on Instagram, I LOVE baby quail. They are undoubtably the cutest things alive. They weigh nothing and they are only as tall as your thumb. It's ridiculous.
Breeding animals because they are cute isn't what we do around here on the Mini City Farm. We breed quail because it grows our covey (the name for a group of quail) and sustains our family. Everyone on the farm has a job. The job of those cute baby smooshies (yes they have many nicknames) is to grow and produce either eggs or meat. The only thing on the farm, and that includes me and my husband, that doesn't have a job is Lolli the dog. Don't get me wrong, she is awesome, but is definitely just around for the cuddles. I mean, at least the cat keeps the house free of bugs and small critters.
|Juvenile Roo with Rust Color Chest Feathers
Deciding on the right male was a pretty big priority for me. It's extremely important to pick a breeding male that is calm, non-violent, and generally plays nice with the ladies. My husband and I spent a decent amount of time observing all of the males in our first brood. We watched for fighting with the other juvenile males and we watched for how aggressive each on one was when they attempted to breed with the available females.
I will say that the females did not enjoy this process, but if we didn't do it, we could have ended up with a male that was constantly injuring them. Keep in mind that there will be a certain level of harassment even with the calmest of males, but what you are wanting to weed out is overt aggression. All males that don't play nice, make it into the stew pot. If that means you end up with no males and need to purchase more eggs, so be it. Never breed aggressive quail. You will end up with a covey that does not function well together and you are forcing your females to live a very difficult, and often painful, life.
|Juvenile Hen with Spotted Chest Feathers
This bit is a little easier. If you have a male in the covey, the females don't usually fight each other. It's really only when there isn't a male that you need to look for female aggression. What you look for when breeding is a nice plump hen. If you care about color, choose the females with the prettiest plumage. If you don't care about color, just make sure the ones you are choosing look healthy. That would mean sleek glossy feathers, nicely proportioned, and a good temperament. Females tend to be more skittish than the males, but you don't want a quail that cowers in the corner 24/7.
Once you have decided on your breeders, either cull or separate out the quail that you don't want to hatch from. Hens can stay bred for a few weeks, so make sure you don't collect eggs for hatching until after that. You don't want to accidentally breed from the aggressive stock. Also, and this goes without saying, but never, ever inbreed. This produces birds with deformities or sterility. Don't do it. Seriously. It's gross even for birds.
You won't need to help the breeding process along at all. Young males are pretty eager starting around week 5. They produce a foam when they reach sexual maturity that they use to transport the sperm, so once you start seeing that on the ground, you can start to look for those aggressive behaviors. Females reach sexual maturity a little later. Usually weeks 6 or 7. Look for, and collect, eggs in the late afternoon instead of in the morning like most other birds.
Once the females reach maturity, you will start to see the mating process start. The males will grab onto the female's neck feathers and hold onto her during the process. The whole thing takes a few seconds. You may see inexperienced males drag the female a bit before finally letting go. This can actually remove some of the feathers in the back and the females end up with bald heads at the height of breeding season. This is the time that injuries can happen. For breeding optimization, keep a ratio of 1 male to every 4 or 5 females. At the Mini City Farm, we try to keep more females than that, but we don't focus too much on optimal breeding ratios. We focus on egg production with breeding being an added bonus. Incubating eggs after they have been fertilized is the next step in growing your flock.
BREEDING SEASON AND LIGHTING
For Coturnix quail, breeding season is during the long days between spring and fall. Naturally, they take a break from laying in the winter. It's not because of the temperature, but it's actually connected to the number of daylight hours. For laying to occur, quail hens need at least 12+ hours of daylight. Some quail farmers provide artificial "sunlight" in order to extend the breeding/laying season. At the Mini City Farm, we prefer to let our hens go off the lay during the winter. We believe nature knows best and our hens give us beautiful eggs and healthier chicks when they are given time to rest.
All-in-all, breeding quail isn't something that requires a whole lot of effort. They are pretty good at doing most of it on their own. The biggest consideration, though, is making sure you are breeding for the health and happiness of your flock. Our philosophy is that the breeding of any animal should be done with care and consideration to the animal and the environment. We work hard to limit our footprint on Earth, and breeding our own quail for meat and eggs is a great way of doing that. Our animals live as close to a natural life as we can give them while still keeping them safe and they never leave our possession. If you have any questions about the breeding process or our focus on sustainability, leave them in the comments!