Ideas for Encouraging Pair-bonding, Nesting and Broodiness in Coturnix Quail - Organic Forest Garden Poultry

In my continuing quest to put the 'Wild' back into the Coturnix quail, which is running concurrently with one to put the 'Jungle' back into the fowl, I'm sharing the setting up of a safe quail breeding area. Andy and I created this last year but the broody quail beat us to it and actually took over the initial brooding of quail chicks in a cardboard box in the house! This year when the male quail began to sing in the early Spring, we were ready to inaugurate the fully planted area.


If you haven't read any of the rare academic studies carried out into the habits of coturnix, then be aware that they postulated that the male cry is one of the most important triggers for nesting behaviour to begin. Therefore, as in all good romances, we'll begin with a song.


The other crucial factor in my opinion and which I considered even before I thought about providing a sympathetic environment, was food. As I've mentioned many times in these articles,  my quail are on a home-made 100% organic diet and to achieve this I need to 'cultivate' a series of compost heaps in which to provide a goodly supply of wild invertebrate protein. Wild invertebrates are more nutritious than shop-bought, you can actually find studies on-line which will give you the complete breakdown of nutritional values. It is logical when you think of it that the wild invertebrates will be on a much more suitable and vastly more interesting, to them, diet. To my mind sufficient wild protein has a threefold action on the quail:
-  it assures optimum nervous system function, with the abundance of B complex vitamins and L-methionine amino acid, which put the quail in a good condition, both physically and mentally to take on the challenges of raising chicks.
-  it proves to them that there is an abundant and necessary food source available, wild quail chicks are thought to consume a diet which consists almost exclusively of invertebrates.
-   it creates good quality food within the egg thus giving the quail chick the best start in life.



Joined inextricably with optimum food is the need for a suitable environment. There is in fact a golden rule for quail that their food and cover should have a 'friendly' relationship. Quail like to feel secure when feeding and in particular when brooding chicks. Although precocial, quail chicks, in my experience, hang on to and are carried by the mother, so as to keep warm and safe whilst moving from one feeding site/hunting ground to another. An abundance of suitable cover not only provides the environment for invertebrates to be hunted at leisure by the chicks but also a place the mother and chicks may rest in safety between feeding periods. In my experience and no doubt due to the high basal metabolism of the quail, the chicks have much shorter sleeping and feeding periods than hen chicks. As finding and catching invertebrates is a more onerous task than just feeding on available seeds or vegetation, anything you can do to increase invertebrate levels in your quail environment can only further encourage quail to pair off and nest. I sometimes wonder if this isn't why many people report that quail nest in wood piles, as these are ideal environments for the fostering of a variety of invertebrate life. In our quail run, I provide an 'en suite' compost bin of rotted compost, this not only provides an abundance of woodlice, earwigs, beetle larvae and the highly nutritious brambling or compost worms but also encourages ants to nest. Ant eggs, witness Fred Jr., below, are highly nutritious and are even being trialled for chronic vitamin B12 deficiency in humans.



With regard to the picking of nesting sites, the only area I know of here that has a high proportion of wild quail nesting is our local organic dairy farm. This has predominately grass and broadleaf, meadows and Winter forage crops, including high protein alfalfas and clovers that also remain green and palatable for a lot longer than the grasses do. It also has small fields and old hedges, which are optimum environments for wildlife. Some years ago. we were lucky enough to have access to an old meadow, as a feeding ground for my chicks and where they could free-range with their mother hen. Traditional meadows are ideal, having only 30% grass, with furthermore these being native rather than cultivated grasses, interspersed with a wide variety of flowering herbaceous plants many of them melliferous and ideal for attracting a wide variety of insects and other invertebrates.


The other and very important factor involved in providing a safe area for my quail was that it would allow them to sleep and thus nest on the ground or in the case of one couple, on the compost heap! Last year due to a feral cat, (the only down-side of living at the sea-side), I decided to continue putting my quail in their communal house at night, even though this meant disturbing my pair-bonded couple. I believe this is the reason why they never nested. My quail couples sleep together at night with their wing feathers interlinked, I've still got a little tweaking in the quail area so as to make them invisible to any feline or other night-time prowler peeking in through the glass.


So now having my two pair bonded quail couples, a fully stocked compost heap and a planted safe quail area, fingers crossed that the weather gets a little warmer and my quail begin to feel the urge to hear the patter of tiny claws.


In the next part of this article I will share the design and fabrication of the quail area from recuperated windows and pallet planks and this will include a film of the process too.


Thanks for dropping by and if you have enjoyed this piece and found it useful think about sharing it and also maybe about joining this blog and/or subscribing to my Youtube channel or even supporting us on Patreon:


Please also feel free to ask questions or make comments in the section below.

All the very best,
Sue
©Sue Cross 2017

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5 comments:

  1. i love your articles, and would love to raise quail. but predators: we have hawks in the daytime and owls at night, both of which we love, and there are of course stray cats. what to do? do i HAVE to keep them in cages 24/7?

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    1. Hi Tuffy, Thanks for your kind comments, they are appreciated! Do not despair and stay tuned, we have the same predators plus stone martens and on occasions, rats. In the past I kept my quail in an enclosed home-made greenhouse and put them away at night in a little pallet wood house but I find that breaks up the pair bonded couples. Therefore, we made a recuperated glass window, wire and polythene greenhouse add-on. I'm letting them sleep out in this, it is planted up so feral cats et al can't see them at night and anyway unless they can dig under the brick and stone sides we should be OK. I have been keeping quail in greenhouses for many years, we make them 'open ended' with chickenwire on the South side for direct sunlight the rest is 200 micron horticultural-grade polythene. There are designs and detailed construction - written and films on our other site https://thegreenlever.blogspot.com/ There will also be a part two of this article and film coming shortly showing the design and construction of the quail breeding area. All the very best from Normandie, Sue

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    2. thanks sue! your encouragement is definitely appreciated. so no outdoor free-ranging for your quail then? i was hoping there would be a way...i could move them around in a coop on wheels of course all through our pasture after the sheep, but i would love to let them out in the open..i will certainly stay tuned for the upcoming posts, as always.

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    3. oh, and we do have predators during the day too--one feral cat even goes for pheasants!

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    4. Hi there Tuffy, You can free-range them when young with the mother hen if you use a hen to incubate because the quail will bond to the hen very quickly (I have a film on bonding on my YouTube channel (I haven't written it up yet). You could try and free-range with the mother quail too but she is very speedy and can carry them really well. I would always be present though in the garden just in case. When they leave the mother you then have the option of bonding them to you and I train them to a garden trowel or fork, that way I can garden with them in security and they can free-range around the garden in safety. If you want to leave them in the garden, then you can use game netting or game cloth and you can also wire over raised beds for example and then keep moving them around the garden. With a forest garden I found my poultry have the illusion of complete freedom, technically all my pigeons and chickens could leave but they see the 'forest' as their territory. They actually don't like being out in the open, I've tried taking them up the meadows to free-range but they stick next to me. My object is to make a mini forest for the quail. I think they are very territorial, particularly now when they are breeding. However, I did take some of the quail up in the meadow when they were young and with their mother hen. There is a blog article and film on it. We cut the meadow so that the middle was left untouched, this gave them natural cover if they got scared! It worked really well but we were still present. There are alternatives, so a chicken tractor, plus you with them and an area they could forage in could work really well. All the very best and thanks for your comments, they are appreciated! Sue

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