At 7 am on Monday I was anxiously waiting outside the Z petrol station in Levin. The Petbus was due any moment with a small group of Japanese Quail (Coturnix coturnix) on board for me.
I’ve never kept quail before and didn’t know what I was in for. I didn’t know how old these birds would be (I expected them to be very young), or how they’d been transported. I didn’t know if the arrangements I’d made to house and feed them would be adequate.
When the bus arrived what I received was a large banana box, well vented, with bottles for food and water sticking out the top, and well wrapped up so no birds could escape. I couldn’t actually even see into the box.
The box was quite large. When I reached home I wasn’t quite sure how to get the birds out of it and into their new palace.
In the end I partly sliced the box open, put it inside the upper part of the hutch then reached in and opened it more until the birds were able to exit in their own time. Eventually all jumped out of the box, ran down the ramp and into the outdoor run. I then extracted the box.
They’ve all settled in really well, and now, 3 days later, I’ve come to some conclusions about their accommodations.
Every source I can find says quail have been domesticated for so long they’ve forgotten some survival skills. It’s not a good idea to let them roam at will as they won’t come home. At our place there are cats and hawks, stoats and rats who would all probably enjoy a tasty little quail snack.
A lot of websites write about how little space quail need. They advocate keeping them in smallish cages, with wire mesh floors, and often stacked many high.
I don’t believe any animal has been adapted by nature to live on a wire floor in a confined space, and picked this rabbit hutch with runs because it seemed spacious and offered a warm and dry
upstairs for the birds to shelter in.
Lesson One: quail like to be on the ground. They do not want to be upstairs. I tried putting food up there and moving a couple of birds out of the run and into the hutch. They didn’t like it and exited at great speed.
A more appropriate setup would be to have runs and a covered hutch all at ground level.
The central hutch has an enclosed area below it where the birds like to hang out on the cold and damp ground. I initially gave them a cardboard box to hide out in to help shelter them from drafts and wind.
Lesson Two: the birds will hang out where they want to, regardless of weather. The cardboard box was spurned.
With heavy rain forecast for the first night I realised that if they wouldn’t go in the hutch I’d have to provide more cover.
I had some bales of straw I’d bought to stack round the cat palace in an attempt to warm it up. One was already broken open, so I took slabs off it and stacked them around the northwest corner of the runs.
I also had a small ply board thing I’d collected along with some palettes a while back. As luck would have it the thing fit snugly on top of the east run, providing some cover from the rain. I found some other boards left over from the zendo build that I used to cover part of the west run.
That night we had torrential rain for a spell, bringing almost 7 mm of rain in the space of about 5 minutes. I was so glad I’d covered the runs a bit.
This week too overnight temperatures have dropped to only just above freezing. I’m relieved to say all birds seem well and happy. They’ve even laid a couple of eggs. I had 4 for breakfast today. That’s about the equivalent of a single hen’s egg. They were delicious.
Lesson Three: quail need ground level protection from the elements.
Today I used an old drawer and some scrap wood to create a wooden shelter that sits on the ground. I’ve placed it under the hutch and put some tasty scraps of vegetables in there to tempt the quail in. It will serve as a hideaway refuge for them if the weather’s horrible (and if they choose to use it).
Lesson Four: the hutch and runs aren’t easy to move, but I’d like them to be. I want to be able to take the birds to new ground every week or so.
I’ve already modified the hutch and runs. The two runs were supposed to be screwed to the hutch. That didn’t go well when I was assembling the thing. In the end I took out the screws and added a couple of catches to hook the runs to the central part. I’ll have to find a way to corral and control the birds so they don’t escape when I remove a run.
Today I unscrewed the wire covered section below the enclosed hutch and added catches so I can open it. That proved very handy for putting in the hideaway and collecting a stray egg. In the photo above is the same wire section, but at the back.
At the end of the week (well, almost) I have managed to not kill these gorgeous birds. In fact, I’ve fallen in love with the little cuties and am secretly already planning a large aviary in which they can run around in the grass and shrubs, enjoying a contained free-range life, but with excellent shelter.
That may not actually happen, but my backup planning is for a better run with good shelter and easy access for me to clean it, move the birds around to fresh grass and to collect eggs without contorting my body through tiny doors.
I have no building skills, but have scrap lumber lying around, a few tools and some time. I want to have a think about how I can reuse the hutch and runs I bought, but in a more flexible and appropriate way. One specific problem we have here is that the ground is lumpy and bumpy rather than dead flat. That makes it challenging to put a run on the ground without leaving gaps small birds (or rats) could squeeze through.
For the moment though all seems well and I spend a lot of time watching and checking these very cute wee birds.