Farm, Garden and The Land > Live Stock, Critters and Aquaculture

Raising quail for meat and eggs

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I've had 20 quail for 2 months now.  They are egg laying machines!

Some have gotten bumblefoot.  I'm wondering what others are doing with birds that get it. Do you try to treat them or do they just go straight to the freezer?

I've learned that having the birds on the wire floor leads to bumblefoot. I have 4 birds with it now.  I'd hate to have to regularly whack birds if/when they get it. 

It's a Staph Infection. You might put a few perches in the cages for them to rest on. A roosting bar will remove their feet from the ground for about a third of the day. Porcelain roosts are available from pet stores. These don't hold moisture and microbes like wooden perches do.

Beyond that, look at where the abrasions are on affected birds. If it's always the bottom of their feet, use a lower gauge wire for the cage bottoms. If it starts above the toes in the leg, it's likely from another type of injury. Make sure the cage wire is folded properly around the edges and there are no sharp wire ends exposed. I always grind down the ends after building a cage. Surprisingly, most commercial cages even ignore that detail.

Make sure the cages are clean. We're talking "Laboratory clean". If excrement is building up and it cannot be washed out in a few seconds every day, that's a flaw with the design of the cages. Sterilize the cages, look for hygienic problem areas (usually the corners), get a wire brush (like used for cleaning a grill) and keep it by the cages for easy cleaning. Copper wire cage bottoms are better, but you have to build them yourself.  Staphylococcus bacteria is unable to survive on a copper surface.

Think of the old chinese cages popularized when keeping canaries was fashionable. Cages were round (no corners), of anti-microbial copper construction, using thick wire, and the roosts were centered in the middle of the cage, not on the edges. This made for simple cleaning. In those days, they weren't feeding birds antibiotics or bringing them to the vet. Survival of their pets was predicated on good planning and design work, and they were pretty damn good at it. In fact, the designs of those cages were also very resource efficient, obtaining an optimal interior volume with minimal wire to enclose it.

Even the more squared victorian cages had some very good design consideration, and you can pick up some of them from antique stores pretty cheaply.

Here's a modern chinese reproduction.

These scale up from holding 1 canary to being walk-in aviaries holding hundreds of birds. Yours needn't be as ornate as the one in the picture, it's just there to illustrate the design considerations. A Wire welder and some scrap romex from a construction site will do the trick. You could even work out a no-weld version if you had to.

New cages are not a necessity, they're a labor reducing luxury which could help with this specific problem. Plenty of people have success with cube-shaped hardware cloth cages stapled together. There's nothing wrong with those designs, and they do have advantages in reduced cost and better modularity which are very significant factors. But the Chinese solved this problem a few thousand years ago with nothing but clever design.

The affected birds should be destroyed. It sucks, but remember, 4 out of 20 is a hell of a lot better than their survival rate in the wild.

Good stuff.  Thanks for the info.  I had no idea about copper.  Perches are a good idea.

For now I am putting down newspaper and a layer of straw on top of the wire until I can get another cage built.  Talk about making a mess though. The birds kick that straw everywhere.   Then I will sanitize the old cages, laboratory clean.  I guess I will keep a spray bottle of bleach solution and rags handy in the future and clean pretty much daily.

Having several cages will make this quite a chore every day.  I wonder how the bigger  operations with thousands of birds combat this.  I've seen pictures of outfits with dozens of wire cages. There's no way they are wiping down the insides of those cages every day.

Commercially, the producers don't care about foot condition. If it survives long enough to get to weight, it's harvested. If it won't make it, they cull on the spot. It might be a bit of an overstatement that they don't care, they do take every reasonable preventative measure. Given the lifespan of the birds however, part of those measures is likely a supply of medicated feed as a standard course of action for all birds. Economies of scale in feed purchasing, and profitability over quality of the product make that a reasonable practice in larger operations.

On the home level with a few hundred birds, it's more labor intensive. Things like the round cages help. The birds crap everywhere, but it can be difficult to reach the corners of a rectangular cage and get a brush in there thoroughly. A little bit left behind builds up quickly.

You can also do a floor to ceiling walk-in cage with roosts. Basically a home aviary. You get fewer birds per square foot, but have a soil floor with deep mulching to absorb the droppings, much like a chicken coop. You could frame in such an enclosure with 1"x2"s and chicken wire for under $100 and get 50 birds in it easily. It makes egg collection a bit more difficult. Unlike chickens with nesting boxes, Quail will drop them anywhere on the floor. If you eat the eggs, it's probably more trouble than it's worth. But if you let them hatch the eggs, or only collect them periodically for the incubator, and don't mind a 50% hatch rate, then it reduces labor significantly. The only reason for a cage bottom is egg collection.

I have heard rumors of quail that will nest in one spot. I would love to see one of these mythical creatures for myself, lol. Perhaps it's a breed characteristic, I don't really know.

On a large production scale, I have seen cage rakes. The bottom wire is pulled very tight, but only goes one direction, from the back of the cage to the front. That allows a small raking tool to draw eggs forward and clean the rails of the cage. Here's a crude model of what I'm talking about (ignore the improper scale and absence of most of the cage, just a quick concept sketch, as I couldn't find photos online already :) )

The rake hole in the front is small enough that the birds cannot get out. It may have an optional door.

Anyone raising Quail in the VA/TN/KY area? I have a friend that would like to try some eggs and his wife wants to raise them. Thanks for any info!


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