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Bobwhite Quail Production 3

06 January 2015

Advice on the production of bobwhite quail from Professor Peter A. Skewes of Clemson University and Professor Emeritus Henry R. Wilson of the University of Florida; Florida Cooperative Extension Service. This article offers information on feeding and preventing cannibalism.

Feeding and Nutrition

Provide a properly prepared and nutritionally balanced feed. Most commercial feed companies make a series of game bird feeds that are designed to be adequate for most species of game birds. Chicks should be fed a game bird starter feed, free choice, up to about five to six weeks of age. A grower diet is provided from five to eight or 10 weeks.

A game bird flight conditioner or developer should be fed after 10 weeks and up until release time. Breeders should be switched to a breeder feed two to three weeks before anticipated egg production or no later than when five per cent production is reached.

Examples of these diets can be found in the table below.

Diets for bobwhite quail
 Composition (%)
(0-5 weeks)
(5-8 weeks)
Yellow corn meal 43.42 64.45 56.77
Soybean meal (48.5%) 48.64 31.34 31.84
Dyna Fos (18.5%P; 22% Ca) 1.36 1.67 2.86
Ground limestone 0.66 0.56 5.92
Animal fat 4.92 1.00 1.71
Iodised salt 0.40 0.40 0.40
Microingredient mix1 0.50 0.50 0.50
Methionine 0.08 0.08 -
Bacitracin MD2 0.02 - -
Protein3 (%) 27.40 20.80 20.30
Met. Energy (kcal/kg) 3,047 3,051 2,845
  ditto (kcal/lb) 1,385 1,387 1.297
Calcium3 (%) 0.68 0.67 2.96
Phosphorus3 (% total) 0.68 0.67 0.88
1 Supplies per kg of diet: vitamin A, 6,600IU; vitamin D3, 2,200ICU; vitamin E, 11IU;, menadione
dimethylpyrimidinol bisulfite (MPB), 2.2mg; riboflavin, 4.4mg; pantothenic acid, 13.2mg; niacin, 59.6mg;
choline chloride, 998.8mg; vitamin B12, 22mcg; biotin, 0.11mg; ethoxyquin, 0.0125%; manganese, 60mg;
iron, 50mg; copper, 6mg; cobalt, 0.198mg; iodine, 1.1mg; zinc, 60mg.
2 Bacitracin MD may be added to the finished diet at 50 to 200g per ton activity (preventative or treatment),
as necessary.
3 Calculations based on 1983 International Mineral Co. table.

Constant attention should be given to feeder maintenance and the prevention of feed wastage. Quail will eat crumbles or mash, but a change from one to the other may cause problems with acceptance. Making a gradual change by mixing the two types of feed together for a few days may help. Usually, feed wastage is decreased when crumbles are used.

The birds will consume 1.3 to 1.5 pounds per bird of feed during the first eight weeks. Between eight and 16 weeks, they will consume 2.0 to 3.0 pounds per bird.

Feed will lose some of its nutritional value if it is stored improperly or too long. During the hot summer months, feed should not be stored more than two to three weeks nor allowed to become damp. Moulds and mould toxins can be a serious problem with quail because they are very sensitive to these toxins. During cooler months, feed may be stored up to four to six weeks with a minimum loss of nutrients. Feed consumption will vary from farm to farm, season to season and formulation to formulation.

Fresh, clean drinking water is extremely important and should be available continuously. The watering system should be cleaned and disinfected frequently.

Soft-Shelled Eggs

If an individual hen consistently lays thin-shelled or deformed eggs, remove the hen. But if a large number of hens lay thin-shelled (or soft-shelled) eggs, increase the calcium intake through feed formulation changes or by top dressing the feed with pullet or chick-sized oyster shell.


One of the major problems of rearing quail in confinement is cannibalism. Quail will pull the feathers or peck the nose, toes, tails and backs of their pen mates. Considerable mortality can result from this behaviour, as well as decreased growth and an increased number of cull birds. Never under-estimate the seriousness of the potential problem or the importance of preventing or stopping cannibalism. It is usually much easier to prevent cannibalism than it is to control it once it starts.

Any stress can trigger cannibalism. One of the most common causes of cannibalism is overcrowding, which usually includes a lack of feeder or waterer space. Never crowd the birds, and always provide more than adequate, easily accessible feeder and waterer space. Do not feed dusty, powdery feed, which readily collects on the birds' toes. Watch for beak and toe picking. Chicks brooded on wire floors are more susceptible to toe picking.

Another common cause of cannibalism is an uncomfortable temperature in the birds' environment. Even though picking is usually worse in summer than in winter, being either too hot or too cold can trigger cannibalism.

General prevention

There are several other suggestions that may help prevent cannibalism. Always brood quail chicks in subdued light; provide just enough light for them to find feed and water. When using heat lamps for brooders, use red lamps rather than white.

Place only uniform-sized birds together. Provide cover in the pens so that the quail have a place to hide or to get away from other birds. Large, ladder-like roosts leaned against the wall work well with older quail, providing a place of safety for the pecked birds as well as providing extra space.

Placing tightly tied bales of leafy hay in pens will give birds something to peck on and will help prevent cannibalism. When birds must be moved for any reason, move them during the cooler times of the day - early morning or late afternoon. When practical, move birds only under favourable weather conditions.

Remove dead and injured birds immediately, and isolate the injured birds until they have recovered. Beak trimming the quail is the most drastic, but most effective, of the prevention methods.

Beak trimming

Beak trimming involves removing the tip of the bird's beak so that the beak ceases to be effective as a puncture tool or as a tweezer for pulling feathers. Quail beak trimming is sometimes performed with nail clippers, scissors, or electric debeakers. It is frequently done at one day of age and at six weeks of age, when the birds are moved to the grow-out pen. Every time birds are caught and handled, there is a risk of injuring them. Keep this in mind when deciding which method of beak trimming is best for you.

Beak trimming with clippers or scissors can be done on schedule or as needed. To beak trim at a day old, snip off one quarter of the distance from the beak tip to the nares (nostrils). This should prevent early cannibalism but beak trimming will have to be repeated every two to three weeks. Be careful with snips not to split or crack the beak.

The recommended method is to use an electric beak trimmer. With this instrument, the beak can be trimmed in one of two ways. The first method involves cutting off the beak with the blade. The second method, or touch-burn method, involves touching the beak (upper and lower) to the red-hot metal surface of the blade. With either method, the beak should be trimmed back one-quarter of the distance between the beak tip and the nares. Removing one quarter of the beak is adequate both for breeders and for birds to be released. More severe trimming results in many birds having problems eating and thus becoming culls. All birds should be checked before being housed as breeders or before being released, and any abnormal beak growth should be trimmed.

The birds can be beak-trimmed at one day of age or when needed. The first trim should prove sufficient for the life of the bird, although if cannibalism occurs at a later age, the beaks can be re-trimmed lightly. The touch-burn method of beak trimming at one day of age is preferred because it allows for sufficient regrowth before the birds are released. Birds should have natural beaks when released, both for looks and, if unharvested, for survival in nature.

Sick or weak birds should not be beak trimmed; the stress will make the problem worse. Be sure the bird's feed level is deeper for 6 days after beak trimming. The bird's beak will be sore, and, if it hits the bottom of the trough while getting feed, the bird will not eat as it should - another stress.

Further Reading

Go to our previous part of this article by clicking here.

January 2015

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