Japanese quail Coturnix japonica are a subspecies of Coturnix coturnix. They were domesticated in China, which is now the world’s largest producer of quail meat (160,000 tonnes meat per year). Far behind are Spain and France with 9,200 and 8,100 tonnes respectively. It is only recently that quail were farmed widely for their eggs and meat. Some strains grow very rapidly, reaching 300 g in less than 4 weeks and egg production can reach over 250 in a year. They start to lay at 5-6 weeks of age but they do not incubate their eggs (10 g) and they are placed in an artificial incubator set at 37.5 °C with high humidity of 70%. Eggs will hatch at 17-18 days and the chicks are only 6-7g, which is little larger than a bumble bee. Ratio of males to females is 3 to 5:1 for breeding. There are distinct differences between the feather colour of the sexes and the females are larger than the males. The chicks are brooded with heat lamps for 3-4 weeks and are sometimes beak trimmed at two weeks with nail clippers to prevent cannibalism. Floor is solid with sand, sawdust or shavings and feed is spread on coarse paper during week 1 to encourage eating. Growing quail are then housed in group cages, generally with mesh wire (7 m²) floors and each quail allocated 125 cm² of floor space. They reach maturity at 6-7 weeks. There is more known about management, nutrient requirements and wellbeing of quail than that of other game birds.
Quail meat, particularly the breast fillet, is very lean. There are also reports that after lay, the adult bird has meat that is acceptable. The eggs, though small, are a delicacy and sometimes pickled. It is not unusual to find whole eggs, hard boiled, floating in soup dishes in some Asian cuisine.
This is the largest game bird industry in Australia. Recent figures are 6.5 million quail processed annually, worth $14 m. The largest producer has 75-80% of the market and has been expanding steadily. They have outside contract quail growers and also process pheasants and guinea fowl for independent growers. There are at least nine other small commercial quail farmers in New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia. Quail exports are valued at about $400,000/year
Quail meat is popular and a dressed quail weighs 180 to 200 g. Initially, immigrants were the main customers but this has now changed and there is a much wider consumer base including restaurants, gourmet butchers, airlines, the major supermarkets, five star hotels and wholesalers, especially those in the Asian markets.
There is a market for quail eggs which are sold to wholesalers in bulk and some are sold directly to retail outlets in cartons. Stubble Quail (Coturnix pectoralis) are hunted in the wild during open seasons which are determined by Government authorities. These may be in the autumn or split between the late summer and early winter.
Breeding quail are housed in cages each holding about 25 birds in a climate-controlled large shed. Lighting is maintained at about 16 hours per day but much less when quail are grown for meat production. The fragile, mottled brown eggs roll out of the cage on to a tray for collection. Egg type incubators, with modified egg trays, are normally used. Chicks are brooded at a temperature that is adjusted according to bird behaviour. Aspergillum can be a problem in the first three weeks, and although quail are hardy they are usually vaccinated against Salmonella typhimurium and medication is used to control coccidiosis and enteritis.
Because quail are raised indoors, strict biosecurity measures can be implemented without great difficulty.
Information kindly provided by Dr. David Farrell