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Quails [Endangered Species]: A Source of Livelihood for Rural India

Commercial Quail Farming Business in India

Quails are an important bird species in fragile ecosystems of South Odisha. Quails are categorized as endangered species under the IUCN Red list. These are ground birds, mostly live on land and are barely able to fly. They fly in small flocks and perch on shrubs and bushes. Indigenous people hunt the birds using bird traps, during the summer months, mainly for food in the rural hinterlands of South Odisha. Quails are an important source of proteins in the local tribal diets. However, these are now endangered in their local habitats, owing to anthropogenic changes die to rapid deforestation, high human interference, climate change and urbanization.

Quails are of late, now raised in farms for commercial meat and sale purposes. The Government is also promoting Quails as a viable livelihood option for the rural poor. Krishi Vikas Kendras (KVKs) support local farmers in Quail farming. Quails are resistant to most diseases and pests of small poultry. This is a viable business for most farmers, to get an additional income, especially during the festival season like Dussehera. Entrepreneurs do Quail farming (Japanese Quail) in their farm houses and sell the birds to urban consumers.

Commercial quail farming business in India has a great probability and is a profitable venture. It offers great scope and potential because of its supplementary income and additional employment to farmers. The Quail is a small bird that belongs to the pheasant family. They were first domesticated in Japan in 1595. There are two species of quail in India: The black-breasted quail found in the wild and the brown-coloured Japanese quail which is bred for meat. They were introduced in India in 1974 from California.

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Japanese Quail (Coturnix coturnix var japonica) are the domesticated Farm bred variety of Quails. These are the smallest avian species farmed for meat and egg production. Quail probably the smallest avian species used for production of table Eggs and Meat. Because of prolific Egg production and Meat yield, it attains the status of viable Commercial Small Poultry Enterprises. Quail has unique qualities of hardiness and adaptability to diversified Agroclimatic condition. Several attributes of this Species making it ideal for rural Small Poultry Production for creation of Rural Employment for solving Gender issues in Employment and to provide Supplemental Income and Protein requirement to Rural farmers.

Quails are ground loving Birds with little homing instincts, but also highly susceptible to Predation. Therefore, these need confinement rearing in enclosures or deep Litter Pens.

Salient Features of Japanese Quail

Japanese quail in studio
Japanese Quail
  • Low Space requirement (5 – 6 adult quails can be reared in one Sq. ft.)
  • Short generation interval (3 – 4 generations in a Year)
  • Fast Growth (170 – 190 gm body weight at 5th Week)
  • Low Feed Consumption (550 – 600 gm of feed / bird up to 5th week)
  • Early maturity (Egg production starts at 6 – 7 Weeks of age)
  • High Rate of Egg laying (280 Eggs in a Year / Bird)

Quail meat and eggs are in great demand in the market. So, one can easily start raising some quails with other birds or setup commercial quail farming in India. The farming of Japanese quails have helped Odisha’s Koraput district to offset the effect of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on livelihoods. Millions across India and the world have lost jobs amid the pandemic while stretched lockdowns have affected the self-employed too. Koraput, a large section of whose inhabitants are from tribal communities, have also been affected.

The farming of Japanese quails is gaining popularity in Koraput as it is more profitable than farming poultry, along with low farming costs and less risk of diseases. The Odisha Rural Development and Marketing Society (ORMAS) and MS Swaminathan Foundation had procured Japanese quails from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Bhubaneswar. They provided many women self-help group (SHG) members in March 2021 to eke out a living during the pandemic. The residents of these villages are mostly Adivasis. Around 2,000 women SHG members in Koraput have become successful quail farmers.

The Japanese quail was well suited for small and marginal farmers as it can be easily grown in an open space. A pair of week-old chicks can be sold at Rs 20. Birds aged three months can be sold at Rs 150. The rate of a kilogram of quail meat is around Rs 300. Quails grow very fast in a short duration. Besides, quail farming was cheap and affordable as the birds eat local foods.

Quail farming could play a vital role in meeting the demand of food and nutrition. This was because its meat and eggs were tasty and nutritious. Quail eggs are more nutritious than other poultry eggs as they contain comparatively more protein, phosphorus, iron, vitamin A, B1 and B2.

Little quail farm on backyard of urbanization
Little quail farm on backyard of urbanization

There are about 18 breeds of quail are available throughout the world. Most of those are suitable for commercial quail farming in India. Some of those breeds are suitable for commercial meat production and some are famous for commercial egg production purpose. The common quail (Coturnix coturnix), or European quail, is a small ground-nesting game bird in the pheasant family Phasianidae. It is mainly migratory, breeding in the western Palearctic and wintering in Africa and Southern India.

With its characteristic call of three repeated chirps (repeated three times in quick succession), this species of quail is more often heard than seen. It is widespread in Europe and North Africa, and is categorized by the IUCN as “least concern”. It should not be confused with the Japanese quailCoturnix japonica, native to Asia, which, although visually similar, has a call that is very distinct from that of the common quail. Like the Japanese quail, common quails are sometimes kept as poultry.

The common quail is a small compact gallinaceous bird 16–18 cm (6+12–7 in) in length with a wingspan of 32–35 cm (12+12–14 in).[1] The weight is 70 to 140 g (2+12 to 5 oz). It is greatest before migration at the end of the breeding season. The female is generally slightly heavier than the male.[2] It is streaked brown with a white eye stripe, and, in the male, a white chin. As befits its migratory nature, it has long wings, unlike the typically short-winged gamebirds.

This is a terrestrial species, feeding on seeds and insects on the ground. It is notoriously difficult to see, keeping hidden in crops, and reluctant to fly, preferring to creep away instead. Even when flushed, it keeps low and soon drops back into cover. Often the only indication of its presence is the distinctive “wet-my-lips” repetitive song of the male. The call is uttered mostly in the mornings, evenings and sometimes at night. It is a strongly migratory bird, unlike most game birds.

Males generally arrive in the breeding area before the females. In northern Europe laying begins from the middle of May, and with repeat laying can continue to the end of August. The female forms a shallow scrape in the ground 7–13.5 cm (2+34–5+14 in) in diameter which is sparsely lined with vegetation. The eggs are laid at 24-hour intervals to form a clutch of between 8 and 13 eggs. These have an off-white to creamy yellow background with dark brown spots or blotches. Their average dimensions are 30 mm × 23 mm (1+18 in × 78 in) with a weight of 8 g (14 oz).

The eggs are incubated by the female alone beginning after all the eggs are laid. The eggs hatch synchronously after 17–20 days. The young are precocial and shortly after hatching leave the nest and can feed themselves. They are cared for by the female who broods them while they are small. The young fledge when around 19 days of age but stay in the family group for 30–50 days. They generally first breed when one year old and only have a single brood.

If common quails have eaten certain plants, although which plant is still in debate, the meat from quail can be poisonous, with one in four who consume poisonous flesh becoming ill with coturnism, which is characterized by muscle soreness, and which may lead to kidney failure.

Conservation measures

  • Natural habitats of endangered birds should be conserved and preserved by local communities
  • Restrictions on hunting – Government enforcement and community-based rules on conservation of endangered species
  • Children in schools need to be oriented on the importance of native birds
  • Awareness drives among local communities on endangered birds

About the Author:

Mr. Ravi Shankar Behera, PGDAEM, National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (MANAGE), Hyderabad is an independent freelance Consultant and Author based in Bhubaneswar. He is an Honorary Advisor to grassroots Voluntary Organizations on Food Security, Forest and Environment, Natural Resource Management, Climate Change and Social Development issues. Ravi has lived and worked in various states of India and was associated with international donors and NGOs over the last twenty three years including ActionAid, DanChurchAid, Embassy of Sweden/Sida, Aide et Action, Sightsavers, UNICEF, Agragamee, DAPTA and Practical Action. He has a keen interest in indigenous communities and food policy issues.

Dr. Ranjit K. Sahu is an American laboratory and research specialist located in Virginia, USA. Dr. Ranjit is a freelance writer, artist, poet, and story writer. He has over 18 years of experience in Biotechnology and biomedical research. His interests include education, environment, sustainability, and health care systems and practices in the underprivileged regions of the world.

Mr. Chandan Kumar Sahoo is a Ph.D. research scholar at the Department of Biotechnology, Bharathiar University, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. Chandan has a keen interest in forest ecology (terrestrial and mangrove forest), microbiology, biomass, carbon sequestration, climate change, remote sensing and GIS.


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