Quail diary

Quail for eggs — life in a London garden

Posts Tagged ‘quail diseases

Quail diary – 107. And then there was one …

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The sixth quail died this week: Tom – last of the Tom, Dick and Harrys – popped off peacefully in the catbasket in the sickbay, aged three and a half. Ripe old age for a coturnix.

Now, only Emmet is left, ribbetting mournfully in her retirement bungalow by the back door. On very cold nights a microwavable petbed offers small comfort, but otherwise she huddles alone in the extra straw, a princess-on-a-pea balanced on layers of cardboard, peering out at the wintry garden from behind her clear plastic windbreak and extra bubblewrap. There are sunsets, and moonlit nights, daily visits from the hand bringing food and clean water – even occasionally new dandelion leaves, but mainly emptiness. This is no life for a quail. She belongs in a flock, but a new flock would bully her.

Luckily, Bantam neighbour has offered temporary respite. When the weather gets warmer Emmet will move (winter palace and all) two gardens down, into the hen run, where she can lean on her zimmerframe and watch the antics of the six survivors there through her picture windows.

Poor old soul. It’s not as if I can park her in front of the telly and turn up the sound. Will she lay again this year? The days are getting longer already, 8 hours 35 minutes and counting. Will she live to see the spring equinox? Or will she die of boredom.


Quail diary – 105. Death in the afternoon

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Today is the longest day, and yesterday two of the quail were found dead in their run. Harass and Oeuf. Harass was still warm, stretched out in a comfy hollow in the grit. Lost in eternal dust bathing. There was no blood.

Oeuf too lay at peace, further back, out of the sun. I don’t think her death was as easy – she was very thin, but then she had had two months beyond her span. Maybe I should have wrung her neck way back in April, when she first lost the use of one leg, but she seemed perfectly happy hopping about on one  wing. The others didn’t bully her. She groomed the bits she could reach and I bathed her bum, which she couldn’t. Perhaps she wasn’t eating the dandelions and lettuce I threw in beside her. But she was drinking and calm. I let her be.

All the books say hen quail don’t live that long, two years is average. These were a month short of three years old. Geriatric. Between them they’ve laid me nearly 2,000 eggs. It is time to stop. (Even Katie Thear has died since I started this experiment armed only with her excellent guide. Thank you, Katie. I couldn’t have done it without you and all the other sage coturnixers.) Now there’s only Emmet and Tom left – calling sadly at the bottom of the garden.

The hutch looks horribly empty. “We are seven…” as the poet said.

Do I start again?

Quail diary – 82. Till death us do part

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Quail dustbathing - Glenda in a blur at the rear

Quail dustbathing - Glenda in a blur at the rear, last year

Glenda was upside down in a corner of the quail run this morning, shivvering in the early chill, having toppled into a mouse hole that had opened beneath her. No sign of nips, but it was only a matter of time. She eyed me fiercely (“Stop anthropomorphising the quail,” said Himself) and thrashed around in my hands until I put her down again, curled right way up in the straw. So I wimped out. Supported by warm straw in a small box, with the top open, she seemed to enjoy her last trip, to the vet, even dozing in the motion of the car. A final few “ribet, ribets” as the injection slid in, and then silence. £19.60 well spent.

Only – even with a fatal dose of anaesthetic the size of her head, she still twitched for what seemed like half a minute, eyes and mouth opening, skinny legs flailing. It was horrible. “It’s just the muscles relaxing,” said the vet. “She’s gone.” And he told me about the violent rooster his mother had had to decapitate with a shovel, because she couldn’t get near it.  The headless body had carried on running around for several minutes, he said.

Quail and dandelions, Harass challenging

Quail and dandelions, Harass challenging

So farewell then, Glenda. Perhaps I didn’t do so badly after all, even with Nugget. Next time I’ll probably go back to the quick pull, and cope with the flapping. (Take a firm grip on the bird’s body with one hand and its neck between two fingers of the other, then pull your hands apart quickly, down and click up, so that the little head flops. And then, probably, several more times, just to make sure – or until the flapping stops) Nothing prepares you for the flapping.

And then there were four quail. Eggs: 52.

Quail diary – 81. Light and shadows

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Quail house, with rear view mirror – the last thing in solar power

Quail house, with rear view mirror – the last thing in solar power

At last! The quail house is bathed in sunlight – thanks to my local furniture rehoming project and a castoff wardrobe mirror tied to the fence. It works. In late afternoon (on sunny days) the quail get a brief final burst of dust bathing in a previously unwarmed corner of the run. A triumph. Egg count 49.

Quail - light bathing

Quail - light bathing

Sadly, shadows remain. Glenda is getting worse. She can no longer always get up when she rolls over. And Harass is starting to circle, and peck. It is time to end it. I psyched myself up (ie had two glasses of wine) to creep into the run and do the awful deed last night, but I was saved by the phone. I am not a natural killer, and having wrung necks twice now – successfully for Dick, badly for Nugget – it doesn’t get any easier.

I’d take her to the vet, only being put in a box and being handled by strangers would probably only be more stressful, for her if not me. Better to die at home. So she’s stuck with me.

Animal husbandry is the pits.

Quail diary – 77. Limping into spring

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In the quail house the winter lagging is coming down again, last frost or no, in a hail of dried mouse droppings. The quail are quite excited. They peck at the mounds of dirty plastic, jump in and out of the exposed mouse holes, and try to eat the pile of clean oyster shell grit. A stray dandelion leaf triggers a genteel scrum. Two fences over, Bantam Neighbour is in despair. She’s buying watercress for the anorexic tortoise at £1 a bag, and glasshouse-grown hearts of romaine. “What am I to do?” she wails. “No dandelions yet…” The bantams have been treated to saucers of yoghurt, to build strong egg shells. The mess is indescribable. Hens in facepacks… just add cucumber.

The quail have had yoghurt too, but they are much too ladylike to wallow in the stuff. Or attack the mice. (Or lay eggs.) They sit in the straw, legs crossed at the ankle, single stalks balanced on their heads for posture, refreshing themselves with sips of water which is now Cartland pink with expensive dietry supplements. If the boots invade their boudoir, one or other will get up and mount a neighbourhood watch, reared up at my ankles, head on one side. The rigid deportment says plainly, “I’ve got my eye on you”. But there’s no vulgar squawking or clucking.

Only poor Glenda falls down in the dignity department. In fact, she’s started falling down in every department, in all directions, everywhere. I think she may have suffered a stroke. (Do birds suffer strokes?) Or perhaps she hit her head on the roof? It has been getting worse for a month or so. When she tries to get up in a hurry she tips forward onto her beak, or rolls sideways, pushing herself back upright with her wings. She can walk once up – though unsteadily, like a drunk – but if surprised on the ground she breaks into a determined breast stroke through the dirt to evade inspection. Yet there isn’t a mark on her. For weeks I’ve been watching, dreading the thought of having to cull her.

And then it dawned on me: she’s fine. She’s not being bullied, and her feathers though unkempt at the back are well groomed as far round as she can reach. She’s eating. And drinking. And she has her own special place in one of the flower pots, which the others respect. She may not be fully able-bodied, nor wearing as well as the other quail, but so what? I’m only the same age as Michael Jackson, and he’s dead. Anyhow, I am an equal opportunity sort of quail keeper. So Glenda stays.

Phew. Now for some eggs, please.

Quail diary – 75. Empty nest syndrome

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Quail - not bovvered, but not laying either

Quail - not bovvered, but not laying either

Spring is late this year. Only twelve days ’till the equinox, and we’re skating on the Thames. No, I made that bit up, but there are still no quail eggs and even the bulbs are in mufflers. The thermometer in the quail house reads -2C at 8.30am. Daylight is up to 11 hours and 37 minutes, but there’s frost on the grass each morning and the sun still doesn’t quite reach the run. The quail are cold. They sit in a row in the mound of straw between the hutch and the lagged rear wall, evenly spaced as if planted, each in her own snug hollow, bony toes tucked into tummies. Fluffed out. Not moving. Not laying. No eggs.

Yet this time last year we were only six days from lift-off.

Leaving the run in the shade over winter was evidently a mistake. Quail aren’t high maintenance. They usually just slump contentedly, watching the mice, or potter by the wire staring curiously at the cats peering in. Sometimes they walk along tapping the perspex – for that tasty tidbit always bafflingly out of reach on the outside. Quail are simple souls. But what they love, really really love more than two weeks in the Bahamas, is a patch of sunlight warming the bare earth. When a finger of light stretches into their corner, they pile in, two or three at a time, pushing and shoving, flinging the dust far and wide with their wings and hurling their skinny legs around with wild abandon.

Last year they had sun all winter outside the kitchen door, with ringside seats for live broadcasts from the Big Sister house, subtitled “living with teenagers”, which always seems to involve someone arriving home in the wee hours and someone else getting up again at the peep of dawn. The quail loved it. Beyond the puddle of light from the french windows a row of beady black eyes stared in at us at ankle height from under a mound of straw, unblinking. They couldn’t be bothered to retire to the hutch, they just sat in a heap for warmth, and watched. Us. And laid eggs – starting a week early, on March 14th.

This winter all they’ve had is the mice, digging madly all night, in mechanised shifts, judging by the results. And then each morning the wellies, stamping shut the holes like Kinky Boot Beasts, until the ground and walls shake. Result: no eggs. So, I reckon I’ll have to move them back.

But it won’t be the same. By next winter, all being well, Senior Teen will have packed up her mounds of charity shop furry coats and costume jewelry and gone to leave lights on and taps running somewhere else, a teenager no more. Any day now, even before the arrival of spring, she will fly off to Frightening Faraway Foreign parts for three months. How will I sleep? Even Junior Teen is hatching terrifying travel plans of her own.

My nest is looking increasingly empty. But out in the garden the robin and the blackbirds are busy, flitting about with beaks full of whispy bits. Spring is coming.

Quail diary – 73. War and piss

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It arrived in the post; an innocuous brown envelope containing a plastic bag and a card. “Biohazard!” read the card, in thick black ink. “Handle with gloves, mask, tongs … enclosed one small section of minging ferret bedding for purposes of rodent eradication.”

Senior Teen is struck dumb. New depths of weirdness have been sunk to. “You’ve given our address to a stranger on the internet to send you ferret poo …?” Words fail her.

Actually, it’s not poo. And Wallfishwife, who kindly detached it from under Badger, Bear, Lynx, Ewok and Brian, seems very nice and not at all likely to firebomb us, which is apparently what Senior Teen expects strangers encountered via the internet to get up to. Wallfishwife not only retrieved the honking rag from her little ferret chums, but got a friend of her own (close and loyal, at a guess) to give it a sniff – to confirm potency. (Ferret owners, she fears, have a tendency to maintain that their pets don’t smell. “It’s not a myth!” she writes. “Just your poor nose gives up and you walk around town in a stinky sweater with people gagging in your wake!”)

So I stuck my own nose into the plastic bag and took a lungful. Wow! Eye-watering. Essence of predator, you can almost feel the teeth. If that doesn’t scare the mice into the next parish, nothing will. But to avoid frightening the quail into catalepsy too, I only put a scrap actually in the quail house. The rest went under the roof, where the mice hang out. Let the biological warfare commence.