The most common causes for cannibalism are crowding, lack of feed or water space, lack of or too much heat, and the general cannibalistic nature of wild birds placed in confinement. It is cheaper to prevent cannibalism than to control it after it starts. To prevent cannibalism –
- Brood quail chicks in subdued light. Just enough light to find feed and water is all that is necessary. Using colored bulbs in brooders helps eliminate cannibalism.
- Debeak at 6 weeks of age when the birds are moved to grow-out pens. Remove one-third of upper beak. Pecking is worse in summer.
- Do not overcrowd. You are asking for trouble when you overcrowd the birds, not only from cannibalism but from the probability of disease outbreak.
- Provide abundant feed and water space. Extra feeders and waterers are cheap compared to the problems created by the shortage of either.
- Place feed and water so that they are easily accessible to all birds. Feeding a dusty, powdery feed that collects on the birds’ toes and beaks promotes cannibalism.
- Place only uniform sized birds together.
- Immediately remove dead and injured birds. Several visits a day to the pens pays off. Watch for beak and toe picking; debeak if a problem.
- Isolate injured birds until recovered.
- Properly adjust the brooder temperature. Being too hot or too cold can trigger cannibalism or other problems.
- Providing cover in the pens is important. A place to hide or get away helps prevent cannibalism.
- Distribute pine tops or other cover evenly throughout the pens.
- Move birds only during the cooler times of day, early morning or late afternoon. Whenever practical, move only during favorable weather conditions. Stresses from heat and unfavorable weather can trigger cannibalism.
- Debeaking or removing part of the beak is often necessary and is routinely practiced by many producers. See methods of debeaking discussed elsewhere in this publication.
Do not underestimate the importance of controlling cannibalism. Not only are birds killed directly but bare backs and defeathering can lead to chilling and respiratory problems. Nonfatal vent pecking sets up infections that kill birds (commonly called blow-outs in hens).
Bobwhite quail raised on floor, litter, or ground environment feather more naturally than birds raised on wire. There is an increased risk of capillary worms (threadworms, crop worms), ulcerative enteritis (quail disease), and histomoniasis. All of these are much more readily transmitted through floor, litter, and ground environments. The infections are increased when birds peck into litter and droppings.
By rearing on wire, you greatly reduce these problems. Birds for the meat market need never be placed on anything other than wire since feathering is of little importance for meat-purpose birds.
Birds designated for hunting preserves and for restocking must be properly feathered, as wild birds should. Rear birds on wire with dusting boxes in the pens until the birds are moved to the flight pen. Move birds into flight pens at least 4 weeks before release for hunting or restocking. If the dusting boxes do not produce desired feathering, the birds can still feather out nicely and become acclimated to ground conditions and problems. If you overcrowd your flight pens, however, you can end up with bob-tailed birds caused by pecking and pulling of feathers.