Sunday, 21 October 2012

Life with Quail Resumes...

It is now October and many things have changed since I graduated from Animal Health Tech school. I have a job in Prince Rupert, BC that I am enjoying very much, and I am enjoying living here much more than I expected. Brita has retired from her short career learning new behaviours as my work takes up a lot of my time, but I feel our journey exploring a quail's ability to learn was well worth it!

My journey with quail is not over, however. I think as long as I draw breath it will never be over. Quail have been the one thing in my life that has never ceased to interest me.

Living in Rupert comes with its challenges in the quail-lifestyle. For starters, I am living in an apartment complex. Brita and my cat Thor are permitted, but as far as animals go, that is all. I thought that would be okay, but it is not. I have 50 coturnix eggs in an incubator at the moment. I can't help it. Quail are an addiction and I have fallen off the waggon.

These quail are going to Terrace for a friend as soon as they hatch, but I am in the process of finding a house to buy where I will be free to do what I want in. Quail and other small animals like rabbits are prohibited in Prince Rupert, which is also going to be a challenge. This is a coastal town, not a farming town, and people are a little distanced from the keeping of animals in the backyard (other than cats and dogs) compared to other places I have lived. In my old neighbourhood, everyone had chickens in their yard - here, everyone has a boat.

The obvious solution is that my quail must be kept in the house, of course.

No big deal, right? Even a shed would work. Quail are not particularly noisy, not like a rooster anyway. But there is a certain stigma about keeping "poultry" (ie Dirty Chickens) in your living quarters that I just won't be able to escape. But I think that one room with adequate ventilation kept very clean would not turn my house into a barn. Quail are small creatures, and a few cages, perhaps with 2 dozen birds or so, would be completely manageable. From my experience, dogs and cats are noisier and smellier and more work.

My goal with quail is a lot smaller scale than raising them by the hundreds and having every colour, every variety, every species producing eggs for distribution around North America. I want to have enough birds to get people started in the hobby - whether they want a few for eggs or meat or a couple as house-pets. I want kids to experience how wonderful these little birds are, and to bring a little nature into their lives, maybe even spark some interest in birds, nature, wildlife, and the natural world. Even just introduce them to having some empathy for animals. Sharing quail with the world will make the world a better place, I know it - just a little bit at a time!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Graduation Day

In a couple hours I will be receiving my diploma as a graduated Animal Health Technologist. Very exciting! I am not a fan of ceremony etc. but am looking forward to the last dinner with all my classmates.

Brita came home from Dr. Mann's house yesterday. At the end of the month we will be moving to Prince Rupert as I will be starting work as an AHT, or "Veterinary Technitian/Technologist" at Pacific Coast Veterinary Hospital. Brita and I, along with Thor, our new cat, have a very nice two bedroom apartment where they are even ALLOWED - so I don't have to go to the trouble of sneaking them in and hiding them from the landlord which is a bonus. Once we are settled I plan to continue working with Brita on her training videos.

While working on my slide show of the grads for tonight, I was browsing through some old photos of the quail project back when they first hatched and wanted to re-touch on something I find amazing. Nature and its miracles are such a powerful learning tool. Whether it be baby quail hatching, birdwatching, caterpillars turning into butterflies, migrating salmon... people all over the world in every culture are awed by nature. As a class of Animal Health Technologists, we work with animals every single day. One might think that the novelty would wear off after a while, but there is always something new to inspire us.

When I hatched these quail in our classroom, the people in our two classes were between the ages of 18 and 40. I watched them turn back into little kids again, smiling and giggling and squealing with delight at these little creatures. If I had one wish it would be that every kid in public school gets the opportunity to watch some birds hatch and raise them in the classroom. Quail are a hit because they are so infinetly tiny and they mature so fast, and can even be kept in the classroom until adulthood. When I was in grade three our class hatched chickens and it was very special.

I put together a little montage of smiling faces from our class back in November...

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Quail, exams, freedom, more quail - in that order.

It's been a long 2 weeks but I have finally completed all the exams I need to take to become an Animal Health Technologist (save my national exam, the VTNE - but that's a few weeks down the road right now). I haven't had much time to work with Brita on any new stunts, but she has been getting her share of mischief time. Quail are an excellent antidote to good time management. Instead of studying, I can bring Brita out to play on my desk. When she acts silly I can video it and put it on Youtube. There's an easy death of 3 hours that I would have otherwise used staring blankly at my textbooks pretending to study.

Brita is going to spend the next four weeks at my teacher's place while I am on practicum again, where she will have free run of a large room in the chicken coop with another quail hen for company. The remaining others are going to a new home this week, and when I get back, Brita's new companion may or may not come home with me too. I haven't decided whether I want to keep Brita as a singleton or have a companion for her again. It was a shame what happened to Blondie, her old companion, but I admit it has been much easier to train Brita without another quail as a distraction. We shall see. She seems to get along just fine on her own.

Now that I am finished schooling for a while, I'd like to start expanding the information section on this site to include more articles on the husbandry and breeding of coturnix as a hobby. I have been spending some time on Internet forums in an attempt to get a feel for what kinds of questions people are asking and what kinds of challenges new quail keepers find themselves up against. I never intended this blog to be about anything more than Brita's clickertraining, but I'm for than just a fan of training quail - I'm a quail fanatic all-around. Hopefully I can conglomerate some useful knowledge on this site to help people get started on their journey with quail. Because quail are awesome. I just don't know how else to explain it.

When I am finally working and living at an actual house instead of on campus, I can expand my quail operation to include more than one contraband quail living under the desk in my dorm (and I have adopted a cat from our school program who is going to live in the dorm with myself, Brita, and Puffy Figgis the green-spotted pufferfish for a whole ten days - which should prove interesting).

"Thor" (he came with that name)
And I got to personally tattoo, microchip, and neuter him! >:)

I am planning on moving to Prince George, BC where I have family and friends and start working at a veterinary clinic as an AHT, find a place where I can start my quail hobby up again from scratch and eventually buy a wee bit of land where I can go hog wild with any hobby I want, and no landlord or city by-law to stop me! (ie hide from).

Monday, 23 April 2012

365 Animal Project 2012: Meet Brita

365 Animal Project 2012: Meet Brita

Joanne Cowbrough-Strom of Cowbrough Photography took some time out to do a little photoshoot with Brita last week. Joanne is embarking on a project where she aims to photograph a different individual animal every day for a year. Her photos are fantastic!

Brita was hatched in an incubator and raised in a brooder with 12 other quail, and spent a month at my teacher's farm in an indoor free-run coop before coming to live with me on campus for our training project. She has never had the opportunity to run free on the grass, though. She can cross than one off on her bucket list as of last Sunday when Joanne spent some time photographing her. Brita discovered that she really liked scratching in grass and dirt for ants. Once we are done at the university and get a place of our own hopefully there will be many more sunshine-and-grass-filled days!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Housing for Quail

I've had a few people express some interest in trying quail lately, so I thought I'd re-touch on some of the basics with a new video I found on

(caution, I believe there is an F-bomb somewhere in this video :)

This tractor-style setup was designed for California Quail, which as native to North America and have only been kept in captivity for the past 50 years or so. As a result they are still quite flighty and wild and due to their nature need a lot more space, vertical flying area, perches, etc. than the well-domesticated coturnix. This video gives you a good idea just how different Californias are - Gambel's quail, scaled quail, mountain quail, montezuma quail and to a lesser extent bobwhite quail are all similar in this regard. Bobwhites are more intensely bred in agriculture and have adjusted to life in captivity a lot more than the other species listed.

This setup would also be fantastic for coturnix or for a couple of small bantam chickens like Belgian d'Uccles, old English game hens, etc. In a ground pen one cannot stock the pen with as many individuals as with a wire-bottomed pen for sanitation reasons, though. This pen is 12 feet by 3 feet (36 sqaure feet) so one should easily fit 36 coturnix and in a pinch up to double that number if the pen had a wire floor. Also, with a wire floor one could prop this cage up to waist level so the caretaker didn't have to bend to get into it. California quail are not birds that are easily handled, so in this scenario the only reasons to go in the cage at all is to top up feed and water. In a coturnix cage where the birds tend to only use nest boxes 75% of the time, you have to go easter egg hunting every day. Californias tend to lay a couple clutches of eggs per year where as coturnix lay all year long.

To make this setup ideal for a few pet coturnix (say, a dozen birds) would be easy and the birds would have a fantastic home. I would either put a wire floor on it and raise it up 3 feet off the ground, or put a plywood floor on it and make it so that the whole side of the cage can come off for cleaning the bedding (a layer of wood shavings). Another option is to make it 6 feet tall so a person can walk right in (it wouldn't benefit the birds much as coturnix rarely fly and don't utilize vertical space very much - mostly just for a human's benefit to have it taller!).

There are as many different setups out there as there are quail keepers - I thought this was a great example.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Video 13: The Knock-Down Target

A bit of comic relief this week at the expense of poor Justin Bieber and friends. Brita already knows how to target a red circle, so I changed it up and made it a vertical target that she has to knock down. After watching this video several times I realised that I am making a fundamental error here - my timing sucks, to be blunt. Instead of clicking for the action (pecking the target) I am clicking the result (the target falls down). So I would like to do a bit more of this and fix that mistake and start shaping her for not just a peck but a strong, pushing peck like the one she game Kim Kardashian (at least I think it's Kim, I don't know one of those girls from the other honestly). Brita sometimes pecks and pulls the target towards her, then it slowly falls to the ground against her body. I would like to see the targets go down hard and fast and then get her up to doing several in a row - maybe the whole cast of Jersey Shore?

On another note, I spent all day at the BC Animal Health Technologists Association Annual Conference and got to listen to Dr. Sophia Yin speak all day. I have the option to go to another 2 days of lecture by her and I'm going to do it. She is a remarkable woman and great behaviourist and I am so glad I have the option to hear her speak for a whole three days! Today she spoke about the basics of behaviour including operant and classical conditioning, desensitisation and counter conditioning, and low-stress handling restraint for cats and dogs (the subject of her latest book - which Brita used as a prop [literally!] in her last video). Dr. Yin tossed me a clicker for answering a question. I'm more than a bit of a geek - this was kind of like meeting a rock star for me.

Unfortunately I missed the trade show part of the conference which is my favourite part, but I discovered one of our clinic cats to be very sick and he needed medical attention. By the time we got him fixed up the trade show was over! I enjoy speaking to all the veterinary product reps and salespeople so I am very bummed out - but thankfully our kitty should be okay.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Video 12: Perfecting the Platform

I ran into a bit of a pickle this week when I started training Brita again. She remembered the red ball right away, but was having a hard time with the green square and the platform. She would circle it again and again, always keeping her eye on it, and occasionally step on it or graze it with her foot. I felt there was something holding us back from making further progress. Quail are highly visual, as are most birds, and so far I have been giving her visual cues: i.e. see a red circle = peck it; see a green square = step on it. But thinking about the anatomy of a quail made me wonder if she could see the square while she was standing on it. Her eyes are on either side of her head and they have great panoramic vision, but her feet are quite far back behind her head, unlike a human. If my theory was correct, she could not see the green square when she was on it and therefore did not have any sensory input about what she was doing right. I decided to try using a square of non-skid shelf liner or "earthquake cloth" instead. It has a spongy texture that she can feel without having to see it. Once I replaced the green paper square with that, she caught on right away and was consistently standing on the platform every time and staying there for several moments within a couple of minutes.

For the next session that afternoon, I tried sticking a book under the platform to bump it up a bit. She didn't give the book a second glance and continued to jump on the platform, so I tried another book and another book until the platform was over four inches high. Each time she was not intimidated to jump up! I put a red-ball-on-a-string device beside the platform and she immediately knew what to do with it. As a matter of fact, she seemed so focused on the ball that she didn't want to jump down off the platform to get her treat. I don't know if she thought if she just pecked and pecked some more the treat would get closer to her so she wouldn't have to jump down or what.

Tonight is Animal Health Technology Night at TRU and the people in my class are doing demos and presentations on all aspects of of what an AHT does. My station is Animal Behaviour and I am bringing Brita along to do a demo of the red ball and the platform. I'm also going to be working with a border collie named Kidd whom I have never worked with before. Should be fun!

I have some fun new ideas for what I want to do with Brita next. ow that I can get her to peck things and step on things, I can apply these basic behaviours to more complex scenarios. I would also like to teach her to pull things, but we'll see how far I get by the time exams come around.