1 rooster over-breeding 6 hens. 1 possibly broody, 1 not yet laying. Advice on best solution please!

Discussion in 'Quail' started by CheerfulChirp, Aug 14, 2016.

  1. CheerfulChirp

    CheerfulChirp Just Hatched

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    Jun 30, 2016
    UK
    Hi,

    This is my first flock of quail, and I'm happy to receive any constructive criticism, opinions, tips and advice about what I'm doing wrong, or should be doing right. I've been having this problem for two days, but I'll give you the back-story in case it helps you identify what's going wrong and how I got here. Feel free to laugh at my rookie mistakes, I'm sure there are some juicy clangers in here somewhere:

    I have one rooster, Bento, in a 14 square meter converted chicken coop with six quail hens. Plenty of cover and hiding places. Two of the hens are his hatchlings, the rest of the batch turned out to be males so I sold them and bought five slightly older hens at point-of-lay so that there would be a 1:7 ratio when the rooster matured. One of these hens died, from cardiac problems, leaving me with 1:6.

    I put the two groups in separate runs where they could see each other when the chicks were two weeks old. To my surprise one hen looked to be a bit broody, and she and the chicks were fascinated with each other in a way that didn't seem aggressive, so I put her in with the chicks and watched them very closely. She immediately adopted them as her own, did a brilliant job and was always very gentle with them - not at all what I was expecting given everything I'd read about quail.

    The other hens looked to be more typically territorial, and so I waited until the chicks were four weeks old and two-thirds of their size before introducing them to each other on a large patch of neutral territory for a day until any aggression died down. They largely left the chicks alone, and focused on re-establishing the hierarchy with their adoptive mum. Then I moved all birds into their new, previously unseen coop. It was a very peaceful setup, with a brief unsettled period when the chicks matured and started testing the waters with the older hens, to find their place in the hierarchy. They stopped sticking together, and mixed in well with the group.

    When Bento first started to mature, he was the lowest in the hierarchy, considerably smaller than the others and very cautious with the girls. He'd make nice with them, sit with them, clean their feet etc and then try his luck. The hens seemed to be very happy with him, and whenever I checked the eggs they were almost all fertilized, so it must have been working for him. Fast forward three weeks and he's a lot more confident, and it's causing problems. Does he needs more hens?

    One mistake I made: I tried to see whether any of the hens would go broody on me if I left the eggs where they laid them. Well, who doesn't want a broody quail hen? [​IMG] They all had a range of promising natural behaviors such as nest-making, laying exclusively in one nest box, and pushing the eggs out of my hand and rolling them back into the nest whenever they caught me with my hand in the box. Plus one had already adopted some chicks. It didn't quite work. The hen who had previously adopted my chicks went half-broody, or pre-broody, or something: she started running into the nest box every few hours, carefully turning all the eggs over and chirping to them. When the nest was full (25 eggs), she stopped laying but never had the instinct to sit on them. That was five days ago, just before the problems started. I took the eggs out and am attempting to incubate them now, but it's been five days and she still goes into the nest box regularly and appears to make the egg turning motions and chirping with imaginary eggs (?!?), since she can't find her own eggs there any more. [​IMG]

    The reason I'm writing all this is because she seemed to have been one of Bento's favorites until she stopped laying. Now she's not laying, he doesn't appear to be interested in her at all, and her feathers are looking pretty pristine. One of his hatchlings hasn't started to lay yet at fourteen weeks old, and he isn't the slightest bit interested in her either. So really it looks like he considers himself to only have four suitable hens. Their heads are growing ever more bald, and their attitudes ever more tetchy. I've watched him, and he's at it once every twenty minutes for most of the day, more if the first attempt isn't successful. Many times it seems to be more of a submission/dominance thing than a genuine mating attempt. He'll stand on the hen for a few seconds, not try to actually mate, satisfy himself that she isn't trying to run away, and then appears to just rip a few feathers off the top of their heads for no reason before jumping off. Two hens are now hiding in the tunnels, one is openly aggressive to him in an apparent warning, and one is so terrified she is jumping all over the place in an attempt to escape. She's at the top of his to-do list, and because she won't stand still he ends up ripping feathers off her all day. [​IMG]He drew blood this morning, so I've taken him out and am holding him in a pet carrier. It's not ideal. The wounded hen isn't in any danger from the other hens, they actually tried to get between her and the rooster, and herd him away, whenever he approached her, and have now all gone to sit with her in a big group.
     
  2. CheerfulChirp

    CheerfulChirp Just Hatched

    26
    1
    14
    Jun 30, 2016
    UK
    Thank you for reading all that - in your opinion, what's the best solution?

    - Is this just an adolescent hormonal stage that I need to wait out? Will Bento (14 weeks old) calm down in time, or with isolation?

    - Do I need to get a new roo (I want to hatch eggs)? I like Bento, he's never crowed so doesn't annoy the neighbors, and was otherwise a very sweet rooster. Would introducing a new roo to an existing flock even be advisable?

    - Would it be best to risk introducing another pair of hens to the flock, to take the stress of the existing hens?

    - Should I focus on waiting until the possibly-broody hen and the other young hen are laying, and then re-introducing Bento? If the hen is broody, do I need to do anything to get her laying again? If I don’t, there’s always the hope that she’ll adopt her chicks when they hatch. Any tips?

    - I do have another coop, but it's needed for the eggs I'm currently incubating, so splitting the flock isn't an option.
     
  3. DK newbie

    DK newbie Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Apr 20, 2015
    I must admit it sounds like you've done just about everything you possibly could to make this work. 6 hens should be enough, all hens are either his age or older, he was with the hens before he matured, and they have a lot of space as well as places to hide. I must admit I wonder how you know which hens are laying..

    Be careful with the hen that's hurt - quite often quail just can't leave blood alone. They don't intend to be mean, they just peck at it and make it worse.

    You've done so much and he still causes problems: I think he might be one of those you don't want to breed. I don't have coturnix myself, but from reading this forum I know some roos are just like that and the only solution is to cull them. Separating him for a while, allowing the hens to regrow their feathers and then reintroducing him might work - but it could also just make it all worse. At 14 weeks I think he should be past the hormonal stage, so a new roo might be better. Perhaps you can use one of the chicks you hope to hatch? Though the offspring of an aggressive roo might not be the best option. Maybe you can buy one that's just old enough to sex? Or buy a few chicks and introduce one roo and whichever hens are in that group..

    I don't think Bento cares whether a hen is laying or not, but it does seem strange that he's leaving the two that are not, alone.

    In general a broody hen should start laying again after a few days once her eggs have been removed - you don't need to do anything. I have buttons, but in my experience continuing to return to the nest for 5 days after the eggs have been removed is quite long. I don't think I've seen them doing it for more than 1 or 2 days.
     
  4. CheerfulChirp

    CheerfulChirp Just Hatched

    26
    1
    14
    Jun 30, 2016
    UK
    Thanks, I appreciate the reply. Bento's looking rather nervous to be on his own for so long, so I'd better work out what I'm going to do soon. I think he's figured out he's in real trouble this time.

    I'll keep an eye on the injured hen. The others all look calm at the minute, but she seems really on edge as though she thinks she's going to be attacked at any moment. I put some antibacterial powder on her head, and it hides the red.

    Well, it doesn't sound like good news for Bento then. It's not like anyone else will want to have an aggressive rooster around [​IMG]I'm not sure that the injured hen would be confident enough to be around him again without panicking. I kind of regret incubating all those eggs now, but I've started so I'll have to see them through and see what happens. If I have to, I'll buy two nice unrelated roos and start again, but 14 weeks is a long time to wait find out how aggressive they are. It's probably very heritable, and I didn't notice any signs at all until this week. Any tips on how to select suitable breeding males for temperament at an early age? I thought it'd be like choosing a dog: don't pick the most forward, or the runt, etc.
     
  5. CheerfulChirp

    CheerfulChirp Just Hatched

    26
    1
    14
    Jun 30, 2016
    UK
    I know which hens are laying because I only have six of them, and they all lay different-looking eggs in differently-prepared nests. For example one lays a small, really pointy egg, one lays an egg with a white band of bloom across the middle, one lays a massive egg compared to the others, and one lays a boringly average-looking egg, etc. Some lay in a simple hollow in the straw, some arrange the cloth that partially covers the nest box completely over the nest, some tuck the cloth all the way around the nest like a shower curtain, some place straw over the egg after laying. Most lay consistently every day, but some consistently every other day... and so the numbers and egg types and nest types match up. My quail are real detail freaks, they want everything to be just-so every day, and put a lot of effort into egg-laying as though it really matters to them. This isn't what I expected they'd be like, from the quail videos I've seen on YouTube and the posts that I've read.

    Plus they all lay in a two-hour window in the afternoon (I'm not kidding you, they do everything in synchrony as a flock and on-schedule, including naps, dustbathing and feeding. It's uncanny). The sun shines on that side of the house during the egg-laying hours, so I'm always out on the patio with them doing the gardening. I check the nest boxes are still empty when I go out (they always are), which seems to kick-start the process of nest-selecting and nest-making. I can tell what stage they're at by the sounds the group are making (pacing, making a hollow, silence, gentle rustling etc) and two of the hens make individual screeching egg-songs when they've finished, before they leave the box, which I recognize. I see individual hens entering and leaving the boxes. Once they've laid, each one emerges panting and looking very pleased with themselves, and I usually collect each egg minutes afterwards when they're still warm, during which time I distract the group with treats and praise. So I just know who's laid what.

    Last week I removed the hen that I don't think is laying from the coop for three consecutive afternoons, to make sure she isn't laying one of the eggs I collect. The numbers and types didn't change, and she didn't lay during this time. I also checked she isn't egg-bound. I've repeatedly checked the whole coop for hiding places, but I've never found any other eggs. I even tried vent-sexing her again, and she's definitely a hen. I'll keep waiting, I guess.
     

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