The University of New England has approved a three-year PhD project looking at the ecology of Australian quail and the potential for an exotic food industry.
PhD candidate Ionie Smallwood, a native of the United Kingdom, has already completed a master’s degree in applied poultry science in her home country.
The PhD she is now working on at the University of New England in New South Wales is concentrating on poultry nutrition, with a focus on layer nutrition in alternative production systems.
Associate Professor Graham Hall, one of the supervisors, said confirmation of the research project was significant.
“This would be the first PhD on Australian quail in at least 50 years,” he said.
“We are still working out the scope of the research but it will be looking at field ecology of brown and stubble quail and whether there is a commercial poultry opportunity with stubble quail.”
Assoc. Prof. Hall said there was a growing interest in the use of exotic foods in the UK and Europe and the same trend was evident in Australia.
Australia has some history of captive quail breeding, mainly by bird fanciers.
“The gourmet food industry is always looking for something different and the use of wild food like quail is interesting for the reason that it would be new, novel and potentially profitable,” Assoc. Prof. Hall said.
Currently, the Japanese quail breed is the largest game bird industry in Australia with 6.5 million quail processed annually, worth $14 m.
Japanese quail were domesticated first in China, which is now the world’s largest producer of quail meat (150 000 tonnes per year) while Spain and France each produce close to 10 000 tonnes per year.
Females are raised for egg production and the males are grown for their quality meat.
“The PhD is a significant event in quail research and Ionie has the skills to do it with her background,” Assoc. Prof. Hall said.
“It will also give us information on diet and development that will help with their management in the wild.”
While the finer details of the project are still being worked through, it will certainly include capturing stubble quail from a site in NSW to stock a trial facility.
“We know there are plenty of birds there and it is just a matter of capturing enough; we have a facility here at the university to keep them in a converted poultry shed.”