The Q

I am never more aware that birds are not mammals as when they look at me out of one eye or the other, with their head cocked at a 30 degree angle. Birds do not move like mammals. They are far quicker. And frankly, nastier. I love the Jurassic Park movies. All those fantastic dinosaurs. I do notice, though, that our quail are marked almost exactly like the velociraptors from Jurassic Park III. Coincidence? I think not. If their hoppers run dry, particularly among growing quail, trying to feed the little monsters has a definite Hitchcockian quality. But, quail can be kept outdoors or indoors and they are an excellent meat and egg producer for small spaces.

Does he not look ready for his dinosaur debut?

Our quail raising enterprise is a few years old now. About 2 years ago, we switched from raising Japanese coturnix to raising jumbo browns. Jumbo browns are calmer, lay bigger eggs, and are a good bit larger than the Japanese coturnix. Since we’ve now had this crop of birds for a couple of years, we’ve decided that we need to introduce new birds into the flock this spring.  We do not want to inbreed our birds.

Quail are fairly quiet.  The hens are nearly impossible to hear unless you stand right next to the cage.  The cocks, though, have a coturnix crow. And that can sometimes get excessive. Occasionally, we will have a cock who is really noisy.  They often grow out of this, but we tend not to keep the really noisy ones. This section includes what has worked well for us as well as a summary of our dismal battle with cocci.

Incubating the eggs. As we wanted to breed our quail and incubate their eggs, we decided to buy eggs at the start rather than track down day old quail chicks. We have a small hovabator Styrofoam incubator with an automatic egg turner. We do not keep the incubator in a climate controlled area; it is set up in our garage-barn. However, as we are in southern California, not Michigan, this isn’t really a problem. Quail incubate at 99 to 100 degrees, 50 to 60 percent humidity, for approximately 17 to 18 days. An excellent tip from a fellow quail breeder on Backyard Chickens is this: use towels to help insulate the incubator. Make sure not to cover the vent holes. The extra towels help keep the temperatures more stable, even in our garage.

Our incubator spiked during the last run and I forgot to turn on the egg turner until the eggs had been incubating for four days. Duh! We still had a 50 percent hatch on eggs that had been shipped. Other hatches have been much better (not including the one run where there was a fire). Incubating eggs isn’t particularly difficult; we just keep a close eye on the incubator and our gauges.

This winter our hatch rates steadily dropped until we had a single run where not one darn egg hatched.  We decided to wait until the weather was not dropping into the 30s at night.  We are also planning to get more eggs this spring.  We’ll have to see how it goes.

Quail chicks. There is nothing cuter than a baby quail chick.  Jumbo browns grow really fast and will start to feather in a matter of days.  But for those few days, CUTE!!

About three days before the hatch date, remove the automatic egg turner. Otherwise, baby quail can get stuck in the turner and their necks will snap. We found this out the hard way, of course.

In a former life, our brooder was a diaper changer that has been modified with all the pieces that were falling off of the changer. We lined the brooder with a coroplast insert that is easy to remove for cleaning.  We are very proactive about keeping the quail clean. We use pine shavings in our brooder. We line the base of the brooder with about 2 inches of pine shavings. This gives the little chicks something with grip to walk on. It seems to work well enough, as we have had no trouble yet with splay foot.

We feed the quail chicks organic soy free and corn free chicken starter.  Chick starter generally runs at about 22 percent protein and quail chicks generally require upwards of 33 percent protein.  We give them this extra protein in the form of beer grains.  We did not want to give them soy, even organic soy, so we tried lentils, peas, and meal worms.  Meal worms were incredibly expensive and peas and lentils do not provide as much protein as beer grains.  Who knew?  They thrive on it and the beer grains are free.

We add vinegar to their water. Vinegar helps keep young quail healthy. Finally, we put marbles into the standard chick waterers so the quail chicks, which are much smaller, do not drown.

Some summer days here are hot.  These days, the brooder with the light is simply too hot for the young quail chicks. We turned off the light and watched the chicks to see if they would huddle together, as if cold. They continued running around the brooder, doing quail chicks things, so clearly, the light was not needed during the day.

Growing out. Our first batch of quail were hit hard with cocci. We lost half of our original batch in a matter of days. By treating the flock members that had not succumbed with Sulmet, we were able to save the remaining half of our original flock. It was fairly devastating, though. Particularly for our first go at quail raising. Although we do keep our quail very clean, cocci is fairly insidious and once introduced, can be quite problematic. We’re still not entirely sure where the infestation originated, but it did not affect the backyard chickens and we have not seen it again. We add vinegar to our quails’ water, which is supposed to help with cocci prevention. We are fairly militant about cleaning them.  And we keep the Sulmet handy, only to be used if we actually see symptoms.  Thus far, it has stayed closed.

Although our adult quail breeders eschew greens, the younger quail seem to enjoy greens. Growing quail eat A LOT! We feed them frequently, alternating between feed, greens, grains, and mealworms, for a treat. They will devour anything.

Adult quail. We do not keep a large number of adult quail. We have found that the easiest way to have healthy animals without needing supplements or medications is to keep them really clean. And to keep animals really clean, one cannot have a lot crammed into a small space. We tried the quail as free range in the greenhouse for a week.  They did not care much for it- they spent all their time on the floor- duh, they’re QUAIL- and mostly under things.  So, we now keep them in cages.

We have a small space for the Q, therefore, we cannot have too many animals. Once most of the quail reach 8 weeks, they go to freezer camp. Although my father in law is fond of tales about his grandma and her chickens and the fresh daily chicken soup, it is not practical for us to try and butcher quail during the week. We have to get as much done during the weekends as possible, because the weeks are full of band rehearsals, akido, school, and work. Also, it is easier and less expensive to maintain less stock.

Our Little Giant wire cages were purchased on Amazon. They are very handy for quail. Little Giant makes several sizes, but the 2×2 foot cages fit nicely into our available space. We keep two to three adult quail per four foot square cage. One of these quail is a roo; the other one (or two) are hens. Once a group has been together for a while, we try to avoid moving birds around. The hens in a group that we broke up stopped laying and never started again. We keep a nest and a sand box in each cage. The nest is an upside down guinea pig house with orchard grass and the sand box is a Sterilite shoe box from Target. We used to keep sand in the box, but now, we keep it filled with pine shavings. The Q are not picky. They seem just as happy in either medium. They love to bathe in the shavings or sand and it seems to cool them off, as well.

The adult Q receive the same rations as the quail chicks, albeit a slightly lower percentage of protein. We also feed them dried meal worms. And dried raspberry leaves. They are generally not interested in the greens that we feed everyone else. Some of the breeder pairs also consume the orchard grass in the nests. As previously mentioned, we put vinegar into their water, approximately one teaspoon per quart.

Thus far, aside from the cocci, the biggest challenge in raising the Q is heat. We’re not Phoenix. Been there. Done that. But, SoCal isn’t exactly cool once we hit July. We topped 100 numerous times this year and the humidity was not pleasant. In fact, this summer, after one particularly brutal stretch of heat and humidity, one of our chickens went down from heat. Heat is hard on birds. They deal with cold weather more easily than heat. And even with adequate water and ventilation, birds go down so fast. Our quail generally are well enough in the summer, but we run fans to move air. These are not pointed at the birds. We also can run an air conditioning unit when temperatures reach high levels. We did not lose any quail last summer to heat.

Fighting.  Sometimes our quail fight.  We thought this might be do to space concerns.  Research, time in the greenhouse, and the fact that all the quail do not fight indicated that space might not be the reason.  Fighting seemed to occur more frequently during the hotter months.  It really only seemed like mild bickering and then, we had two incidents where a hen was killed by her cage mates.  In one case, the only other bird in the cage was a roo.  In the other case, the culprit was another hen.  We run an air conditioner when its really hot and fans when it is warm.  We were very diligent about keeping their area cool so we did not think that was the issue.  Also, both bad attacks occurred at night once the temperatures had lowered.  We also considered their diets.  Both attacks occurred on a night when we had band practice and we fed everyone late.  This seemed like a good possibility.  We upped their protein intake and started feeding them full trays of beer grains in the morning and full trays of quail feed at night.  We had no more fights all summer and have not had any bad ones since.    We seem to be back to mostly bickering.

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