Quail Chicks Have Grown Up Already, Plus a Valuable Lesson Learned

We had 20 chicks hatch on September 5th and they started laying eggs late last week.  That’s just over 6 weeks from hatching to laying!  It still amazes me how fast these birds grow up and start laying eggs.  They are fully grown now, and eating and drinking as much as the other birds.

This week I will cull most of the new roosters and the rest of these birds will graduate into the main cages. I will also cull some of the older birds from the main cages to make room.  Then it’s incubation once again to get another hatch going!  And of course, a quail BBQ.

We did have a tragic accident happen.  One night I was taking care of the birds and left the cage with the young birds open as I filled their waterers in the house (their cage isn’t hooked up to the automatic watering system).  When I went back into the bird house I saw one female running around outside of the cage.  I just scooped her up and put her back in the cage.

The next day I found a dead female in that cage.  And she was beat up – murdered by the other birds.  What the heck?  Then I noticed that one of the other cages had a door that was was slightly ajar – just enough for one bird to squeeze out.

Apparently, the bird I found running around wasn’t from the young bird’s cage – it was one of the older birds from a different hatch.  Quail do not like birds from different hatches.  They simply won’t get along and they will fight to the death.  This female didn’t have a chance.

It was an honest accident, but lesson learned.  Be sure the darn quail cages are secure before leaving the bird house!

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Winter Lighting for Your Quail

It’s late September as I write this.  As winter approaches, daylight gets shorter and shorter every day.  If you want your coturnix quail to continue laying eggs reliably throughout the winter, you will have to provide them some supplemental lighting.

This isn’t complicated, though some think that it is.  I simply string some white LED Christmas lights around the quail cages and set them on a timer so they come on a little before sunset.  The timer is set so the quail get a total of 16 hours of light a day.  That’s it.

For example:  If sunrise it at 7:00AM and sunset is at 8:00PM, that’s 13 hours of daylight.  So set your timer to give the birds an extra 3 hours of light: have it come on at 7:30PM (just before sunset) and go off at 11:00PM.  Roughly adjust the timer over the weeks and months as sunrise/sunset changes.  It doesn’t have to be exact or to the minute.  “About” 16 hours a day will be fine.

I have read some folks that claim that a certain light spectrum is necessary to keep the quail healthy and producing quality eggs – I don’t think so.  Not for the small homesteader anyway.  My birds give me awesome quality eggs all year and I use cheap LED Christmas lights that I bought at Walmart.  And my birds seem as happy as can be.

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Heat for Quail in the Winter Months?

It’s mid-September here in Colorado and Evan K., a subscriber of my YouTube channel, recently asked:  “How cold does it get where you live? Have you had any problems with the watering system freezing?”

Excellent question!  I live at 9,000 feet elevation in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado – it gets REALLY COLD up here in the winter.  I’ve been up here for 16+ years and the coldest I’ve seen it was about 50 below zero (F).  It doesn’t get that cold very often but below zero temps are common in the dead of winter.

So how do I keep the quail water system from freezing – and the eggs too?  It’s pretty simple.

I use a “Thermo Cube“.
thermo-cube

It’s simply an outlet that turns power on at 35F and turns power off at 45F.  I plug a small space heater into the Thermo Cube and turn it on HIGH.  When the air temperature gets down to 35F the Thermo Cube turns the heater on.  When the air temperature gets up to 45F the Thermo Cube shuts it down.  Simple and efficient.

This keeps the temperature of my quail house (a 10′ x 12′ insulated shed) about a balmy 40 degrees F all the time and prevents the freezing of their entire watering system and their eggs.

The Thermo Cube is only $11 at Amazon with free shipping with Prime, so it really will pay for itself by cutting down on energy usage in no time.

Without the Thermo Cube regulating the temperature of the quail house the eggs might freeze before I get home from work, so I really like this little unit.

One other note.  Coturnix quail do not need to be “warm” to lay eggs or survive in a healthy way.  Different varieties of quail survive in the wild in cold climates all over the earth and do just fine.  If you want them to produce eggs all year, it’s not heat that you should be thinking about – it’s light.  Check out my post on Supplemental Lighting for more on that..

However, if you decide to keep your birds warm all the time, you need to ensure that they stay warm because they won’t grow their “winter feathers” when it gets cold outside.  This is important.

If you keep your quail at 70F all the time because they are your pets and you feel bad for them you probably aren’t doing them any favors.  If the power goes out for 3 days due to an ice storm and it’s 20F outside, your birds will suffer badly or die due to the fact that they have not become accustomed to cold temperatures.  So plan ahead to take care of your birds in the event of a power outage or emergency.

For example, my emergency plan is to simply put all of my birds into big plastic storage bins and bring them into the house until the emergency has passed.  Have a few big bins, feeders and waterers around just in case.

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The Quail Chick Brooder

When your quail chicks hatch from their shell they will need to be kept in a brooder for about a month or so.  A brooder is simply a heated cage.

Brooder Cage

I use a large plastic storage container like this for my brooder.

It’s cheap, easy to clean (just hose it out) and easy to move around.  You can also use a cardboard box, a cooler, an aquarium, a plywood box, etc.  Anything that will keep the chicks contained is fine.

Heat

Quail chicks don’t hatch with full feathers so you’ll need to keep them warm.  To heat the brooder, the simplest way is to use a standard heat lamp like this.

I use a red 250 watt bulb in the lamp like this.

One word of caution:  be sure that you use an outlet and electrical cords that are rated for the heat lamp.  You don’t want to be flipping breakers or starting any fires.

Just clamp the heat lamp so that it shines into one side of the brooder and leave it on 24 hours a day.  You want the temperature in there to be about 99 deg F to start with.  Raise or lower the lamp to get the temperature about right.  It doesn’t have to be exactly 99 deg F.  The chicks will self regulate and move away from the light if they are too hot and will clump all together right under it if they are cold.  This is why it’s a good idea to put the lamp to one side of the brooder and not right in the center.

If you see all the chicks bunched together beneath the light they are a little chilly, so just lower the lamp a little to increase the temperature.  And if they are all hanging out on the far side of the brooder away from the light they are a bit warm, so raise the lamp a little to cool them off a bit.

You want to gradually lower the temperature in the brooder until they are all feathered out and ready to be moved to their grow out cages.  Do this by raising the heat lamp about a foot higher every week or so.  After about 4 weeks, your chicks should be ready to move into their new digs in the grow out cages with plenty of feathers to keep them warm.

Bedding

Bedding is easy for the quail chicks.  I use paper towels.  They are cheap, absorbent and I just toss them in the compost pile when they need to be changed out.

Other things can be used for bedding as well, but be sure that it is not slippery like newspaper.  Don’t use newspaper!  The chicks are really unsteady on their feet when they first come out and they could develop foot and leg problems if they don’t have a good non-slip surface that they can learn to walk on.

Water

This is a really important one.  Use standard chick waterers like these.

The important thing to remember here is that you need to put marbles, pebbles, or something in the tray of the waterer for the first few days to prevent the chicks from falling in and drowning.  Again, the quail chicks are really clumsy at first and they can and will fall in and drown.

I use marbles that I had laying around.  The chicks can poke their beaks in between the marbles and get the water just fine.  And if they get on top of the marbles they won’t drown.

They will muck the water up, so change it out often so they have a fresh supply.

Feed

I use the same feed for coturnix quail from the day they hatch to the day they are dispatched to the freezer:  MannaPro Gamebird/Showbird Crumbles.

For the first few days I crush the crumbles up so they are more easily eaten by the chicks, but this probably isn’t necessary.  There’s plenty of small bits in the crumbles for them.  But it you want to you can use an old coffee grinder, a mortar and pestle or a rolling pin to crush it up.  Until the chicks are steady on their feet I simply pour a small pile of the feed on the floor of the brooder and let them go at it.  They will toss it around and play in it, but it’s easy for them to get at it that way.

When they can walk around pretty well I use a standard chick feeder like this and stop grinding up the crumbles.

There’s no need to ration the feed at all.  Have them eat as much as possible!  They grow so fast it’s remarkable, so free access to food and water is important.

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New Quail Cages are Complete!

I tore out and rebuilt my quail cages. Instead of two large cages I now have 4 smaller ones.  Each cage is approx. 2 feet wide and 2.5 feet deep.  This will be more than enough room for 4 or 5 hens and one rooster in each cage.

I had a few disappointing hatches and figured that I had too many hens per male in the cages.  This lowers the fertilization rate.  Four or five hens per rooster is about right.

In fact I just hatched 22 new chicks and it was my best hatch rate yet.  All of these eggs were collected after the new cages were built, so success!  It was worth the effort.

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New Quail Cages…Progress!

The new quail cages are almost complete.  Of course they are taking longer than expected, like any project.  All I have to do for the cages now is get the watering system installed and tidy up how I’m going to latch the doors closed.  I’m using bent nails right now.  Hopefully this will be done tomorrow.

I decided to leave the feeders inside the cages instead of suspending them outside of the wire.  It’s easy enough to fill my current feeders every few days and I didn’t feel like fabricating totally new feeders.

The quail seem to be getting used to the new cages since I got a few more eggs today than the last few days.  They’ll settle in and be happy here soon.

I’ll post a new video of the upgraded cages shortly.

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Jack Spirkos Quail Aviary

Jack Spirko, the host of The Survival Podcast, is building an amazing quail aviary/greenhouse that is blowing me away.  Most folks with limited space can’t do something like this but it’s cool as hell anyway.  Here are his videos on his progress.  I’ll update these as they become available.

Jack has been an inspiration for me, so I have to give a big “THANKS!” to Jack, even though I’ve never met he man in person.  It was his interview with Brad Davies that got me interested in coturnix quail to begin with.

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Homemade Quail Feeders

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For feeders I started with these standard poultry feeders because I didn’t know better.  They are fine for when the quail are young and small, but not so much when they grow up.

Little Gian Galv Slide Top Feeder For Poultry (Pack of 2)feeder2.jpg  I found that the quail would toss the feed everywhere which was a huge waste and made a mess. Feed costs money and I like money, so I don’t like wasting feed.

Quail don’t discriminate on where they poop either, so these feeders got nasty quick.  And I had to fill them twice a day.

So I made my own feeders:

DSC00001

These feeders are made from 3” PVC pipe with 2” holes cut into them with a hole saw. The edges of the holes are pretty sharp right after cutting them so I sanded them down a bit so the quail don’t cut themselves.

The end caps are “knockout test caps” which are really cheap and can be found at any hardware store that sells PVC pipe.  If you can, buy these instead of regular end caps and save yourself a few bucks.

I initially glued the end caps on but then realized I might need to take them off for cleaning, so I just tape them on with duct tape now. Screw or glue a short piece of wood to each end cap to keep the feeder from rolling around. Be sure to angle the end caps so the holes are angled upward.

The feeders are deep enough that the quail need to reach inside with their heads to get to the feed. They don’t throw the feed around nearly as much and there is very little waste now. Just don’t over-fill the feeders or they will toss some of it around. Filling them about half way seems to work well for me.

Now I fill the quail feeders every few days instead of twice a day. Oh yeah. In the future I’d like to come up with some automatic feeder where I can pour a full 50 pound bag of feed into some sort of hopper that will release just enough each day.  I’ll figure it out eventually.

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I’m Rebuilding My Quail Cages

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Yeah, my wife Jenny thinks I’m crazy, but I decided to tear out my quail cages and rebuild them.  The original cages were OK, but I needed to change the size of the cages to be more efficient.  Plus, I have 11 chicks in the brooder in my second bathroom that are about ready to go into the big bird house, so I needed more cages.  Moving the chicks out will please Jenny greatly.

Instead of the two fairly large cages, I will have four smaller cages.  Each cage will be about 2.5 feet deep and just over 2 feet wide.  Each cage will house 5 coturnix quail:  4 hens and 1 rooster.  Once these 4 cages are complete I will build more just like them underneath them.  Eventually I should have 4 or 5 levels of cages.

Of course tearing out the old cages meant tearing out the watering system too, but that’s OK.  I wanted to change how the water was plumbed into the cages anyway.  I may also set the feeders on the outside of the cages instead of placing them inside.

This is all a work in progress still.  The cages are pretty much built – in fact the birds are in them.  The only thing not complete are the doors (I have temporary doors on there now).  I’ll dive into those tomorrow.  The key thing is to plan how I will plumb the water in and how I’ll stage the feeders.  This will determine how I build the doors.  I have learned a ton from the initial cages, watering system, etc.  Time to upgrade.

Something interesting happened during this project.  I took the birds out of their cages and put them in huge plastic storage bins with straw on the floor of the bins.  I figured the birds would love the straw, but it seems they didn’t appreciate their temporary housing situation at all.

Egg production plummeted almost immediately.  The 13 hens were giving me 11 to 12 eggs per day like clockwork in their cages.  Once in the big storage bins they gave me no more than 4 eggs per day.  When I put them into the new cages they laid 6 eggs in just a few HOURS!

I’ll post pictures of the new setup soon.

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