Living the Bobwhite Quail Dream

Last Sunday I realized a big part of my Bobwhite Quail Dream.  When I started raising wild bobwhite quail a few years ago, I did so because my bird dog was getting ruined on pen raised birds and there weren’t any wild bobwhite quail available.  My goal was to hunt quail anytime I wanted.  Last Sunday on a hot Texas June morning, we got 15 points – a new record.  I know my dog is living the bird dog dream!

Point Bobwhite Quail All Year

Orange and White Brittany Dog on a Bobwhite Quail Point
Bobwhite Quail Point
We are very fortunate that our hard work has paid off.  We can consistently find bobwhite quail to point all year long.  We are much more cautious during the breeding season so as not to disturb the covey and scatter the chicks, but we definitely hunt and point them anyway!

Wild Turkeys Benefit from Bobwhite Quail Habitat

Grey and White Wild Turkeys on a Green Grass Field
Wild Turkeys
Raising bobwhite quail is hard. Getting them to stay and reproduce is even harder.  But, those efforts also benefit other species – like wild Rio Grande Turkeys.  I’m not a turkey hunter but have friends that are and they think this is great!

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Farming for Bobwhite Quail

Dark Brown Plowed Ground with Green Grass Surrounding for Bobwhite Quail Food Plot
Plowed Ground for Bobwhite Quail Food Plot
Getting the bobwhite quail chicks from hatch to release is only the start.  They are there but they are going to wander to the best habitat they can find.  I actually do more and spend more in habitat management than in actually raising the chicks.  I am in the process of figuring out “quail strips” that look somewhat like the pheasant strips you see in the midwest.  They will have adequate cover and protection while providing great nutrition for each stage of a quail’s like.  This mean that I get to drive a tractor and do a little farming.  If you haven’t farmed then you’re missing something really cool. I expand my food plots each year and this is a picture of breaking new ground to plant.

Scattering and Covering Bobwhite Quail Food Plot Seeds

Green and Black Mule Dragging the Bobwhite Quail Food Plot
Dragging the Bobwhite Quail Food Plot
Planting seeds on a largish scale to feed bobwhite quail is a challenge.  My plots aren’t big enough for large commercial equipment so sometimes I just have to make do.  I scatter the seed with a seed thrower – just like you use in your yard.  But, the seeds need to be covered – just a little bit – and dragging an old railroad tie around the freshly planted area seems to do the trick nicely.  My plots are getting larger and I am in the process of rebuilding an old seed drill so my planted seed stand a better chance of germinating and growing evenly and to full production.  Hand scattered seeds have a density problem.

Seeds Planted in Bobwhite Quail Food Plot

Rich Red Dirt Holding Seeds Planted in Bobwhite Quail Food Plot
Seeds Planted in Bobwhite Quail Food Plot
Very few things are as pretty as a freshly plowed, planted and dragged food plot.

Bobwhite Quail Food Plot Seeds Germinate

Light Green Young Seedlings in Brown and Grey Bobwhite Quail Food Plot
Young Seedlings in Bobwhite Quail Food Plot
It takes a week or so for the bobwhite quail food plot seeds to germinate and break ground.  But, when they do it is always a special occasion for celebration.

Better Seed Planting for Bobwhite Quail Food Plots

Green John Deere Seed Drill for Bobwhite Quail Food Plot
Seed Drill for Bobwhite Quail Food Plot
Hand scattering seeds is very inefficient.  The seed density is very random and this causes issues with plant growth and maturity – not mention harvesting if you plan to do that – I don’t.  I purchased an antique seed drill.  It needs some work and repairs and I expect it to be ready by Fall 2015 for testing.  When it does work, a single pass with the seed drill will take the place of walking with a hand scatterer and then dragging with a mule and railroad tie.  But, it should have a much bigger impact on the quality of the plants that the seeds produce and allow me to farm a larger area and hold more bobwhite quail in the habitat.

Wild Dewberries as Bobwhite Quail Food

Pink and Red Wild Dewberries for Bobwhite Quail
Wild Dewberries for Bobwhite Quail
We are fortunate to have a bunch of wild dewberries on our ranch where I raise bobwhite quail.  This year was a spectacular season due to the higher than normal Spring rains.  Dewberries area also delicious for humans and I can seldom walk past a vine loaded with berries.  But, be careful!  Snakes LOVE dewberry patches as hiding and ambush spots for smaller animals.  Get a long stick and make sure the snakes have left before you start snacking!

Hog Snares and Bobwhite Quail Management

Silver Wire Hog Snare in Brown Dirt Hole
Hog Snare
We don’t have a hog problem.  We used to have a hog problem and now we have an occasional hog situation.  We constantly run hog snares in our fencelines to trap hogs.  Hogs pose two threats to wild bobwhite quail.  Hogs will find and eat eggs in the nest.  Hogs also love tearing up my bobwhite quail food plots.  So, we are fortunate to have managed downward from problem to situation and only see or snare a couple every year.

Dead Hog

Dead Black Wild Hog on Green Grass with Black Pistol
Dead Hog
This young boar was caught recently in one of my snares.  Unfortunately, he was caught by the leg instead of the neck.  This can present a distinct problem and danger when the time comes to untangle the mess of a very live and angry hog from a tough wire snare.  In this case, the hog actually jumped and broke the snare as I approached.  It took an entire clip to do the job but the job got done.

Summary of Bobwhite Quail Dreams

It took 3 years before I ever saw a wild bobwhite quail more than 2 weeks after a release.  This was hugely disappointing but I didn’t give up.  I doubled down and started habitat management in addition to continuing to raise batches of surrogated bobwhite quail. I cut brush, fixed fences, snared hogs, planted grain and built water/wet spots for bugs. But, the effort was entirely worth it.  Now, I can hunt and point wild bobwhite quail almost any day we feel the notion to.  Nice!  Dog agrees!

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Pre Season Raising Quail Warmup

The season for raising wild quail is just around the corner – baby chicks are usually available around mid May.  So, it’s time to get everything inspected, repaired and ready!  Surprisingly, there’s quite a bit to do to get everything ready to go for a successful season.

Rainwater Collectors and Quail

Blue and Silver Rainwater Collector for Raising Quail
Rainwater Collector for Raising Quail

Bobwhite quail don’t have a huge need for ground water.  They fulfill most of their water needs from either dew or metabolic water.  That said, the Texas Summers can be very hot and dry and providing a little water may mean the difference between life and death.  Also, a watering location provides an excellent location for a game camera to keep tabs on the wild quail population as well as their predators.

 

 

 

 

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Forbs Feed Quail

Green Forbs Feed Bobwhite Quail
Forbs Feed Bobwhite Quail

Forbs and their seeds are the primary feed for wild quail.  Forbs are essentially wild flowers and can be very abundant in Texas.  It all depends on the amout of rainfall – it doesn’t take much rainfall to get them to sprout and bloom but it does take some.  During the early Spring months, we monitor the forbs production and then make plans from there on how and if we will feed additionally in the quail feeders.

 

 

 

 

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Controlling Invasive Plants for Quail

Quail Habitat Manipulation of Brown Natural Grasses
Quail Habitat Manipulation

Non native grasses, like King Ranch Bluestem are hell on quail.  The KR Bluestem is so dense and compact that the quail can’t get around in it.  Additionally, KR Bluestem does a terrible job at producing seeds AND seems almost impossible to eliminate once it has started.  This is a picture of a small tract where we disced heavily several years ago.  The KR Bluestem has grown back in most areas except where we disced down to bare earth.  In those areas, we are seeing emergence of native grasses.  I plan to continue my experiments with the destruction of our KR Bluestem this year.

 

 

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Quail Feeders and Bobwhite Quail

Bobwhite Quail
Bobwhite Quail Pipe Feeder

I’ve built and used several different types of quail feeders over the years.  I’ve come to understand that they don’t do much except to support the wild quail during their first week after their release.  WE’ve been fortunate that most years have produced a decent crop of forbs so the bobwhite quail have sufficient feed available to the without the need for supplemental feeding.  We are currently in the middle of a 10 year drought so we’re watching carefully and are prepared to supplement the feed if needed.

 

 

 

 

Custom Quail Feeders

White Plastic Quail Bucket Feeder
Bobwhite Quail Bucket Feeder

This type of electrified bucket worked OK – it sure kept the critters off!  In the end, it wasn’t as durable as I wanted and I’ve discontinued using this design.  Honestly, I think a regular broadcast deer feeder works the best but you do have to contend with everything else in the area that likes what comes out of a deer feeder.

 

 

 

 

Quail Predators

Black and White Night Picture of Bobcat Predator
Bobcat Predator on Bobwhite Quail

Predator control is one aspect of rebuilding a wild population of bobwhite quail.  We don’t have a lot of predators but we do have some.  It’s been said that a bobcat can wreak havoc on a covey of quail by destroying all of them and only eating a few.  I’m a big fan of game cameras to monitor the wildlife population and then formulate actions based on what I see.  However, I am loath to kill every predator out there as I do believe that this upsets that balance of nature and I’ll only end up paying the price at some later date with some larger problem.

 

 

 

 

Raptors and Quail

Predator of Brown and White Hawk
Bobwhite Quail Predator

Raptors are another bobwhite quail predator and this is an interesting picture of one coming down to peer into the surrogator.  We do have several pairs of hawks on the ranch but we also have magnificent habitat in the areas where quail are being found.  So, I’m not horribly worried about the raptors taking out my quail and have been pleased with the balance.

 

 

 

 

Surrogator Repair and Maintenance

Surrogator Repairs of Black Paint and Rusted Metal
Bobwhite Quail Surrogator Repairs

Early Spring is always the time for surrogator repairs and they always need a little love and attention.  The surrogator is incredibly well built and sturdy and the repairs each year are mostly clean up and preventative maintenance.  Nothing a little buffing and painting can’t easily take care of.  I’ve been very pleased with my surrogator and hope it continues to last for many years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Reason I Raise Wild Quail

Releasing Bobwhite Quail from Surrogator while Orange and White Brittany Watches
Releasing Bobwhite Quail from Surrogator

Lastly, the reason I got started doing all of this several years ago.  I bought a hunting dog and then almost ruined her on pen raised quail.  Now, she get’s exposed to hyper training at least 3 times each Summer.  I have her sit at the end of the surrogator during the quail release and she doesn’t move.  She get’s very excited and I do turn her loose to hunt them afterward but this is an excellent training regime for steadiness.

 

 

 

 

Very Steady Hunting Dog

Well Trained Orange and White Brittany Hunting Dog
Well Trained Quail Hunting Dog

Yet another shot of Jill waiting patiently while the wild quail become even wilder.  She’s just turned 4 years old and is quite steady on command.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary of Pre Season Raising Quail Warmup

Spring is here and it’s time to get ready for another season of raising wild quail.  The list of things to do and check get’s longer every year as I implement more practices to improve the habitat.  This will be my 4th year of raising wild quail and I’m very much looking forward to it – Jill is too!

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Young Bobwhite Quail

Summer is the season to load and raise young bobwhite quail in the Surrogator.  What I’ve learned in the past about how to raise quail, I’ve run 4 five-week cycles but it’s really a push and you can’t miss a single week and pick-ups of fresh wild quail chicks has to be carefully timed.  My bobwhite quail breeder has chicks available from approximately May 15 through mid September.  I’ve decided that it’s much easier and more fun to run 3 cycles per Summer and not try to rush things.  It also helps that I don’t have to be tending wild quail chicks during September and October when I’m trying to hunt other birds while I’m waiting for my natural population of wild bobwhite quail to grow.

 

Fresh Bobwhite Quail Chicks

Brown and White Bobwhite Quail Chicks in Yellow Straw and Cardboard Box
One week old Bobwhite Quail Chicks in shipping box

My bobwhite quail breeder delivers 125 week old bobwhite quail chicks nicely packaged in a cardboard box with pine shavings.  I prefer week old birds instead of day old quail chicks since the mortality can be higher during their first week of life.  I’m always amazed how quick and active the chicks are even at one week old.  It has become a ritual in my process of how to raise quail to invite friends with small children to help me load the baby bobwhite quail chicks as kids always seem to love catching them from the box and loading them into the Surrogator.  Since I typically release a batch of wild quail and reload the batch on the same day, they also enjoy seeing 100 or so wild bobwhite quail released from the Surrogator.

 

 

 

 

 

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Clumping Wild Quail Chicks

30 Brown and White Wild Quail Chicks Clumped Near a Silver Feeder
Wild Quail Chicks will clump together to stay warm

Young bobwhite quail chicks can’t generate sufficient body heat to keep themselves alive.  Without an external heat source, they will clump together and smother the chicks on the bottom.  Heat regulation is a critical aspect of successfully raising wild bobwhite quail in a surrogator.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Heating Unit for Young Bobwhite Quail

How To Raise Quail - Silver Metal Heater with White Ceramic Dispersion Disk
How To Raise Quail – Heaters are required for bobwhite quail chicks younger than 3 weeks old

The heating unit for young bobwhite quail that is supplied with the Surrogator is ingenious.  It is absolutely critical in how to raise quail.  It has a temperature regulator, a thermostat and a heat dispersion disk.  While you can build your own Surrogator, this small piece is definitely the big secret to the success of the Surrogator.  The wild quail chicks don’t need much heat beyond 3 weeks of age but without it during those first 3 weeks, the results can be disastrous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Young Bobwhite Quail Eat Grasshoppers

Green Grasshopper is Food for Wild Quail
Food for Wild Quail consists of all manner of high protein sources – including bugs and grasshoppers

Young bobwhite quail eat mostly bugs to satisfy their need for a high protein diet.  Bugs generally need rain and moisture to reproduce.  I use the grasshopper/windshield method of measuring the natural food available to young bobwhite quail.  During last year’s drought, we literally had ZERO bugs.  This year, we’ve been fortunate to have some rain and moisture and the bugs have returned.  Part of my habitat plan is to expand our rain water collection systems to provide additional moist areas around the ranch so that there will be more moist bug reproduction areas to support the wild quail that are reproducing on the ranch.

 

 

 

 

 

Summary of Young Bobwhite Quail

Summer is the time to get busy and run batches of wild bobwhite quail chicks through the Surrogator.  In my method of how to raise quail, I prefer 3 five-week cycles but 4 cycles is possible and if you start with week old quail chicks instead of day old quail chicks you can shorten your cycles from five weeks to four weeks.  I don’t do that because I prefer to have them more fully fledged when they are released.  The heating unit is a critical part of the Surrogator’s success.  Wild quail chicks need an external heat source during their first 3-4 weeks of life and the Surrogator’s heating unit is a champ.  Young bobwhite quail rely heavily on bugs to fill their need for a high protein diet.  Bugs need rain and moisture to reproduce and a casual survey of the number of grasshoppers is a good way to estimate brooding success for you previously released wild bobwhite quail.

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