Feed & Water for Bobwhite Quail in the Surrogator

Bobwhite quail chicks are usually hatched in May through July. This is Summer Time and in Texas, the weather get’s Hot and Dry.

There are 3 environmental factors that you MUST manage to avoid killing the bobwhite quail chicks.

1 – they must be protected from predators. The Surrogator does an excellent job of this. As long as you set it up properly and keep it closed and locked, you should be fine. I’ve used my Surrogator since 2010 and have never had anything enter the Surrogator or harm any chicks.

2 – they must have water. Bobwhite quail chicks depend mostly on metabolic water and dew – with an occasional visit to a waterhole or bubbler. In the Surrogator, they depend on You to provide all of their water. You must make sure they have clean water available at all times. They will die quickly in the Summer without access to clean water.

3 – they must have food. Bobwhite quail chicks need 20% – 24% protein in their feed during the first 5-6 weeks of life. Scratch grains and Layer Feed are not sufficient. You must feed Chick Starter (24%) or Check Grower (20%) while they are in the Surrogator. 125 Chicks that are started at 1 day old and held for 5 weeks will eat almost exactly 50# of Chick Starter. Chicks that are 10 days old and held for 6 weeks will eat 75# – 90# of Chick Starter. Don’t run out – always keep a spare bag of Chick Feed.

The feed bin in the brooding end of the Surrogator will easily hold 50# of feed and dispense it to the chicks as needed.

Use Chick Starter or Chick Grower – not Scratch Grains while the chicks are in the Surrogator. I prefer using the same chick feed my quail breeder uses so they don’t suffer from a diet change.

Wildlife Management Technologies, the makers of the Surrogator, recommend an additional green Chick Aid starter jelly. I tried it for a year but didn’t notice any difference. Likewise, I didn’t find the practice of placing feed on paper plates to be helpful either.

After 6 years of use (and cleaning), the lid of my brooding end, where it covers the feed bin, began leaking during hard rains. Wet feed is a disaster and a terrible mess to clean – especially when you still have bobwhite quail chicks in the Surrogator! I jerry-rigged a cheap tarp to keep my feed dry and flowing.

Water is provided to the bobwhite quail chicks via a hose from a 15-gallon holding tank through a small tube into a nipple waterer. I have a spare nipple waterer just in case. 125 1 day quail chicks will drink almost exactly 15 gallons of water during a 5-week cycle. 125 10-day old quail chicks will drink 30 – 45 gallons of water during a 6-week cycle in Central Texas. Check and fill your water every time you visit! The nipple waterer needs to be tested Every Time You Visit. Small air pockets can stop the water flow from the barrel to the waterer and can be released with the stopcock on the end of the nipple waterer.

Unless you have a hose spigot near your surrogator location, you’ll need to be prepared to haul water. And, if you have to haul water, a helper is helpful!

Lastly, related to food & water, make sure the divider flap is well-secured when you raise it after the first week. I recommend using a bungee cord to hold the divider lever in the Up position, just to make sure it is not accidentally tripped and closed by a varmint. This happened to me once and I lost 60% of my quail chicks because the divider flap fell closed (wasn’t secured properly) and those chicks were trapped in the loafing end without access to food or water. I never want that to happen again.

Sourcing Bobwhite Quail & Loading the Surrogator

The Surrogator is designed to get quail from 1-day old to 5-6 weeks old in the wild. . 1-day old quail chicks are generally available in most areas – Google is your friend – or if you’re in Central Texas, contact me and I’ll share my connection. You can expect to pay from $1 to $2.50 per quail chick

I started by using 1-day old birds. Not really, they were 4-days old because my quail breeder hatches every Tuesday during the season.

My experience is that there is more mortality during the first week than any other. My breeder suggested using 10-day old birds and then keeping them for 6 weeks instead of 5 weeks. I have had much better results with this approach but I’m only able to run 2 cycles each Summer. When I ran 5-week cycles, I could get 3 cycles completed each Summer. I’m happy with 2 cycles per Summer and stronger, more healthy birds.

Bobwhite quail chicks come to me in this box. It is divided into 4 section internally to reduce crowding. I meet my breeder in person (it is possible to have bobwhite quail chicks mailed to you) and he brings me this box filled with 125 bobwhite quail chicks. I also purchase a 50# sack of the same chick starter feed that he uses to minimize any problems based on a rapid change of diet.

This is the brooding end of the surrogator showing the nipple waterer, heating unit, and feed bin. The heating unit is missing the ceramic disk in this photo. Notice the insulated sides in this brooding half as compared to the wire mesh sides of the other half – the loafing end. Load the quail chicks into the brooding half and close the middle divider. They need heat rather than breezes during their first week or two.

Bobwhite quail chicks come “packed” in wood shavings.

1-day old bobwhite quail chick – so tiny!

I mount the screen covers first and then load the quail chicks gently by hand from each section of the box. Don’t be fooled – those little rascals can easily jump or fly right out – even now!

I always like to have lots of help. Kids and quail go great together!

Very young quail chicks require external warmth to survive. They will clump and smother each other without the heating unit at the proper temperature.

In the beginning, I placed feed on paper plates and added some green nutritional stuff but neither is really needed and I don’t do that anymore. Cute chicks, though!

The surrogator all loaded and ready to go. Notice this one doesn’t have ant poison either. I seldom need to do that anymore.


Bobwhite Quail Surrogator

I started using a Surrogator to raise wild Bobwhite Quail in 2010. I chose the Surrogator XL because it is relatively easy to disassemble and move.

The purpose of a Surrogator is to provide a safe and secure environment out in the wild for quail chicks during their first 5-6 weeks of life.

It is only necessary to tend the Surrogator once per week. In fact, it is recommended that you do not bother the Surrogator or quail otherwise, as this increases their tolerance of humans and degrades their ability to survive on their own in the wild.

This Surrogator has been loaded with Bobwhite Quail and assembled in the shade of several trees and is protected by ant bait.

The Surrogator consists of 2 halves – a loafing half (left-side with wire mesh sides for breezes) and a brooding half (right-side enclosed and protected with insulated walls).

The top of each half is easily removable for loading and cleaning. This loafing half shows the wire mesh sides and the wire mesh divider panel in the middle.

The brooding half also contains the feed bin. The bin is sufficient to hold 50# of chick feed.

The two halves are secured together with tension clamps.

The tension clamps need to be secured with zip ties.

The gravity feed bin holds 50# of chick feed. This is usually sufficient for 125 quail chicks if they are started at 1 week old and held for 5 weeks.

The surrogator includes a watering system with a 15-gallon barrel, hose and nipple waterer suspended inside. The Surrogator also includes a heating unit and regulator for a propane bottle.

The water barrel holds 15 gallons and has a measurement tube to see the water level.

In practice, this level tube should be secured because it is a weak point in the system and a loss of water can be catastrophic.

The water barrel mounts on the top of the Surrogator and is secured with straps.

The nipple waterer is suspended from the surrogator inside in the middle near the divider. It is connected to the water barrel with a small green hose.

The heating unit is the magic/secret sauce. The heating unit includes a regulator but you must provide the propane bottle. Quail chicks require external heat for the first 2-3 weeks of life. Otherwise, they will pile up on each other seeking heat and will smother most of the chicks on the bottom of the pile.

A full propane bottle is more than sufficient to provide heat for 3-4 weeks. This is more than sufficient in central Texas.

General instructions are included on the inside of the lid.  Very helpful!

Always get a helper.  It’s much more fun!

I had a trial run with my surrogator prior to loading with chicks.

One of the big benefits of the Surrogator XL is that it disassembles and transports in the back of a pickup.

Next – Sourcing & Loading Bobwhite Quail chicks