A New Cycle of Raising Wild Bobwhite Quail

I always look forward to a new season and cycle of raising wild bobwhite quail.  This is my third year and I’m finally starting to see and hear the fruits of my labors.  We had a terrible drought last year and I doubted that any of the approximately 700 birds I’d released had survived.  I was starting to wonder if I knew how to raise quail!  Although I didn’t make it out for call counts in May, every time I’ve been over to the ranch, I’ve heard wild quail calling from the tress – almost throughout the entire day.  What a treat to know that my efforts to raise bobwhite quail are paying off!

 

10 Day Old Bobwhite Quail Chicks

10 Day Old Brown and White Bobwhite Quail in Yellow Straw
10 Day Old Bobwhite Quail

I prefer 10 day old bobwhite quail chicks rather than 1 day old chicks.  I like their hardiness and the fact that I don’t have to suffer that first week’s mortality.  The slightly older birds seem to perform better in the surrogator and fly better when released.  Some other people I talk with also use this approach to shorten their cycle from 5 weeks to 4 weeks and get another batch in over the Summer.  I’m not in that much of a hurry and prefer the quality over the quantity because I think they make better wild quail.

 

 

 

 

 

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Heat Control and How to Raise Quail

White and Grey Heater with Red Thermostat for How To Raise Quail
Heater for How To Raise Quail

Even though the bobwhite quail chicks are 10 days old, they still require supplemental heat – just not as much.  This, I’ve come to understand, is one of the biggest and most valuable secrets of the Surrogator.  Heat control is a critical element in how to raise quail. The heating unit has heat control as well as a thermostat to help regulate the internal temperatures.  The little ceramic dish on top of the flame is also brilliant – it pushes the heat downward and conserves gas.  When I start a cycle with 10 day old bobwhite quail chick, I start the thermostat at 3 instead of 5 which is the recommended second week temperature setting.  We use less gas this way but the wild quail chicks do eat more food over 5 weeks.

 

 

 

 

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Bobwhite Quail Chicks Clumping

Brown and Grey Baby Wild Quail Clumped in Silver Cage with Black Net Wire
Baby Wild Quail Clumped

Even 10 day old bobwhite quail chicks clump when you first load them in the surrogator.  They do this even through the heater is running.  This is what would happen if there were not a heater and the chicks on the bottom would suffocate.  It doesn’t take a lot to know how to raise quail but you do have to pay close attention to the basics.  It doesn’t take them long to realize their new situation and begin feeding.  They always seem to be hungry!

 

 

 

 

 

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Bobwhite Quail Helper

Young Girl Helper with Glasses in Orange Shirt Holding a Baby Bobwhite Quail
Helper with Baby Bobwhite Quail

One of the biggest benefits of raising wild bobwhite quail with a surrogator is having my daughters along to help me.  It’s not always exciting and frequently involves some hard work but the time we get to spend together learning and raising bobwhite quail is precious.  My daughters seem to like the loading and releasing weeks more than anything else and are developing a passion for wild quail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary of A New Cycle of Raising Wild Bobwhite Quail

I’m always excited about another cycle of raising wild bobwhite quail.  I’m hearing lots of birds this year that have come from previous releases or are the offspring from previous releases.  I prefer 10 day old chicks instead of 1 day old chicks for their better performance and hardiness.  I’ve learned a lot about how to raise quail and temperature control is critical even with 10 day old chicks.  Even the slightly older birds tend to clump and this can cause suffocation.  If you’re raising wild quail, take your kids with you – it is a tremendous opportunity to get to know them, teach them about our great outdoors heritage and pass on our passion for bobwhite quail.

 

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Wild Bobwhite Quail Surrogator

Raising wild quail in a quail surrogator is simple but it is not easy – it requires some hard work and consistency during each cycle.  Each cycle is typically five weeks long and starts with setting up the quail surrogator.  Once it’s set up, the quail chicks need to be checked and tended once weekly.  Finally, after five weeks, you can release them and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

 

 

 

 

Transporting the Quail Surrogator

Bobwhite Quail Surrogator Loaded Horizontally in Truck Bed
Surrogator Horizontal in Truck

One of the nicest aspects of the Surrogator XL is that it breaks down into simple components that can fit into the back of a pickup truck.  Here, I’ve loaded it by stacking the two halves horizontally.  This is the easiest approach but maybe not the most efficient.  The two quail surrogator halves aren’t the only pieces of equipment – you also have tops, water tank, feeder, flyout preventers, propane bottle and the heater.  Yup, it can easily fill the back of a pickup and some of the parts and pieces are delicate – not fragile – just delicate enough that you don’t want to stack something on top of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Better Transportation for the Quail Surrogator

Wild Quail Surrogator Loaded Vertically in Truck Bed
Surrogator Vertical in Truck

A better way to transport the Surrogator XL is to arrange the two halves vertically.  This is a little more challenging to load but as you can see, it leaves plenty of room for all of the rest of the stuff that the quail surrogator needs.  The quail surrogator units are very well built and sturdy.  They don’t weigh much but they are somewhat large and awkward.  Heck, my twelve year old daughter helps me load them into the bed of my truck!

 

 

 

Bobwhite Quail Training Feeder

Wild Quail Chicks Using Training Quail Feeder
Bobwhite Quail Chicks Feeding

It’s been horribly hot and dry in Texas this summer and I’ve taken to supplemental feeding the quail that I’ve released.  To help them, I’ve built a “training feeder” that I keep inside the quail surrogator so that they will learn to recognize it as a source of feed.  So far, it has worked well but I still have a few problems I’m ironing out.

 

 

 

 

Quail Surrogator Watering System

Week Old Wild Bobwhite Quail Chicks
Bobwhite Quail in Surrogator

The watering system inside the quail surrogator has worked incredibly well.  I load and charge it properly by filling the large, fifteen gallon tank and then bleeding the air from the system.  I also take about 10 gallons of water out to the surrogator every week just to keep the water tank topped off – better to have too much than to run out.  The nipple system is brilliant but I make it a point to check the water flow from each nipple each time I visit.  Just a tap to confirm that it drips a drop of water is sufficient in the quail surrogator.

 

 

Growing Wild Bobwhite Quail

Wild Bobwhite Quail Chicks in Surrogator
Three Week Old Bobwhite Quail Chicks

These bobwhite quail chicks are three weeks old.  I’m always amazed at how quickly they grow and mature.  Also worthwhile to remember, always use the flyout preventers.  Flyout preventers are simply wire mesh that stays on top of the quail surrogator after you life the lid.  These birds can – and do – fly and they will escape given half the chance.  Normally, if you’re calm when working around them, they will tend to congregate at the opposite end of the surrogator.  However, if you bring your hunting dog along and she’s working the opposite end of the quail surrogator, you are going to have your hands full.

 

Scouting a Location to Raise Bobwhite Quail

Wild Quail Surrogator Location Possibility Under a Tree
Scouting New Quail Surrogator Locations

Week three of each quail surrogator cycle is when I scout the location for the next surrogator cycle.  This gives me time to come up with some options and make a good choice.  Ideal locations are under trees with adequate habitat nearby so that the chicks will have cover when they are released.  It’s also important that it is easily accessible so that you can tend it each week.  Most of the new locations require a little work trimming ground brush and low hanging tree limbs.  By scouting in the third week, I have time in the fourth week to do that brush trimming.

 

Fat Quail Chicks

Wild Quail Chicks Four Weeks Old
Bobwhite Quail 4 Weeks Old

In week three, the quail chicks tend to grow upward.  During week four they tend to grow outward and fatten up.  Their feathers are still immature but again, they can and will fly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cleared Location for Quail Surrogator

New Location Under a Tree for Wild Quail Surrogator
New Bobwhite Quail Surrogator Location

This is a new location for the quail surrogator.  As you can see, compared to the picture from the previous week, I’ve done a little brush clearing to make it easy to install and then tend the quail surrogator.  Also evident is the shade from the trees that is absolutely critical for the health of the quail chicks.  The quail surrogator needs to be shaded –  they provide a sun netting device but I haven’t used it – and oriented so that they get adequate breezes without blowing out the pilot light on the heater unit.  Yeah, it does sound a bit complicated but it really isn’t.  The most critical aspect for long term viability of bobwhite quail releases seems to be smart selection of the surrogator locations.

Uninvited Guests

Snake Discovered Under Quail Surrogator
Uninvited Guest

There are lots of critters out there that love to snack on bobwhite quail – chicks and adults.  I found this snake resting under the quail surrogator one day when I went to tend the quail chicks – NASTY!  He was about 8 feet long and appeared to be a rat snake.  No harm, no foul – I let him go his merry way as he was wanting to do.  The surrogators are built very well and I’ve never had anything, coons, skunks, foxes, rats, hogs, snakes, possums or anything breach the security of the surrogator.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Releasing Wild Bobwhite Quail

Bobwhite Quail Newly Released from Surrogator
Freshly Released Bobwhite Quail

The release of the bobwhite quail chicks is always a fun time.  It’s the culmination of 5 weeks of hard work and usually the start of a new cycle.  In most cases, the chicks come thundering out of the quail surrogator and seek cover as quickly as they can.  Their flight feathers are still immature at this point but they are capable of flying upward of 50 to 75 feet.  It’s also wonderful to stand there and listen to them covey call each other trying to regroup.

 

 

 

Bobwhite Quail Surrogator Summary

 

The Bobwhite Quail Surrogator XL performs magnificently when setup and used properly.  Operation is very simple and it works reliably.  Tending the bobwhite quail is relatively easy but does require that you tend them weekly.  I load the quail surrogator with 125 quail chicks and release approximately 100 birds each cycle.  I’ve completed 7 cycles – 4 last year and 3 this year – and we are consistently seeing wild quail on the ranch that were released from the quail surrogator.

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Loading the Wild Quail Chicks

I ordered 125 1 day old wild quail chicks from a supplier in Mountain Home, TX. He graciously met me in Kerrville to deliver the birds.

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The wild quail chicks were delivered in a small cardboard box. Hard to believe that there are 125 of them in there.
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Well, maybe not. One day old wild quail chicks turn out to be rather small!
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You can actually hold about 6 in your hand at a time.
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Here are the wild quail chicks, loaded in the Surrogator.
The surrogator is divided into two sections – a brooding end that is completely enclosed where the heat, food and water are and the loafing end that has mesh wire sides. During the first week raising wild quail, the wild quail chicks are confined to the brooding end.
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This is the surrogator locked and loaded with the first batch of wild quail chicks.

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Update 9/2012

I’ve now raised two finished seasons of quail and am on my third season now.  Although the break over winter is nice, the challenge of figuring out the best way to care for the quail chicks is enjoyable and definitely worth the efforts.  Browse our different posts on raising wild quail here and read about our most recent season here.