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
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
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
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!
Bobwhite Quail Helper
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.
I’ve noticed a lot of inquiries about wild quail feeders and feeding wild quail chicks and adults. I have some experience with feed, feeding and feeders at all stages of life for wild bobwhite quail and I’ll outline what I’ve learned below. I also need to close the chapter on last year’s final quail release cycle with a video of the wild bobwhite quail release.
Releasing Wild Quail Cycle #4
We were fortunate to get a last cycle of wild quail fully raised and released before the weather turned cold, and more importantly, before bird season started and took over my time on the weekend. We only lost 14 birds while raising quail in this cycle, proving again, that week old bobwhite quail chicks have lower mortality than day old wild quail chicks. One of the additional advantages to week old quail chicks is that you can shorten the cycle from five weeks to four weeks or leave the cycle at five weeks for a little extra growth. I’m not in a hurry and I believe, as you can see from the video, that the birds fly better with an extra week of growth and are thus able to evade predators a little better as they are released from the surrogator into the wild.
Wild Quail Feeders – Lessons Learned
My bobwhite quail breeder recommended Purina Game Bird Chow as the starter feed for wild quail chicks. Research shows that quail chicks need almost 95% protein in their diet during their first 6 weeks. In the wild, they get this protein from eating bugs.
I buy my quail feed at Tractor Supply and I also buy Scratch to feed the adult bobwhite quail. Expect to spend a little more for the Purina Brand quail chick starter feed but I think it’s worth it.
Quail Chick Starter Feed
I ordered the bobwhite quail chick supplement sold by Wildlife Management Technologies when I purchased my surrogator last year. I’ve been told by reputable breeders that it isn’t necessary. That said, it is supposed to contain some nutrients and probiotics to help the quail chicks in their first few days. Since I start with week old birds I don’t use this anymore.
WMT also recommends placing a couple paper plates of feed on the floor of the surrogator to make it easier for the wild quail chicks to get to the feed and start eating. Day old bobwhite quail chicks are very small and having feed readily available with the added supplements does seem to help them.
This is a picture of week old wild bobwhite quail chicks just after they were introduced to the surrogator. They made a bee line for the feed and had cleaned the entire two plates in about an hour. It’s worthwhile to note that the recommended paper plates are the “Chinette” or similar brand that is thicker and rougher than a slick, thin paper plate. The thin ones are too slick for the little chicks to get any traction on.
Feeding Bobwhite Quail Chicks in the Surrogator
The surrogator has a feed tray that holds almost exactly fifty pounds of starter feed. Fifty pounds is sufficient if you start raising quail with day old chicks but expect to add feed in the last week or so if you start with older birds – they eat more.
The tray easily funnels feed and I’ve never had a problem with moisture gumming things up. However, I do find it very curious that the quail chicks tend to eat from one end of the feeder or the other – it is never an even distribution so it is very important to check and redistribute the feed every week when you tend the quail chicks.
The bobwhite quail feed runs the full width of the surrogator and the birds have no problem self feeding. I also find it very interesting that most of the dead birds are found in the brooder end of the surrogator and seldom in the loafing end.
This is the result of over 100 wild bobwhite quail chicks consuming and digesting 50 pounds of quail feed over five weeks. It’s a palette of quail poop several inches thick – those little birds are eating and pooping machines! This residue will be gone within six weeks. It is actually quite good for improving the bobwhite quail habitat as well.
Wild Quail Feeders – Dos and Don’ts
There are many many brands of wild quail feeders available. This one holds well over 100 pounds of feed and has a protected feeding area. However, I have heard stories that snakes and rats tend to like the protected feeding area as well. It’s important to note with wild quail feeders – you are providing a fixed location where the quail will concentrate and predators that eat bobwhite quail will discover this rather quickly.
This wild quail feeder is protected with “hog panels” and “t posts” to prevent the cattle and wild hogs from causing too much damage. It is also covered with sticks and twigs to attempt to protect the quail from predation by raptors.
We also have wild turkeys and have built a special elevated platform for the turkey feeder. It is a gravity feed self feeder and it works well for the turkeys. The higher legs on this model make it unsuitable for feeding wild quail. The raccoons love this feeder as it is the easiest for them to self feed and they can clean it out in a matter of a week. Coon control/patrol is a necessary part of quail habitat management.
I purchased the WMT wild quail feeder/waterer combination when I purchased my surrogator. It is a heavy duty, gravity fed feed with with an over simplified watering system. The watering system, not shown, is simply a plastic five gallon bucket with a thin plastic hose that connects to the same watering mipple system that the quail chicks use in the surrogator. I do understand the idea but it is definitely not coon proof.
I fill the quail feeders with ordinary scratch feed available at almost any feed store. The WMT wild quail feeder is water tight and I’ve never had a problem with moisture.
What Really Happens at Night at the Wild Quail Feeders
Quail feeders attract a lot of non-quail. Wildlife, in general, are quite smart and figure out a way to raid the feeder. In this case, a deer has learned to kneel down and lick the feed out. It’s amazing that they will go to this level of effort because the holes in the feeder that let out the feed are only about 3/4 of an inch in diameter and they are will protected back inside the legs. It seems like a lot of effort for a little benefit – especially when there are several dedicated deer feeders within 50 yards.
Those damn coons! Raccoons LOVE quail feeders and tend to throw very regular parties. I’ve seen as many as eight at this feeder and as many as 15 at the turkey feeder. Their little paws are perfectly proportioned for reaching into the tiny holes and scraping out the feed for the party.
Coons are also very prolific – and this pair decided to make a date night at the feeder one night. I have a game camera dedicated for this feeder and got a whole 30 picture sequence of coon love. This was the most candid shot.
“Where are the quail?”, you ask? “I don’t know”, I answer. I ran the quail feeder near the surrogator and then in areas where I saw released birds for many months. I had a dedicated game camera at the feeder at all times. Nary a quail was seen at the feeder. Based on my limited experience, I would have to say that they dont’ work. It may be that we have sufficient wild seeds in the wild quail habitat for them and they don’t need any supplemental feed. I even purchased a quail callback device and that never attracted any quail either. I finally just got tired of collecting pictures of deer and coons and let the feeder run empty.
I have not given up though. I have several new options that I’m considering for this year’s cycles and will document them over the next few months. I’m loading my first batch of quail chicks on Saturday May 21, 2011 and will have more stories to tell as the Summer and Fall progress.
Texas Dove Hunting Season Opens for the North and Central Zones on 9/1/10.
OK, that’s not really from Texas, it’s from Argentina, but if the flocks of Dove we’ve been seeing in the Central Texas Area are any indication of state-wide Dove flocks, it could very easily look like that on opening day!
Texas dove hunting season should be very promising this year.