Bobwhite Quail

Well…it’s happened, and of course I’m out of town.

Our quail finally laid an egg!!

Our bitty little egg!

We have kept quail for about 10 months now. We obtained them last summer to use for dog training. While they have been vastly helpful for working our dogs, there has been something eating at me that told me to allow the (only) two females live. So we did, and now we have an egg to show for it.

Brantley

Quail are a very versatile homestead animal, and can be beneficial to small homesteads. They require very little space (although the closer you can come to mimicking their natural habitat, the better), can provide both meat and eggs, and the domesticated, more commercial breeds grow at a quick rate to provide a faster yield. We have yet to eat our quail (we have some in the freezer now), however they are fairly large birds that look quite tasty to me.

Timber

There is something so soothing about listening to the quail (we have GA Giant Bobwhites) “talk” to each other, watching them scratch around, seeing them interact with each other. I often imagine our future farm with coveys of quail roaming wild around the property, singing their songs to us free from a cage. This joy has prompted my idea for a “bobwhite project,” which we hope to start next spring following the construction of a fabulous pen. Details are listed below.

The GA Giant Bobwhite; cock in front (white face), hen in back (tan face)

The Bobwhite Project

Our plan is to (hopefully) raise and release bobwhite quail into the wild, initially on family property, and then hopefully into other suitable areas. When (if) we make it to this point, we will absolutely be applying for the proper permits and certifications to allow for the release of the quail in Georgia. We will be starting fresh with new quail, the quail we have now will be used for meat and further dog training only.

Preparation for this project starts now, with predator control. We will ideally attempt to control the amount and type of predators on our property in an effort to give our quail the best chance possible at reintroduction. Additionally, we will be constructing a very large flight pen, however we will have it span both a wooded as well as a pasture-like area. This mimics natural habitat. We will plant the pasture with food sources such as sunflower, millet, and sorghum. This will provide the quail with cover as well as nourishment. Our goal is to make this flight pen as natural as possible.

Step one is to acquire fertilized quail eggs from a reputable hatchery. I am in the process of acquiring two or three silkie hens (chickens), who are a smaller, very broody breed of chicken. The idea will be to (ideally) have one of the silkies incubate and hatch the quail chicks from the fertilized eggs. Plan B will be to incubate and hatch them in an incubator.

The idea behind the hatching and rearing by the silkies is to promote more natural rearing. The quail chicks will learn how to forage and mother from the silkie. The problem with releasing quail today is that most have lost their mothering ability, and thus are unable to reproduce and repopulate in the wild. This coupled with predation from foxes, feral (and domestic) cats, coyotes, etc. make for a difficult time reintroducing quail to the wild.

The silkie hen will be separated from the chicks, and the chicks will go into the flight pen when they are fully feathered out. At this point, they should be fully capable of caring for themselves. Before release into the pen, they will be banded in order to tell them apart.

Once in the pen, the quail will be closely monitored in order to determine which quail are embracing their more natural habitat, and which quail are not thriving. The hope is that the quail will mate and the hens will begin to lay and (ideally) sit on their eggs. Should the hens not sit on their eggs, the eggs will be harvested and either incubated or given to a silkie hen to hatch, and so the process begins again.

The hope is that using the eggs from the quail who have been raised by the chicken and live in the natural flight pen will impart more natural instincts into the chicks. We will carry out this experimental process for a minimum of 2-3 years to see if we are making any headway. If we are able to produce quail who are incubating their own eggs, those quail will be banded and released into the wild, after raising at least one successful batch of chicks in their flight pen.

Who knows if this idea will work, but we are crazy enough to try. Once we start flight pen construction, I will post updates on here to keep everyone in the loop about how it’s going! 🙂

 

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