How to successfully raise Bobwhite Quail
Ok, so you have just ordered that new incubator and it comes with 30 Bobwhite Quail eggs!! "Well, what the heck", you say and you decide to hatch some quail. You read the directions on your new incubator, you get your incubator all set with proper temps and humidity and set your eggs. 23 days later, you come home from work to find an incubator FULL of tiny Bobwhites! But, what do you DO with them?
Bobwhites are very tiny at hatch and can be the size of a large bumblebee! So extra care and concentrating on detail will get them through those first few weeks of life.
Have your brooder all ready and warmed up before hatch. Bobwhites can be an aggressive breed of quail, so it is recommended that you use a red or infra-red bulb for heating. Infra-red, not to be confused with the standard red bulb, is a very healing penetrating light. It allows for natural sleep patterns and will keep the chicks mentally quiet and warm. Where as white lighting can cause excitement and because it is not penetrating, it sits on the surface of their bodies, rather than soak in. They can thus be hot on the outside, chilled on the inside. You want to keep Bobwhites mentally quiet and composed at all times. Bobwhites are very susceptible to chilling and dying in the brooder. This is one of the leading causes of death of Bobwhite chicks. So watch your temp carefully. If they start to pile on each other beneath the light, they need more heat. If they start to hang out along the edges splayed out flat, wings open and they are panting, it is too warm.
Keep the heat off to one side of the brooder and lay a good brooding thermometer on the floor directly under the heat source. Start the temp out at 97 degrees. Bobwhites are very slow to mature and require higher heat than other quail or poultry at hatch.
The size of the brooder is very important to their mental health. Bobwhites are known to kill each other when they are hot and cramped in the brooder, attacking the other chicks above the beaks and cannibalizing each other till death. So you will want to start them out with 1/2 square foot per bird at hatch. This will need to increase to 1 square foot at 3 weeks.
You cannot use the standard water fonts on very young Bobwhite chicks, as they can fall in and drown. So if you are only hatching a few quail, you can use jelly jar lids and put some clean pea gravel in them and a tiny bit of water. If you are hatching a lot more quail chicks, you can use chick waterers. These are safe enough for baby quail to drink from. You will still want to put tiny stones inside the font for the first week or so.
Quail require Gamebird food for good health. Chicks need starter feed with protein levels of 26% to 28% protein. Turkey starter will work just fine. You will need to crush the feed for the first week or so as the crumbs are too large for them to eat. After 2 weeks, they will be able to eat the crumbles as is out of the bag.
You can bed them on grass hay, pine wood shavings or even wire. I am a huge fan of wire with quail as Bobwhites are highly susceptible to Coccidiosis and I found with wire, I was able to eliminate this devistating disease by raising them on 1/4 inch hardware cloth, switching to 1/2 inch around 3 weeks of age. If you do use wire, make sure to give them places to get off the wire to rest their tiny growing feet. A towel or even piece of cardboard will do.
Lay paper towels down and sprinkle feed all around the floor of the brooder by the feeder. Bobwhites are not very quick to learn where to find food or water. So keep sprinkling feed around for several days until you see all of them have figured out where the feed is kept. Same with the water. When removing babies from the incubator, dip everybody's beak in the water. I like to do it again throughout the day that first day so they remember where the water is. Dipping the beaks immediately after hatch will also help to prevent pasty butt as well. Keep the feed and water off on the other side of the brood opposite the heat source so that they have to leave the heat to get to the goods. This is very important that there are cool spots in the brooder as young chicks can't yet regulate their internal temps and need to be able to cool off along the edges.
Each week you will lower the heat by 5 degrees for 6 weeks. If at any time you start to see aggression in the brooder, (picking at beaks or toes), lower your heat by 3 or 4 degrees. This will chill them right out and usually stops the aggression. You will then work the heat down each week from this new temp.
Give them things to do in the brooder to keep them occupied...small mirrors, small parrot toys, cut branches from outside, etc...Quail chicks are very curious and love to play and this stimulation will help with brain development.
Don't be afraid to handle them either! Bobwhites are a bit nervous as adults and many of them can stress horribly. So handing them as babies will make it much easier on them as adults should you need to handle or examine them. It is best not to handle adult Bobwhites unless you have to as they can injure themselves very easily and some can go into shock from fear. So handle them as babies as much as possible.
At 6 weeks, they are ready to head outside. How you keep them is personal preference. Some people keep them in cages, or pens as they are called. You can keep them in rabbit hutches or even large flight pens or aviaries. I use aviaries and rabbit hutches for enclosures, so I will gear this toward aviary set ups. I like to offer my birds lots of freedom and as natural of an environment as I can. If you do keep them in aviaries, build your ceiling 6 feet or more so they do not flush up into the ceiling breaking their necks. Bobs do love to fly and won't intentionally fly into the ceiling unless frightened.
Bobwhites will not be able to be sexed until around 12 weeks of age. The males have the masked black and white striped face and the females have a buff brown striped face.
They are not sexually mature for 6 months, however generally will hold off from mating and laying until the following spring. You can now get them on a grower type feed, something with 24% to 26% protein. Some people will feed starter all of their lives, but this can lead to large eggs and too frequent eggs that cannot pass and the hens are then prone to egg binding and prolapse. Bobwhites mate for life. The female picks the male, not the other way around. And because they mate for life, they need to be kept in pairs only, separated from other pairs all throughout the breeding season. They are seasonal layers and breeding season starts in mid spring and runs through mid fall. Bobwhites can and will kill lone females, so never keep them in trios or allow pairs to live in close quarters with each other during this time. Ever. They are highly territorial and aggressively defend their territory. After breeding season is over, Bobwhites will come together for the winter covey and at this time you CAN mix them together to spend the cold winter months together. Friends reunite, grudges are let go and they all enjoy the company of their large group.
However these first few months, before they are a year old, you don't have to worry about this sort of thing. They will all get along just fine, growing up together. I like to use brush piles in my aviaries. Fake christmas trees are very easy to deal with. Quail are ground dwellers and spend much of their days lurking beneath the brush. Remember, you want to reproduce the environment of their wild cousins. Bobwhites are large and can be hyper. So give them as much space as you can possibly afford. At least, if not more than 4 square foot per bird.
Give them a place to dust bathe too. Quail need to dust bathe frequently to keep their tiny livestock under control!
If you live in a colder climate, you will need sort of enclosure for them to escape the winter winds and snows. I have a greenhouse that backs up the aviary and a hole cut into it with a rabbit hutch inside so they can freely come and go inside to keep warm at night or seek out a sun beam on a cold winters day. Quail are not fond of ramps, so I used cinder blocks as they will hop up to get places.
You might start gearing up for next years breeding season with some egg laying areas. The quail seem to love these over turned buckets with mouse holes cut into them. They are not like chickens that will readily use nest boxes. If nothing is available, they will just lay their eggs where ever the hen happens to be.
You may need to cage the pairs in cages to keep the pairs safe. I use over turned extra large dog crates as seen in the above picture.
The following spring when your Bobs are now mature, the hens will pick their mates. Get to know each pair so you can re-pair them together if they get separated or need to be paired and caged. They will appreciate that you get them pair properly.
Provide the hens with ground oyster shell at all times. Cuttle bones you can get in the pet bird section will work as well.
If you allow them some nice grass hay, they can build some elaborate nests. This one was large and deep on the inside.
It is rare that quail go broody. Much of this has been lost over time after bringing them into captivity. And while both the male and the female may set on the eggs for short periods of time, it is quite rare for them to set full term and actually hatch a clutch of eggs. But you can collect the eggs and incubate them yourself. The eggs are also great to eat as well! Bobwhites themselves are good eating, however because they are so slow to mature, they are not regularly raised as a meat bird. A healthy Bob hen will lay approximately 100 eggs a season.
If you do need to catch one of your Bobwhites and many of them will run and fly to escape your grasp, you can use a fishing net on them to capture them. Be very careful when handling them that they do not hurt themselves as they are very delicate.
Quail love all kinds of greens, cut up fruit and veggies, peas in the pod, corn on the cob, caggage, seeds, grains, mealworms, dried crickets, all kinds of things. Food is a wonderful bonding agent and when they see you coming with a bag of goodies, they will learn to come running! They are smart enough to learn their names, will eat from your hand and you can even clicker train them to get into their enclosure with minimal work on your part.
So enjoy your wonderful quail!! They can be such a pleasure to watch milling around looking for seeds in the litter, dust bathe, listen to the males "giggle" when they find some food for their mates, and if you have any single bachelors, you will get to hear that infamous, Bob-bob-WHITE call!! What a wonderful call they have!
The average lifespan of captive Bobwhites is 2 to 5 years, although some can exceed these years. I have a couple of Bobs that are 7 years of age!
Enjoy your Bobs!
For more help with your quail, please see our quail forums here on BYC...https://www.backyardchickens.com/f/48/quail