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Triggers for Broody Quail?

 
Abe Connally
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Location: Chihuahua Desert
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We've had quail for a while, and we incorporated them into our Rabbit/Quail/Earthworm Food Web: http://velacreations.com/blog/365-quail-and-worms.html

The quail work ok in that role, but not great. They don't scratch enough to really keep the top of the rabbit manure stirred up, we have to go through with a rake every few days. They do eat the fly maggots, though, and they produce eggs well. In the winter, not so much, below the cages is a bit dark. In that space, they have lots of space and plenty of room to move around (about 5 square meters for a dozen quail).

In our area, there are feral quail and wild quail. The distinction I make is that the wild quail are native to this area (mostly scaled quail). The feral quail are courtunix. Now, Courtunix are known for not breeding readily on their own. But, the feral courtunix here obviously do. Assuming their ancestors were the same domesticated courtunix we all raise, how could they have survived and bred in the wild?

My hypothesis is that the quail require environmental "triggers" to make them broody, and raised in wire cages, the quail do experience those triggers. So, most of us never see any of our quail go broody.

I provided a space with lots of straw in our quail/rabbit/earthworm setup, figuring that being on soil/compost with lots of bugs to eat and more space, possibly the protected straw area there might be a trigger in there somewhere. No luck. Not one quail went broody. They laid plenty of eggs in that space, though.

We've got the chickens tilling the hillside for us right now, so we like to take the rabbit manure out there to them to get incorporated into soil. So, we decided to try something different with the quail, as we don't need them in that space right now. We have a garden (~150 square meters) that's full of wicking beds, enclosed by 1m tall chicken wire. There's lots of cover from the squash, tomatoes, etc. There's plenty of bugs around to keep the quail occupied.

We clipped the wings of the quail, and made them a home base, with feed and watering station. It's basically a small, protected cage that gives them some protection. We locked them in this cage and set it in the garden for a few days. Then, we opened the door and let the quail free range within the garden space. The quail do good in the space, and have established small areas below the canopies of the plants. They've been keeping the grasshoppers in check, so we're letting them stay there until we see something that needs to change.

But yesterday, we discovered something interesting. A quail setting on 9 eggs, in a very well protected nest on the edge of the garden in the tall johnson grass. She is absolutely invisible, even if you know she's there. Somehow, some way, this space/area "triggered" this quail to make the nest and set those eggs. This is quail that was raised in wire cages her whole life and never before even hinted at being broody, even though she had many chances. She's a couple of years old, and has laid hundreds of eggs. What was the trigger? The open space? Open to the elements (outdoors)? The tall Johnson grass and "hands off" approach? I have no idea.

All I know is that some "triggered" her broody instinct, and she knew exactly how to make the nest in a very good location that's well covered and well protected. What will happen? Will she hatch a clutch? I have no idea, but we watch with great enthusiasm. I have since noticed several other nests around, depressions around plants and in the grass. A few have eggs, and we're letting them be, just to see what happens. If more quail go broody, we know we've stumbled on to something here.
 
S Bengi
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Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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That sounds super exciting let me know how it goes.
 
Abe Connally
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Location: Chihuahua Desert
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S Bengi wrote:That sounds super exciting let me know how it goes.


Will do! I am excited about it, just to see what happens.
 
Abe Connally
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Ok, a little update. A second quail built a nest and currently has 5 eggs in it. She's started setting as well. The first quail is a real trooper, she's been out through a few thunderstorms and hasn't budged. Sometimes, I have to get real close to make sure she's alive, because she doesn't move. It's like watching a statue impersonator.
 
kadence blevins
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Following. I also have some coturnix and am super interested in how yours go!

Mine are in a rabbit hutch and one side i added a board, covered with layers of soil, hay, half composted rabbit manure, grass clippings. So far they seem to spend most time on that side now and they enjoy playing/scratching around.

I am wondering if i you could do a sort of coop and run (for those of us who would definitely have no quail day one without enclosed fully) and have your breeding group in there for chick production. Super neat.
 
Abe Connally
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Location: Chihuahua Desert
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we did have them in a run, with a compost floor. It was 24 ft by 2 ft. And they seemed to enjoy it, but they never set.

I think there's something about the semi-free range, outdoors, and tall grass that may contribute to this. Now, we need to start playing with it and see what things contribute towards the trigger to isolate the environmental conditions necessary.
 
Abe Connally
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Ok, a small update. The two hens continue to sit on their nests, even through pouring rain. Egg production has dropped to zero, and we only see the other hens maybe once or twice a day, which leads me to believe that they may have nests, as well. The eggs of the first nest are due to hatch early this week, Tuesday/Wednesday. I have no reason to suspect she'll abandon the nest at this point, so I'm eager to see what happens.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Abe - do you have any pictures of the quail in their nests?

I wonder what the trigger is too. I've seen native Gamble quail on my parent's property that have laid in the following places:
--under a pile of lumber in the gravel driveway. The lumber was not directly on the ground but laid across some 2 by 4s. The mom could just barely squeeze under there and dug a little depression to make it easier. The chicks had no problem with it.
--in one of those wooden barrel planters which had a large rosemary plant growing in it.
--in a hanging asparagus fern in my mother's herb garden.

Also - kudos on the RAIN!
 
Abe Connally
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We have had a little bit of rain, nowhere near enough, but better than nothing!

Here's a photo of the first quail on her nest. She's right in the center.



More photos of the quail here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/velacreations/sets/72157635204510436
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Wow - I really had to look at that picture to see her - took a minute.

Those birds look pretty happy running wild in the garden area in your photo album.
 
Abe Connally
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They seem happy. They have plenty of space, and plenty of bugs and weeds to eat. If they start hatching out chicks, I will get some more quail in there and see if the trigger works with others, too.
 
Abe Connally
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Major development today, found these 2 little guys right outside momma's nest. She has about 10 other eggs in there. The next day or so will be exciting!

 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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They're pretty darn cute! Any more today?
 
Abe Connally
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No more, yet. The mama is still sitting.
 
Chad Sentman
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I'd love an update.
 
Abe Connally
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They hatched several clutches last summer in the garden, the experiment was a total success. I am getting more this year to put in the forest garden, probably about 2-3 separate groups and see what they do. This should really test the technique, as these will be completely unrelated quail raised in cages.
 
Guerric Kendall
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Food webs are certainly one of the more fascinating, although intensive, parts of homesteading. Got any pictures of the "home base" with the feed/water setup you use? All I see are the cages. I think they're triggered by an area they can hide in but watch out for predators from. And that's a bit hard to set up unless you have a large area with many such bushes and hiding places. You may not be able to see them from outside, but I'll bet they can watch easily from the inside. The hands-off approach probably helped a lot too. They're very flighty birds and daily human intervention might just be what was bothering them.
 
Abe Connally
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The home base is basically a cage with the door open. They really just use it for watering. It might be the cover as part of the trigger, though I did test that in another setup, that was basically a quail tractor with lots of thick grass and plants for them to hide in. They did not set in that arrangement. I think free range has something to do with it, a bigger territory. But I also think it's a combination of factors, because I tested a lot of these factors individually and never got anything.
 
William Bronson
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Abe, they don't tear up the plants and eat the the tomatos etc?
How well do they deal with scrapes,are they as omni ravenous as chickens are?
Around here there is go for a very high premium, so they can live off of scraps and feed off of pests without damaging our food plants, they might be better than chickens for our situation.
 
Abe Connally
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William Bronson wrote: Abe, they don't tear up the plants and eat the the tomatos etc?

no, not really. small leafy greens they will eat a bit, but once a plant is over 6", they don't seem to bother them.

William Bronson wrote:How well do they deal with scrapes,are they as omni ravenous as chickens are?

no, not nearly as much as chickens. They will eat some veggy scraps if they are in small pieces

William Bronson wrote:Around here there is go for a very high premium, so they can live off of scraps and feed off of pests without damaging our food plants, they might be better than chickens for our situation.

they will eat pests and don't require much to maintain. They do lay as well or better than chickens, if you can find the eggs.
 
Meryt Helmer
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will you post on your blog or web site at some point about your quail experiment and it's success?

also what is the climate where you are? how warm does it need to be outside for courtunix quail?

do you think they live longer being allowed to live this way? I have read they only live a few years?
 
Chad Sentman
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Some people say that you have to keep quail in cages to protect them from the outside (predators), and that the cages have to be small to protect them from the inside (injuring themselves on the roof, etc) and also, to keep them from flying away. However, some people seem to be successfully free-ranging their quail. My wife and I are interested in getting some, but share some concerns about keeping them in tiny cages, like battery chickens. I'd love some permie guidance on this point, especially as you, Abe, seem to be one of the successfully-free-ranging people.
 
Abe Connally
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sorry I haven't kept up this thread, but here's a late update.

The quail experiment was a success, we raised several clutches that year. We were away from the place for a month last fall, and something got the quail, probably a dog or coyote, which also got a lot of chickens.

Since then, we've fenced a big area of the forest garden with orchard netting, and I want to get some more quail. I really think we stumbled on something big with the free-ranging idea.

Here's how I will do it again. Get a cage for each group of quail (best groups were 1 male, 3 females). This is their home base. It should be covered on at least 3 sides and the roof. Put a hanging feeder in there and a water station (chicken nipples on a bottle work well).

Clip their wings. Put the quail in the cage in a protected spot of the free range area, and leave them caged up for a week. Then, on a day when you will be there, open the cage, and just stand back and let them come out on their own, and give them space.

At the end of the day, they will probably be hanging around the cage, kinda herd them back in and close it for the night. Close them up at night and let them out like this for another week.

Then, just let them do their own thing. They will find their own shelters and nest areas, and just watch where you step. Keep their feed full, but they won't eat hardly anything, if they have plenty of space.

I figure each group needs at least 100 square feet, though the minimum might even be 400 square feet.

Anyway, hope to get some more quail soon and will update on how they do in this "free range" quail setup.
 
Abe Connally
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Location: Chihuahua Desert
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one thing is the babies come out pretty wild. If you want to tame them, catch them when they are small, handle them some, and keep those wings clipped! Give them mealworms, and they will be your best friends.
 
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