Raising Mountain Quail
text and photos by Tom Kehler, Pennsylvania
Mountain Quail can be a challenging but rewarding quail species to raise. Before raising Mountain Quail, I bred California Valley, Gambel’s, and Blue Scaled for several years. Working with them provided valuable lessons and insight that has been helpful with the propagation of Mountain Quail.
Although many people like to breed Mountain Quail in colonies, I keep my quail beeders in pairs. This way I can have many different bloodlines in a minimum amount of space. The greatest advantage of breeding in pairs instead of colony breeding is that egg fertility and egg production can be closely monitored and evaluated.
Each quail pen is 10' in length x 3' wide x 2' high with a 16'' nest box mounted outside each end and off the ground 3'. Nest boxes are very important because the birds favor making nests in which to lay their eggs. Providing nest boxes results in fewer eggs being laid on the pen’s wire floor. I like to keep plenty of straw in each box. A divider partitions each cage in half, with a pair of quail being housed on each side. I use screw-base, plastic quart-size automatic waterers by Little Giant and “reel” type feeders. During breeding season, a water-soluble vitamin and mineral supplement is placed in their water, and I feed a 28% crude protein crumble. A 13% crude protein diet is given during the summer and winter. I like the Agway brand of game bird crumbles because the crumble size is larger than other feed brands. The birds seem to waste very little feed this way.
Here in Pennsylvania, my Mountain Quail become very vocal in late February or early March, and the first egg is usually laid at the end of March. Egg collection occurs twice a day, and the Mountain Quail eggs are stored in the coolest room of the house. Each egg is marked with the date of collection and cage number, representing different bloodlines. Mountain quail eggs are collected for about seven to ten days before placing them into an incubator. I use the electronic thermostat Hova-bators by GQF for incubation and as a hatcher. I have found them to be most reliable and reasonably priced.
The only modification I make to the incubators is to secure a piece of fiberglass window screen underneath the screens provided by GQF. In the past, some mountain quail chicks have had their leg joints slip through the mesh, which caused some injuries. The window screen solves this problem. Because I want to keep the birds’ bloodlines separate while hatching, eggs from the same birds are kept in wire cages in the incubator.
I use the automatic egg turner available from GQF, but I do modify it. Although an egg turner can hold six quail egg trays (a total 120 eggs per turner), I only use five. My Mountain Quail lay eggs of varying sizes and shapes, and many times they have not fit well in the egg cup on each egg tray. I have had eggs cracked because they bumped eggs from adjacent egg trays. By using five egg trays instead of six, the trays are farther apart, allowing more room between egg trays.
Within hours after hatching, a numbered and colored canary band is placed on the right leg of each mountain quail chick. This band stays on for about three weeks, after which it is replaced with a 5/16'' plastic spiral band. Chicks stay in the incubator for about 12 hours before going into a brooder.
Because I hatch out about 12-15 mountain quail chicks each week, I use small, homemade brooders measuring 24'' long and wide by 12'' high. Each brooder is made from 12'' pine boards with a 2'' high wire floor. For a heat source in the brooders, I use a 75 or 100-watt heat emitter (reptile heat bulb), which emits no visible light. These bulbs use less wattage than the standard 250 watt brooder bulbs and still can maintain a temperature of 95º F without any problem. Foam shelving liner is placed on the floor of the brooder, which helps the chicks to strengthen their legs. Small pieces of hay are placed on the brooder floor to give the chicks something to peck at.
As many people know, Mountain Quail are renowned for their toe-picking behavior. To deter this unwanted behavior, ambient lighting is kept to a minimum, and I clip the top beak of all chicks every three to five days.
Mountain quail chicks are fed a crushed and powdered mixture of medicated turkey starter-crumbles (28% crude protein), and the game bird crumbles I feed the adults for 2 weeks. They are then taken off the medicated feed.
I use drown-proof quail waterers from Little Giant which are filled with a water-soluble vitamin and mineral supplement. To avoid chick loss due to disease, brooders must be cleaned every other day and waterers and feeders are changed each day. Brooders are disinfected with a bleach solution between hatches. The chicks usually stay in the small brooders for about two weeks before I place them in larger brooder units. I continue to trim the chicks’ top beaks until they are four weeks old. I do not like to combine chicks of different ages until they are about four to five weeks of age. At that time they are usually ready to go outside in a covered pen.
I have found that my Mountain Quail do not lay the same number of eggs each year. Pairs usually have alternating productive years. A hen may lay 30 eggs one year and two to six eggs the following year.
I only sell juvenile birds (fall of the year, which is when I am able to sex them), and I ship them out by express mail offered by my local post office. Although the post office cannot guarantee overnight delivery, 2-day delivery usually is the norm, and I have not lost any birds yet. Birds are shipped in bio-filtered boxes with pine-wood matting. I like to add sliced apples for the birds and always contact the buyer and provide the tracking number when the birds are shipped.
Even though successfully raising Mountains does require a greater understanding of husbandry techniques than that of the other quail species I mentioned previously, I have found interest in and demand for this species to be on the rise. I have great success advertising my quail in the Game Bird Gazette. I always look forward to reading the articles, news, and classified advertisements in each issue of the magazine and thoroughly enjoy communicating with other quail enthusiasts.
Editors’ note: Gazette members can contact Tom by e-mail at email@example.com
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