Homesteading in Winter: Quail – Rearing Info, Plus Winterizing the Outdoor Coop in New England

It is officially Winter here, the Solstice is upon us.  It’s up from here – at least as far as hours of sunlight go.  It only promises to get colder and snowier as January and February arrive.  AND no, I don’t regret moving to the hills of New England for retirement – while I prefer moderation in all things (except perhaps good food), I can deal with extreme cold better than with extreme heat (and humidity).

homesteading, quail, coturnix, housing

Quail housing condos viewed from my back door. Practical over aesthetic here. Come mid-spring the tarp and sheet and plywood boards will come down. An 8-unit quail house, only the two center levels are occupied. In the far distance left – the main chicken coop house. Chicken crate in front for the moment. Unit faces south so when it is sunny out, I raise the sheet.

All the quail are currently outdoors.  Their units are close to the back of the house and under the deck.

homesteading, quail, coturnix, housing

Peek-a-Boo! Perfectly fine this morning of plus ONE degrees F. (Although I admit I waited until it was 9 degrees out there to bring my camera). The tarp doesn’t breath well, so I I used a sheet to be a wind and wet-break for the front.

On December 19th, I woke to 1 Degree Fahrenheit outside.  That’s the old archaic temperature system, not the centigrade or Celsius system most of the world uses.  (Ie, it started off at MINUS 17.2 Degrees Celsius here…)  I didn’t expect the temperature to drop that much, but all the quail survived and none look hypothermic.  In fact, they went to town on the feed!  Mostly ignoring the water I replaced their ice with.  

homesteading, quail, coturnix, female

My darkest quail from the original batch.

We had our first real bolus of heavy snow starting late December 16th until the 17th, about mid-day.  It blew a lot, but there was at least 18 inches on my deck table.  So, I guess at least 20 inches total accumulation, if it didn’t spend its time drifting around.

I have 14 surviving quail as of today, 6 from the first batch of 12 day-olds, and 8 from the last batch of 29 (eggs in this case), 14 of which hatched, however briefly.   .   

I lost a few from my first batch (April) out of pure stupidity – I got some hardy day old quail from a person two towns over, and lost one the middle of the first night because I went down to check water, and didn’t wear my glasses.  I put the water dish back down on top of the tiny little one that I didn’t see because – yep, I wasn’t wearing glasses.  Discovered the body the next morning.  A few other stupid things after that, one of which might have had worse repercussions than just quail loss had I not been in checking them in time… let’s just say I’m not fond of high intensity brooder heat lamps…  Then, there was the guy who got caught behind the bedding… I now know how to do bedding properly.  Seven of the twelve survived to adulthood.  One turned into a bully, but before I could figure out what to do with that one (freezer?), it turned up dead – the remaining six of the first batch are fine and kindly to one another.   They started laying by Week 9.  And they are prolific!  (Or were, until the light shut down.)  They are four tuxedo Coturnix quail, and two near-solid patterns, one black and one dark brown.  One is small and keeps fitting through the bars to the other condo unit on their level.  I would have culled this one, but it is an egg-laying hen.  (Males are typically smaller than females, but this one appears to be an exception – plus this lot is a blend of breeds, in which case you can’t sex by size!) 

quail winterized dec 19 older-

A few of the first batch of Coturnix, feeding.  I use mini-loaf pans between the two units.  Weight them down with a heavier flat rock at the bottom, as these are otherwise light enough for the quail to flip over – especially the one who fits through the bars.  These are Tuxedo. The bars as you can see are wider for feeding, and narrow enough on the outside that the quail will NOT get out, assuming your birds are old enough to put outdoors.   

I took three of their eggs and incubated them along with a batch of eggs I obtained from a hatchery.  This was October.  All three of my home-grown eggs hatched (but two were terribly weak and died shortly.)  The eggs I got from the hatchery had about a 30% hatch rate, with only two un-hatched fetuses when I opened the un-hatched up.  One of those had tried to get out but failed – but I will note a 7 hour power failure the day before hatching.  This may have contributed to some “failure to thrive”.  

homesteading, quail, coturnix, housing

The younger batch, a variety called “blond”. One tuxedo (from an egg laid by the older batch) is with them. The quail water canister gets changed out as it turns to ice. Yes, the  floor is dirty, but it is frozen-on.  It will be warmer later this week and will be cleaned.

(While I plan to get the whole-house generator system installed in 2021, I don’t know that exact date, so I will be getting a small solar source that will keep these guys going before anything like this happens again.) 

I lost a few of the surviving quail, and not from anything stupid this time around.  Failure to thrive.  

Nine became adults, including the one hatched from my own home-grown egg.  After I put them outdoors at age 6 weeks, I found one dead.  It wasn’t that cold out… but I panicked and brought the survivors back indoors for another week.

As of now, there are 6 of the first batch and 8 of the recent batch, out there and thriving.  One Degree Fahrenheit doesn’t seem to phase them – given wind blocking and not getting wet..

I will check out a different hatchery for my next purchases.  I’d also work with the local (April) quail raiser, again.  Those quail were hardy – but I had problems with regard to my “newbie” status, not with those quail themselves.  But in 2021, I’m looking at some specific breeds.

homesteading, quail, coturnix, blond

The lightest of the blonds from the recent batch.

 

THOUGHTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Figure out why you want quail.  (For me, I wanted eggs, meat, and something different to challenge myself with all the COVID-19 shutdowns.  I am also not adverse to breeding some up here on my homestead.)
  • What are your quail limits where you live?  I can only have Coturnix or button quail here without a permit.  Button are too small to be worth my while.   
  • Any expertise?  (No, the chicken expertise didn’t truly carry on, although it wasn’t harmful.)
  • Plan out incubation (if starting from eggs), brooder issues (heat, water, safety for both the babies and your home), and regular housing for adults.
  • Note that quail will fly at an early age.  You have around two weeks before you have to top your brooder to keep them in – and that time point will vary a bit depending on the depth of your brooder.  
  • I grind their feed lightly while they are young.  You don’t want to grind it into dust.  I am using a coffee grinder repurposed to grains.  (Whether for me or for them.)  
  • If you have too many quail surviving until adulthood, are you prepared to put some in the freezer?  Or re-home those?  (I was about to re-home one mean quail into that freezer but he died  a day before that happened.)
  • Plan your adult quail housing.  They don’t come home at night, like chickens do.  Besides, everything LIKES chicken.  Even more things LIKE and can capture tiny quail that might be intimidated by the presence of a full grown chicken rooster or even a hen.  The word I have seen is plan either a tall aviary (six feet high or more) or a unit that is no more than about 20 inches high).  Quail startle easily, and the little guys can give themselves fatal concussions by bouncing up at a ceiling, say three feet high.  
  • If you live where Winter Happens, do you have plans in place for them?  1) Water – they are right outside my back door and I have extra quail waterers, so I can replenish a couple times a day. 2) Weather protection – My setup has a tarp and some internal wood sides, and there is also a sheet in front.  This keeps wetness, wind and the similar from invading their “condo”.  I open up the sheet on sunnier winter days, so they can get their “vitamin D”.  Unlike my chickens, the quail are right outside my back door.  Tested as of December 19th to 1 degrees Fahrenheit.  Word is they do fine down to about minus 20 F.  If the weather plans to approach that, I will probably put in very temporary extra boards, if only to make sure they stay in their proper condo units.  
  • Do you want year-round eggs?  (Well, I would, but the setup currently precludes that if I want to keep my quail warm enough, dry enough, and breeze-free.  And outdoors.  I’ll get my eggs again in the spring.)  Quail need approximately 14 hours of daylight-style light a day.  Outdoors, mine aren’t getting that. Next year, I will have to figure out such a lighting system that will also keep them protected from the elements, which would also be electrically-safe.  
  • I plan to set up a watering system line in April to last until November/December, when I will simply go back to bringing them water twice a day to replace ice.  Lines will freeze, and as noted, the condos are just outside the basement door in back. 
  • Do you name your quail?  Hmm, have to say, I haven’t suddenly named any of them.  Even though I know most of them are keepers, and that some look distinctly different than their compatriots.   I name chickens, however.  (Not the meat birds.) 

homesteading, quail, coturnix, housing

The front of the unit, sealed for weather (as of now).  Not pretty, but functional.  And it is not like I am having a horde of guests over this winter.  (And anyone who does show up is likely to appreciate what I am doing.) 


homesteading, quail, coturnix, housing

The front of the unit, open for sunlight during the day. This faces south. Right now the board is being held up by a snowdrift, or I would be moving it off to the side.

PLANS FOR 2021

I will be ordering two varieties of quail from Myshirefarm.com.  This will be for me a new supplier.  The previous hatchery order came from a supplier that does more business in chickens and in various products for keeping poultry.  They only had one variety, that variety is small enough that they ALL go exploring into the condo next to them – and I want to have jumbo breeds that don’t do that.  Plus the hatchery I used had a very low fertility rate at least with the eggs I got – a percentage in the low 30’s doesn’t cut it.  Myshire guarantees 50% and people on the Coturnix quail group I belong to, talk about a hatch rate in excess of 70%.  I will be ordering 50 eggs – which seems like a lot, but one goal I have is to have some of these for meat – I have yet to freeze (much less cook up and eat) any of the quail from this year.  With small numbers, I want to focus on egg production.   

homesteading, quail, coturnix, housing

The blonds chowing, with the tuxedo (tothe right) momentarily looking on.

I am also ordering a small independent solar electric system backup for the egg incubator and the brooder.  Because even intermittent power failures are a pain, and I don’t expect the full house generator to be in place until early summer. 

I will be getting a larger, metal, brooder rather than relying on cardboard boxes.  (Probably two: the other for chickens.)  

homesteading, quail, coturnix, tuxedo markings

A tuxedo from the original; batch. The backside is all dark brown.

In all, I am very glad I am now raising quail.  I hope to set up some LED Christmas lights in their condos so I can encourage them to lay more eggs again.  The first batch was very prolific at the outset, but the latter batch has yet to get there.  A fun hobby!  And perhaps sometimes soon more than a hobby.  

PS:  You will find earlier quail homesteading condo unit info over at this LINK.  But prior to making the place winterized, and without discussing the raising of quail in any real detail.  

This post is linked to the following homesteading and foodie blogs:  

About goatsandgreens

The foodie me: Low/no gluten, low sugars, lots of ethnic variety of foods. Seafood, offal, veggies. Farmers' markets. Cooking from scratch, and largely local. The "future" me: I've now moved to my new home in rural western Massachusetts. I am raising chickens (for meat and for eggs) and planning for guinea fowl, Shetland sheep, and probably goats and/or alpaca. Possibly feeder pigs. Raising veggies and going solar.
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