We have been raising various types of quail and other birds for the past twenty years. About three years ago, we decided to retire and find some much need rest. Little did we know that once you have had the experience of sharing life with the button quail and other birds, you can never be happy doing anything else.
After only six months of not being tied down by feathered friends, we were given an elderly pair of button quail. The owners of the quail were moving and couldn't take them across country with them. Shortly after the pair of buttons came to live with us, we lost the hen quail. We searched high and low to find a new companion for the lonely male. Our usual sources had no button quail for sale, so we put an ad in the newspaper. We got a response from a breeder who had several of them that she wanted to place in a good home. So instead of one, we adopted nine quail! Pretty soon we decided to incubate a few quail eggs, and before we knew it, we had once again taken the bait, hook line and sinker. Today, we are once again raising button quail, a few ringneck pheasants, chukar, turkeys, several breeds of chickens, and a barnyard assortment of ducks. All just goes to prove, you can never retire from something you really love.
At Bracken Ranch (named for the abundant Bracken Fern that grow here), we are a small "Mom and Pop" operation, and run our ranch more for enjoyment than for profit. There is no thrill in life greater than witnessing a new quail chick come into this world. It never becomes mundane or routine with us.
The Button are delightful little quail that are most often used as micro janitors in the bottoms of aviaries, where they do a good job of cleaning up seeds that other birds leave behind. These quail are also used widely by commercial butterfly breeders and in green houses, where they help keep insect and spider populations under control.
In their natural habitat, the quail are found in China, but have found their way into the homes and hearts of people in most every country in the world.
The average size of the male button quail is about 4 1/2 inches and the female is slightly larger at about 5 inches. In standard colors, the male is more colorful than the female and has a black and white bib that runs under the chin. In the newer mutated colors, it is often more difficult to distinguish the male from the female by color in these quail. In these cases, it is best to sex the quail by checking the vent spacing and being aware that the hens are slightly larger and plumper. The males can also be distinguished by listening for their little calls of pee pee pew.
Button quail are easy keepers and prolific breeders if their basic requirements are met. Best results are achieved when kept in solitary pairs, but they are often kept in trios of one male to two hens, or colony bred with several hens and males run together. If more than one male quail is kept in a pen, it is important to know that even though they are tiny, they are mighty. The males, and sometimes the female quail, can be aggressive toward one another. They are territorial, and resist other quail being in their space. Serious fights can be avoided, however, if the pen is large enough, and there are sufficient hiding places. Here at the ranch, we prefer to keep our breeding adult quail in isolated pairs to avoid conflict and to insure fertilization of the quail eggs. It's easier for one male to concentrate on one female.
We keep the quail in converted chinchilla breeding cages. Each apartment is roughly 20 inches deep by 14 inches wide and 12 inches tall. Each bank of cages contain seven individual apartments, and we stack the banks four tiers high, so each section houses twenty-eight pairs of quail quite comfortably. Each apartment has a pull out tray in which we place about a half inch of sand and a couple of handfuls of pine shavings. Because button quail are quite active, it is not uncommon for them to track through their droppings. If they are not kept on clean bedding, a serious problem can arise when the droppings become encrusted on their tiny feet and form into large balls at the ends of their toes. By using the sand and shavings combination, the quail remain clean and healthy.
When given the proper conditions, button quail will incubate their own eggs. If you would like to let the hens do their own incubating, you must provide them with privacy and security. This can easily be done by placing tiny shelter on the floor of their pen. A fabricated wooden shelter, a small hollow branch, or low growing shrubs work fine. We prefer to pull the eggs and incubate any that are left over from our egg sales.We gather the button quail eggs twice a day, more often in extreme weather conditions. The eggs are then placed in automatic turners for a day or so, until they are shipped or placed in the incubators.
Since the quail eggs are so delicate, we ship only on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, to insure that they will not get hung up in the post office over the weekend. For shipping quail eggs, we carefully place the eggs in cardboard egg trays and cover them with shavings so that they won't jar loose during shipping. The trays are then placed in cardboard shipping boxes with foam peanuts, and taken to the post office where they are shipped out priority mail which has a guaranteed 3 day delivery time. We have had excellent cooperation from the post office, and in all of our quail egg shipments last year, we had only one reported bad delivery.
Once the quail eggs arrive at their destination, we recommend that they be taken out of their packaging and allowed to sit at room temperature for a couple of hours before being placed in the incubator. Incubation for button quail takes roughly 16 days, although we have had reports of a little slower hatch of up to 18 days. We suspect that is due to the varied temperatures and movement during transportation, or perhaps due to the variance in incubator temperatures, humidity, and elevation changes. At any rate, patience in waiting a few extra days has paid off more often than not. Ideal incubation takes place at a steady 99.5 to 99.9 degrees F. with a relative humidity of 60% (wet bulb reading of 86º F).
A good hatch depends on how well you know your incubator. For the first 14 days the button quail eggs should be turned (better described as being rotated from one side to the other) at least twice a day. Three or four times a day is better. If you have an automatic turner in your incubator, it will handle that for you. Most incubators rotate the eggs every four hours, but that may vary. On the fourteenth day, the eggs should be removed from their racks and placed in the hatching tray. At this point, it is best to no longer turn them, because the quail chick is positioning itself to first pip (break a tiny hole in the shell) then emerge. For incubating quail eggs, we have had great success with the Sportsman GQF 1202 models.
To prevent straddle leg, common in all types of newly hatched chicks, we line the bottom of our hatching trays and our brooders with a rubberized non skid shelf liner that is commonly used in motor homes (available in most stores that sell shelf liners). We have found that it provides very secure footing. It is washable and easily sanitized. Because button quail are so tiny when they are hatched (about the size of a humble bee, and about as active), we place the newly hatched quail chicks in 15 gallon aquariums for the first five days. For bedding, we use only the nonskid liner.
For small home use, warmth can easily be provided by placing two red clay bricks on end inside the aquarium, and then placing a 60 watt lamp (the clip on kind with the aluminum reflectors) so that it rests on top of the bricks. The heat from the bulb radiates down the bricks and the tiny button quail chicks seem to really enjoy snuggling up to them. The top of the aquarium should be partially covered to maintain a temperature of about 85 to 90º the first week. Don't guess, use a thermometer, because newly hatched quail chicks don't provide their own body heat. There are also commercial brooders available, but if you use them, be sure to place window screen over the side openings, and remove the floor grate as baby button quail have been known to squeeze though 1/2 inch openings without any problem. Also a word of caution. Brooders, which ever type you choose, should have some type of screen cover. The wings of these quail develop very fast, and in no time at all they tend to fly up, and often out of their brooders. If this happens and you don't notice, there is a good chance that they will quickly become cold and die. It is a heart breaking story we hear time and time again.
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