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The Complete Guide to Raising Quail

It takes a lot of time & resources to raise quail for dog training.

The Complete Guide to Raising Quail

With the proper planning and equipment, raising quail to adulthood is feasible for first-timers. (GUN DOG photo)

Most experienced gun dog owners realize that it takes birds to make a good bird dog—and the more birds the better. But with dwindling populations of some wild bird species in many states, getting a young dog enough repetitions to learn how to handle its job can be both difficult and frustrating.

Sure, homing pigeons can fill the gap and are great for working dogs on steadiness, retrieving, and multiple other aspects of training. But as convenient as they are—after all, you can use them day after day, and they’ll keep returning home—they remain a poor substitute for the real thing. For those whose primary quarry will be upland game, there is no training aid like old Bob White himself.

With wild bird numbers not what they once were, many are left using pen-raised quail for training purposes. While they certainly aren’t as good as wild birds, when raised right they can still allow you to give your dog the work he or she needs to reach your training goals.

In my area, I can often find training birds fairly easily, and I don’t mind shelling out the $5 or $6 price for what is basically a single-use commodity since I can see advancements in my dogs when working them on the birds. However, there are a few times during the year—like right now, as I write this story—that none of my three or four regular suppliers have a single bird to spare. I have six birds left in my pen, with four big field trials coming up over the next few weeks. To boot, I’ve got a puppy that I want to get on birds as much as possible before those trials. What’s a guy to do?

That’s what got me thinking about the possibility of raising my own birds so I’d always have them available when I wanted and needed them. I set a goal to learn if it’s even feasible, much less economical.

bobwhite quail flying in a pen
Raising quail requires plenty of outdoor space, equipment, and planning. (GUN DOG photo)

A Deep Dig  

Mike Mate, who supplies some of my training birds, had a similar idea. Mike is the owner and operator of Wildkats Quail Farm near Okmulgee, Oklahoma. And, while his current operation has turned into a very big deal—he now sells some 50,000 eggs and about 14,000 birds a year—he started out on a small scale like an avid bird dog owner might do.

“Honestly, I just liked the sound of their whistle,” Mate told me. “My grandpa was a dog trainer so we always had quail growing up, and when he passed away, I wasn’t around them anymore. I guess I was just missing that from my childhood. My plan was to just get a few and just have them back here where I can hear them whistle.”

The rest, as they say, is history. But many of the things Mate learned along the way and patiently explained to me are very appropriate to our investigation into whether raising our own quail can be cost and time effective.

First, let’s consider numbers. I go through about 100 to 150 birds a year and would probably use double that if they were easier to get and didn’t cost quite so much. So, if I were going to start such an endeavor, I’d probably look at raising 200 to 250 birds just for myself. To do so, I’d likely need to start with double that (more on that later).

bobwhite quail eggs in an incubator
You'll need to think about whether or not you want to raise quail from eggs through an incubator, or purchase day-old chicks. (GUN DOG photo)

Another consideration is, of course, space. You have to decide if you have room inside for an incubator, and outside for a brooding facility and a large flight pen 60 or more feet long. If you live in the city, you likely don’t have that kind of space. I’m fortunate enough to have a couple of acres and my property is zoned agriculture, so I would be fine on the space consideration.

Money for making pens, buying supplies, and then buying eggs or chicks is another consideration. The cost of making pens is a moving target right now as the cost of lumber and other building supplies continues to climb. Feeders, waterers, heat lamps and even incubators, if you intend to begin with eggs, also must be purchased. Then you have to buy eggs—400 to 500 would run me around $300. The other option is to buy day-old birds at about $1 each. That lets you bypass incubators and the mortality experienced between putting eggs in the incubator and getting to the day-old stage.

What’re The Chances?  

One of my other quail suppliers, Robert Foust, has been raising some kind of fowl since his childhood days and has settled on quail as his bird of choice. He now raises several thousand quail a year at his home near Jenks, Oklahoma, only a few miles from where I live.

Foust believes it’s absolutely possible for an avid bird dog owner or trainer to raise their own birds and do so both efficiently and cost effectively. However, success doesn’t always come easy. “I think he could do it,” Foust said. “It might take a little practice because there’s a learning curve and you make some mistakes. Each year you get a little better. For me, if I want 100 quail, I’ve got to start with at least 200 eggs by the time it’s all said and done. A guy ends up losing about 50 percent of his birds by the time they’re grown.”

Foust warns that there are many ways for quail to perish, from weather to predators to disease to parasites to mysterious, undetermined causes of death. So, bird dog owners choosing to raise their own quail might run into some obstacles along their way.

“Quail are born looking for a way to die, it seems like,” he explained. “When they hatch, you might have an 80 percent hatch ratio, which is very good. And then you put them out in the brooder. Say you put 200 birds out there, and the first day you go out and there’s about eight dead chicks, then there’s about eight the next day, then there’s about four the next, three the next. Then there’s one every other day or so. They just kind of die off. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, or necessarily anything you’re doing wrong. It’s just the nature of the beast.”

“You can also have accidents. Lights could go off overnight. The lamp could not be low enough to keep them warm enough. You might go out there one morning and really have a problem—a big loss.”

Foust says he believes the most difficult period for raising the birds are the first four weeks in the incubator and the first six weeks in the brooder. “Those are the hardest times when there’s the most room for error,” he said, explaining that eggs in the incubator could be a little too cold, a little too hot, not have enough humidity, not be turned properly or not have consistent enough temperature for good hatching success.

bobwhite quail in a pen
Brooding space and conditions are important for early success in raising quail. (GUN DOG photo)

“Sometimes you don’t really know what it is,” he said. “I’ve had hatches where I’ve thought, ‘What in the world just happened there?’ You don’t always know exactly what happened, but you have 500 more eggs sitting there waiting so you forget about it, throw them in the incubator and start working on your next batch.”

Many beginners to raising quail put lots of time and effort into their flight pen—certainly a very important aspect, and one that affects the quality of the birds when they’re ready to be used for training. But Foust says people should put much more emphasis on another, more important stage of the birds’ lives.

“My best advice to someone trying to raise their own birds for training is to have a good brooding area,” he said. “That is so important. You have to brood them perfectly. If you don’t get them brooded right, you’ll never have any old birds. They’ve got to get through those first six weeks. If you don’t get them brooded, you’ll never get them to the flight pen.”

Foust said a good brooding facility is going to keep the birds protected and at the perfect temperature as they grow toward adulthood. He believes that many build their brooder too small and making sure you provide ample brooding space is important to consider from the very beginning.

“You can throw 200 birds in an 8x8 room, and you think they’ve got all the room in the world in there,” he said. “And four weeks later there isn’t a square inch left on the floor that’s not birds.”

freshly hatched bobwhite quail chick
Raising quail for your bird dog training can be a rewarding experience. (Photo By: Linas Toleikis/

Crunching the Numbers   

As for crunching the numbers, most avid bird dogs owners—whether hunters or field trailers—know that’s never a very good idea. After all, how many of us could actually justify our dog training, hunting, and field trialing expenses if we were to put them down on paper and add them all up!

In the end, raising your own quail is quite expensive, once you figure in all the materials, not to mention your time. But what price can you really put on quality training? And after the first year, you won’t have the initial expense of pens, incubators and other equipment, so cost per bird will go down substantially.

One option for those wanting to raise their own quail and keep it economical is to raise more birds than they need and sell them to other bird dog owners, trainers and even field trial organizations, which purchase many thousands of birds a year. Let folks on Facebook know you have flight-ready quail available, and they’ll likely be coming from surrounding states to purchase your excess birds.

Also, as Mate of Wildkats Quail Farm has learned, quail are in very high demand right now from the millions of Americans who have begun eating a healthier, lower fat diet, along with supply chain problems that are being felt at the local grocery store.

“When the pandemic hit, about February and March (2019), I had a buddy in Alabama who had 12,000 birds left over and he was selling every one of them for meat,” Mate said. “People were stocking up because of everything that was going on in the grocery stores.” In the end, Mate encourages newcomers to ease into raising quail rather than jumping right in with both feet.

“Start out small with maybe 20 or 30 birds, because there is going to be a huge learning curve,” he said. “You’re going to lose birds. There is a pretty high mortality rate from hatch to raising them out. If you don’t handle death very well, it’s not going to be for you.”

Raising Quail and the Law

Note of caution: Since bobwhite quail are native to many states, some states regulate those who raise the birds, whether through their state wildlife department or an agriculture agency. In my home state of Oklahoma, raising quail is regulated by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, which makes available either a $10 annual hobby license or a $48 yearly commercial breeder license. Be sure and check the regulations in your state before beginning any quail breeding program.

A Hard Decision   

In the end, after lots of investigation and subsequent soul searching, I’ve decided to shelve the whole idea for now and do the best I can relying on my hit-and-miss providers. I’ll still incur the cost of purchasing birds, but in the time and effort I’d have to put toward raising my own birds, it’s worth it. Perhaps I can also open a better line of communication with my suppliers about when they will and won’t have birds and forgo some of the frustration I’ve had each spring.

However, my decision isn’t necessarily the best one for you. If you use lots of birds, have plenty of space and some extra cash for the startup costs, you might find you can produce all the training birds you need while making a little extra cash for other things—likely other gun dog supplies, if you’re like me.

bobwhite quail eggs in an incubator
Level up your bird dog training with a steady supply of quail. (Photo By: Steve Oehlenschlager)
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