Ground-raising quail is gaining popularity among farmers and fanciers. Quail lovers have rediscovered the benefits of allowing their quail to live in a ground-pen. Watching their birds interact with the natural environment has become an entertaining hobby for game bird enthusiasts.
Typically, quail are kept in cages, similar to that of a house bird or guinea pig, with the belief that they are much safer than if they were living outdoors. When it comes to a fragile little quail, there are many dangers associated with residing outdoors, and directly on the ground. With that being said, ground-raising is still considered safer than free-ranging your quail.
What is Ground-Raising?
Ground-raising is different than free-ranging because quail are safely enclosed within a predator-proof structure rather than having the run of the yard. Typically, ground-raised quail live in a tightly woven frame of predator-proof, wire, fencing. Wire, mesh, and woodwork are the main materials used to construct a ground pen, but pens can also be made from re purposed bookshelves, cabinets, pallets, or whatever else you have lying around.
As the name suggests, a ground pen allows the quail to have access directly to the earth, which is where they would spend most of their time if they were living in the wild.
Benefits of Ground Raising
So, if you can ensure your quail’s safety indoors in a typical quail cage, why would you even consider raising your quail in a ground pen?
Well, here are a few convincing reasons:
- Your quails will live life more naturally and be able to act upon their instincts.
- Quails have access to dirt, where they can take dust baths and find grit.
- Outdoor pens provide excellent ventilation.
- Quail have access to a natural diet, aka bugs and maybe even seeds.
- Quails have access to vegetation.
- Quails will have the ability to nest naturally.
The Best Quail Breed for Ground-Raising
Before addressing some concerns, that are frequently raised, regarding rearing quail in ground pens, it is important to point out that not all quail are created equal. In fact, there are at least 130 known quail breeds in the world, and only a handful are kept in domestic situations.
With that being said, if you do plan to raise your quail in a natural environment rather than a typical quail cage, consider researching the best quail breeds for ground-raising, or free-ranging.
If you want a hint about which breed is most likely to thrive in an outdoor environment, consider the Coturnix quail.
The Coturnix is a hardy breed that many beginners start with due to their ability to thrive in stressful situations. While it is true that due to their size, and a few other factors we will address, quail are fairly fragile game birds, this breed is one tough cookie.
Coturnix quails are considered to be docile, and like most quail, they are not big eaters. You will find that once they are in their natural habitat, they will consume even less commercial feed. They love to eat bugs, seeds, and any other goodies they may find.
So, if you aren’t sure which breed will do the best in the great outdoors, consider the Coturnix for starters.
Why Are the Majority of Quail Raised in Cages?
Over time, quail that were typically kept for domestic use have become familiar and comfortable with confinement. There are concerns that they have evolved away from their wild instincts in order to thrive in domestic conditions. This domestication has caused concern for hunters trying to raise quail for sport.
Domesticated quail have been raised in confinement for a long time, and they tend to do very well in cages; however, some newbies may wonder why they cannot allow their new little birds to live a life similar to that of their free-range chickens.
The truth is, while quail are easy to care for, lay delicious eggs, and are otherwise quite similar to chickens, they are a completely different animal with many characteristics that set them apart from other barnyard poultry. If you are interested in raising chicken and quail together, here are some of the main differences between the two you should know:
- Quail can fly…better
- Quail are much smaller than chickens
- The ph level of their dropping is higher than chickens
- Quails have a short lifespan (2-4 years)
Valid Concerns About Ground-Raising Quail and Their Solutions
With the special considerations mentioned above in mind, there are some valid reasons that many people refuse to raise quail on the ground. Some quail farmers may argue that it is just plain easier to raise their birds in cages, but the following reasons are also valid concerns to consider:
Because quail are much smaller than chickens, they have the same predators…and then some. Just like a chicken, quail are at risk of being eaten by snakes, rats, weasels, and aerial predators—just to name a few.
For example, feral cats won’t think twice about eating quail for supper, and snakes who can’t kill and eat a fat hen can probably get a small quail into their bellies a lot easier, especially if they are young quail.
While these concerns are valid, they don’t necessarily mean that quail cannot be kept outdoors. In fact, it just means that you must be extremely diligent when constructing an outdoor space for your quail to ensure their safety. We are seeing more and more quails unable to protect themselves after being pen raised. Many believe it is because while in confinement they do not get to exercise their predatory instincts as often, resulting in loss of defensive mechanisms.
Speculation of why quails can’t protect themselves well outside of confinement after being pen raised is theorized to be because they won’t have developed the instincts necessary for quails to protect themselves outside of confinement.
Different materials can be implemented in the construction of your quail pen to keep your quail safe from predators. Using mesh-like fencing and poultry netting are excellent materials to create a safe haven for your new feathered friends.
2. Drowning in the Rain
It is true that most young birds are at risk for drowning in their waterers. However, quail are at risk for a different reason:
If quail are kept outdoors, juveniles can potentially drown in heavy rainfall. Remember, they can fly, but not until they are about 3 weeks old, and even then they are still quite petite and inexperienced.
Ensuring that your outdoor housing has protection from extreme weather is important to prevent loss. You can prevent excess water from entering your coop by adding hatches to close off the coop from the outdoors, or by raising the entire structure off the ground if needed.
Quails are fairly intelligent birds, and like chickens, they do a good job of taking care of themselves once they reach adulthood. The concern for drowning is mostly centered around young birds who are not able to get off the ground if needed. Keeping young quail out of the ground pen until they are old enough to stay out of harm’s way may also be a simple, temporary, solution.
Here’s a look at what could potentially happen with flooding of your pen.
3. Flying the Coop
If you are used to raising chickens, you know that they are clumsy flyers and most are not able to “fly the coop” if the fencing is tall enough. With quail, however, you will have little birds flying all over the yard if you do not have a roof, or netting, in place to keep them inside. Loose quail are exposed to predators and very difficult to round up and catch. Some may even take it upon themselves to set out on their own, never to return.
4. Exposure to Other Birds and Diseases
If you decide to keep any of your barnyard birds in the great outdoors, diseases that can be passed from wild birds to domesticated birds is somewhat of a concern. Especially in areas that experience outbreaks of deadly diseases, like Newcastle disease.
Luckily, you will not be free-ranging quail if you keep them in a ground pen, so the odds of them contracting diseases from other birds is a lot less likely than that of a free-range chicken or turkey.
5. Inability to Survive in Cold Climates
Quail are savvy game birds that usually know when they need to find warmth within their coop, however, like other birds, if they do not have the shelter they need, they will not withstand freezing temperatures.
Here are a few tips for keeping quail warm throughout the winter months:
- Enclose the entire shelter to block wind and keep quail out of the elements
- Consider using a heat lamp in extreme cases
- Bring your quail indoors, or into a heated garage—yes, some people have house quails
- Add plenty of nesting material for quail to snuggle into with their fellow roommates
- Raise the pen off of the frozen ground
These are all easy tips that will assist you in giving your quail what they need to thrive during the winter months, especially if you are keeping them as pets. However, if your plan is to process your quail for meat, you can easily raise quail from spring through fall, and butcher before winter.
6. Inability to Brood and Hatch Chicks
It is thought that quail cannot reproduce on their own in an outdoor pen. If there is a rooster and a hen, well, then they will reproduce, as long as they are happy and healthy. Nature takes its course and young quail will grace your ground pen; however, the trouble starts after the babies have hatched.
If you’d like to allow your hens to raise chicks, you must alter your run so that the young quail cannot escape. This might mean using mesh, tightly woven netting, or using boards along the bottom of your pen.
If you use loosely woven wire, your babies will escape and put themselves at risk of being eaten by predators.
Remember, young quail are also at risk for drowning, just as baby chickens are in the wild, so make sure they can escape to higher ground if needed.
Nature Knows Best
When it comes down to it, your quail will do very well in confinement, but they probably prefer to be foraging, scratching, and nesting amongst the earth. There are plenty of quail owners adopting the ground-raising method and their birds are thriving, foraging, and reproducing very well. Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to figure out what your quails may need, but in general, their ability to live outdoors successfully comes down to simply keeping them safe and comfortable, no matter where they live.