Raising Quail in the Garden

Before building the cabin I raised Coturnix quail. I experimented with a variety of enclosures with the goal of giving the quail a more natural environment with access to natural light, earth and possibly some greenery. First, I built variations of tractors which are essentially open bottom cages that you periodically move because the animals will completely defoliate an area if left in on place for too long.

The tractors were fairly low maintenance as they had integrated feeding and watering systems with enough supply to last the quail several days. However, they had security issues. As the tractor had to be light enough for a person to move easily it was also fairly easy for a predator to dig or push under. I also had some escapees when moving the tractors over uneven ground.

A couple of quail tractors

Another quail habitat I experimented with used a deep litter system. For this I used a fixed cage and periodically added a carbon rich material like wood chips or in my case shredded paper to neutralize the quail’s high nitrogen content droppings. Maintenance was a downside as once the cage filled up to certain point I had to transfer the quail to another cage to empty the full one. However, the system was secure, produced some good compost and allowed us to keep quail on our apartment balcony.

For a while I’ve been kicking around the idea of a raising quail in a rotational system where they are secure but move periodically as they would in the wild. If I could also use the space to grow food that would be a bonus.

Quail Garden Construction

With the cottage construction wrapped (a walkthrough video is coming up soon, promise) and Spring just around the corner I got to work. I have a surplus of concrete blocks so I used them for the foundation. Instead of mortaring the blocks I bolted them together. So, if someone wanted to remove the quail garden someday the blocks could theoretically be decoupled and reused.

I ran two courses of blocks. I figured this would provide and effective deterrent to a predator digging underneath. It also provides more comfortable access to garden and at one point I thought about also raising rabbits in the enclosure and the concrete block would be an effective deterrent to keep them from burrowing out.

I created a raised sill plate consisting of a perimeter of 2x8s laid on their short sides topped with 2x8s laid flat to create a 6 inch overhang around the entire perimeter of the enclosure. This primarily serves to provide the quail with cover. Quail in the wild will often hide under shrubs and in tall grass and generally are very uncomfortable in the open. The overhang will also provide some protection in inclement weather. Internal 2x8s divide the garden into four sections.

The superstructure of the garden is an A-frame. When startled quail tend to fly straight up. Hopefully, this design will slow the ascent of a frightened quail without breaking its neck. I also wanted to avoid blocking the light. The A-frame ranges in height from 10” to about 4 feet allowing plants some height to grow as well.

The sides of the garden swing up and are supported by gas struts. The side openings were made with doubled up 2x4s with ½” hardware cloth sandwiched in between. The end doors are similar but made with 1x3s instead of 2x4s.

The internal sections are separated by ½” hardware cloth stapled to the the structure. This is only to contain the quail and won’t keep out predators so exterior doors must always be closed and secured. Quail can move between sections using a small door I cut into the internal 2x8s. The door flips up to open and secured with a magnet. We’ve had quail in the garden for about three weeks now and once I open the door they all typically find their way into the new section within half an hour.

Water is gravity fed from a two gallon bucket through a combination of PEX and PVC pipe to a couple of nipples in each section. The bucket is attached by a rubber coupling so it can be detached for cleaning. The system can also be drained for freeze protection. I also but a backup water supply in active section.

I made a feeding bin with holes just large enough for the birds to put their heads in. Quail are messy eaters and this method prevents food waste.

Planting the Garden

In three weeks the quail have mostly destroyed the vetch I planted in the fall. I created some cages to protect some small blackberry bush, swiss chard seedlings and asparagus. Mature garlic plants seem to fair okay without protection. Seems like woody shrubs are the way to go. I’ll probably introduce some more compact berry bushes. I’ve also been throwing down sunflower seeds. These will sprout in the uninhabited sections and with my current rotation schedule be about 2 inches tall by the time the quail arrive again to mow them down.

Maintenance and Future Plans

Speaking of rotation, I’m currently moving the quail every 2-3 days (On Monday, Wednesday and Friday). That gives each section about a week off. I might switch to moving the quail twice a week to give the cover crop more time to grow.

To move the quail, I move the feeder to the new section and then open the quail door. They’re fun to watch during the switch over. I may be personifying them but the first intrepid soul to discover the open door always seems be filled with a degree of cautious excitement. She’ll often hang out in the door way for a while looking around warily before signaling to her comrades that the coast is clear. Then they come piling in after her.

Sometimes there will be one that missed the memo and to her surprise herself very much alone. She’ll crane her neck up and start chirping plaintively. Hearing the calls from here mates next door she puts her head down and bolts for the opening.

I’ll keep tinkering with the rotation and plants and report back here. I’ll also created a post on the Permies forum about raising quail in the garden if you want to discuss it there.