Quail diary

Quail for eggs — life in a London garden

Quail diary – 99. Green shoots of something

with 11 comments

quail in straw

Quail, surfing the straw

Marooned at the bottom of the garden, the quail are quiet. For weeks I haven’t bothered mucking them out, just throwing down new cardboard and fresh bedding against the cold until they are now left bobbing about on the thick straw floor like plastic ducks in a bath, sometimes on top, sometimes underneath. You have to watch where you put your wellies. From under the mounds, a row of beady eyes peeps out. The quail don’t budge, but they seem genteelly pleased to have a visitor.

Dear little old toughs. They are two and a half now, borderline geriatric for quail apparently, and the big question is: will they lay again? And what to do if they don’t? Although if they survive till Easter in this weather it’s probably only their hot flushes keeping them warm.

Cold quail (two, actually) resorting reluctantly to hutch

Cold quail (two, actually) resorting reluctantly to lagged hutch inside lagged, roofed run

After all my frenzied lagging, it is actually colder inside the run than out; the shiny silver radiator foil is dull with condensation, perforated here and there by tiny beaks sipping the runoff. But my visits send the thermometer soaring at least 3 degrees (urgh), and Harass is always curious to know what I’m up to.

Life has been rather passing the quail by since the snow. The thick double layers of greenhouse plastic across their windows block out the drafts but reduce the view beyond to wire to a Plato’esque blur. There is a mouse, which climbed down the tinsel and baubles put up by Junior Teen. But I’ve offered only token pursuit. Heck, it was Christmas. Time to redirect those murderous impulses…

Quail in straw

Quail, on watch

But now it is January and in the floor by the quail’s water hopper scattered seeds are sprouting again, the first signs of spring in the whole dead garden.  Green shoots of millet poke valiantly through the cacky bedding, stretching to the growing light. (Memo to self: next year try planting the bulbs inside the run – out of reach of foraging squirrels. Our garden borders are a quarried wasteland of little spoil heaps, where the tulips and daffs used to be, and even the iris rhizomes have toothmarks.) Still, the longest night was three weeks ago. Days are getting longer again: eight hours, 14 minutes and counting.

Garden centres beckon.


11 Responses

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  1. I just cleaned mine out after a couple of months of adding fresh layers of straw because it was about a foot high!
    You must be a brilliant quail mummy…I’ve had 5 just drop dead and 3 needed culling from injury – no geriatrics here!


    January 12, 2011 at 4:16 pm

  2. I have just found your wonderful blog! I have recently started keeping quails, just the two and as pets. I don’t mind if I never get eggs, they are just wonderful little characters.
    Your great descriptive writing about yours makes me laugh, mine are only about 8 months old now, and as a novice I have managed to over winter mine and both are still going strong! They do live with two guinea pigs, and in the very depths of the winter all four of them were confined to the top part of a double hutch. A ton of bubble wrap on the floor, masses of straw (I can’t put solely hay in as the pigs eat it all!) lots of mealworms…and the two birdies suffered the indignity of being close hutch mates with two inquisitive pigs, and came out the other end of all that freezing weather ok!

    I laughed at the hot water bottle bit! I had two pet bed things, ones you put in a microwave, and they last for about 11 hours. One for the feathered ladies. One for the pigs. Once I felt how warm the pigs bed got, the two feathered gals got both pads. And they did love them! Funny how quickly they got to recognise them, and would dive onto the straw on the freshly heated beds, burrowing in and bum shuffling till they were comfy, making ‘dailing tone’ noises of pleasure!

    I’m so enjoying your blog, I have a lot more reading to do…and it will be a pleasure, its so insightful and entertaining!!

    Caz x


    February 1, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    • Dear Caz, Lovely to hear from you – and what a brilliant idea. I’ve never heard of microwaveable pet beds… A quick google nets me a Hottie or a Snugglesafe. Which do you have? Do they come in different sizes??? February is the cruellest month, as TS Elliot didn’t say.
      Meanwhile, delighted to know you are reading. After months in “deep litter” claw cutting looms here. My girls have got toenails like Mandarin sages… Watch this space.

      PS I’m glad the guineapigs and quail get on as hutchmates. During the worst of the cold spell I seriously thought of pignapping the neighbours’ big fat boars for warmth, but was too unsure to risk it.


      February 2, 2011 at 1:02 pm

  3. Hello! I got Snugglesafes for my girlies, they have a removable cover. Which I thought was a good idea as they are pretty warm when first heated, so the cover stops them being too hot to the touch, or feet, or bums lol!! They just come in the one size as far as I know? But they do work, and the birdies absolutely love them!

    Another trick I have learned is the magic of Kingspan. It comes in thin sheets as well as the massively thick stuff. I ‘borrowed’ some while the builders were here, taped the edges, lined the pig’s ‘bedroom’…hence why I stopped giving them a Snugglesafe, their bedroom was getting really, really hot! I also put some underneath the straw in the box where the birdies sit at night, it reflects all the warmth back up very nicely!
    They did sleep out in the run at night until it snowed and then I put them all in the hutch together. Don’t think Freckles was overly keen, the pigs do make her do a ‘crazy legs crane’ turn, but the pigs are only ever inquistive and want to sniff the birdies, so I always felt happy leaving them together and not worry about any casualties. Dotty will happily sit right next to the pigs and have a good warm, as long as they are sat still that is!

    I say ‘girlies’…I think Dotty may be a boy? ‘she’ keeps grabbing feathers on Freckles’ neck and jumping on her…and also picks up mealworms and makes crooning chuckly noises before eating them, I have read that boy birds often give the girls food as a mating ritual type thing? I don’t know, I have never had quails before, chickens and geese, never quails so I don’t know about all their little quirks and habits. I thought Dotty was just getting mithered with Freckles being pushy about mealtimes and wanted her out the way to get at the worms!

    Dotty was ‘donated’ by a builder working on my house, ‘she’ looked lonely…so I searched high and low and found Freckles for her. No idea what Dotty is, and no idea how to tell? I know Freckles is a girl, it was easy to see when she was with her siblings…as Dotty is all white with a dusting of brown feathers on the head, I have no way of telling. (give me naturally colored pheasants or any other game bird I can tell relatively easy, I spent a lot of time on a game farm in my *ahem* youth some 20 odd years ago) Oh well, maybe they’ll have lil chickies in the spring?! Thats one sure way of finding out I guess!

    LOL! The Mandarin sages analogy had me really chuckling, I do so like the way you write!

    Caz xx


    February 2, 2011 at 1:58 pm

  4. Kingspan and Snugglesafes? Excellent. I’m on the case. How you sex a white quail beats me, but they are a bit rough with each other sometimes – even the girls. However, if you do get eggs and start incubating – count me in for a spare male.

    I’m thinking of splitting the quail house and bringing in some babies in spring…


    February 2, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    • I may have to split the pigs and birdies up to get chicks…the pigs make a habit of investigating the birdies beds when I have done the weekly clean…Freckles really doesn’t care for the inspections LOL!! So she may not feel comfortable enough to lay and sit? (I think an incubator may be the only way to go in this case)

      If I do get chicks, your name is first on the list for a boy….that is if they aren’t all white so I’ll have some kind of fair shot at sexing them!

      As for Kingspan, its easy to get from B+Q, incredibly easy to cut to size, a large sharp kitchen knife is perfect for the job. Then just use Gaffa tape to edge off with so the birds don’t pick up crumbs of the stuff and eat it. The Snugglesafes were about £19 each, I did find a website where they were a bit cheaper..Pet Planet I think? But they are worth thier weight in gold to give you the peace of mind that the birds will have nice toasty bottoms, and get them through minus 10c. Mine did here up North, so I can very, very happily recommend them!

      Awww quail babies….Spring really, really needs to hurry up!

      Caz xx


      February 2, 2011 at 3:14 pm

  5. Hi Caz – another member of the Cult of the Quail!

    It would be pretty miraculous if you got your quail to hatch any eggs – broodiness has been completely bred out of them for egg production so they’re generally terrible mothers. You never know though – good luck! I feel very sad when the chicks hatch in the incubator and have no mum to cuddle up to – it’d be lovely to see them under a quail hen.

    Interested to see how you’re getting on with guinea pigs and quail together. Mine live in the same shed but the pigs are in a double hutch and run as I couldn’t find anyone to recommend cohabiting. Problems seemed to be: quail pecking at guinea pig eyes and quail poo giving guinea pigs disease? But I assume you haven’t found that to be a problem. Also, I keep my quail on straw which is bad for guinea pigs (so many things seem to be bad for guinea pigs, it’s a miracle they survive at all!) – it’s a shame though as my pigs would have much more room if they could all be in together.

    You can sex white/pied/Range/tux/fawn quail either by vent-sexing (the males have a small bump at the vent and in season produce a shaving foam like substance) or the width of their pelvis (males’ should touch your finger on either side, females’ is much wider). I am still finding it a bit hit or miss and tend to wait for the crowing to confirm maleness (which won’t happen until they come into season when the light increases). I much prefer the ‘wild’ coloured ones. My experiences are also that, in season, males have very little interest in mealworms whereas the hens will all come running. Doesn’t work out of season though. I suppose the egg-laying makes them crave extra protein?

    Do you have a blog? Would love to read about your experiences.

    Sorry for hijacking your comments Pottingshedder! If you want some fertile eggs in spring, let me know!

    Flora Fauna Dinner

    February 9, 2011 at 9:06 am

    • Good to hear from you. Happy to have your input. Might take you up on the offer of eggs in spring too – if I can find someone with an incubator. How are the ferrets? My guinea pigs lived free range under the hutch for years until anno domini got them – and in one case a fox… I never found them fussy. Though living al fresco in inner London they had to be treated for mange. Joys of city life.


      February 9, 2011 at 10:06 am

      • Good to know, Mrs P – I had to take mine to the vet when they were babies because they got mange and she told me they couldn’t go on damp grass, out in the cold, out in the heat, out in the wind, on straw (lice!) or near anything pokey, itchy or a colour they didn’t like (actually that last one was a lie). Maybe I will try them with the quail. Only I was thinking that having them with just a couple of quail seems more amicable than having them with two dozen quail doesn’t it? They might get ganged up on!

        Flora Fauna Dinner

        February 9, 2011 at 4:56 pm

  6. Hello Flora!

    I’m kind of thinking the hutch is too busy, and Freckles seems mad as a hatter and not really brooding bird type!

    The pigs seem to be ok with the quails, my pigs are girls though so I really don’t know if that has any bearing on their tolerability with non pig hutch mates? They do give the quails a sniff, and seem genuinely interested in them. I haven’t seen any indications of fractiousness, first sign and I will split them for sure.

    As for straw, I found some that is very soft and quite short. I did read straw is bad as it can poke pigs in the eyes and lead to all sorts of horrid eye infections because of that. I tend to put it underneath the hay in their bed, so its flat. It just added an extra layer on insulation on the winter as they eat all the hay, consequently eating all their bed!
    I do the same with the quails, put some in their bed and top it off with a bit of hay, although the pigs do go and eat it which is a bit annoying, its not like they don’t get masses of their own to chow down on!
    As for lice etc, as the pigs are really messy I have to clean them all out once a week so that keeps on top of things. I did see some stuff Ivemax, or something, that can treat birds and small mammals and controls lice, fleas etc. I might invest in some of that as the weather gets warmer to stop any infestations flaring up. I agree, so many things tend to be bad for pigs I am sometimes amazed mine haven’t dropped dead yet! They do seem to be in rude health, shiny coats and squeak like something posessed when I give them veggies in the mornings!

    I’ll have a go at sexing Dotty, I have been watching and there seems to be an increase in running up and down, chuckling, crooning and jumping on Freckles…I think its a boy lol! I too much prefer the wild colored birds, so much prettier, Mother Nature has a beautiful palette, and the shades of browns and creams on Freckles is just lovely. Had Dotty not been ‘donated’ by one of the builders, I doubt I would have ever thought about keeping quails, and if I did I would have definately gone for the naturally colored variety.
    I have also noticed Dotty will hold mealworms and croon, whilst Freckles will nearly turn herself inside out in her haste to gobble them up, maybe thats another subtle sign? I suppose the extra protein is something the hens will naturally need and want, I just started mine on them to hand feed and get them a little tamer, then in the winter upped the amount they were having to help them bulk up against the cold (I don’t have a shed) as they are in the hutch, and although I covered, wind and rain proofed it I did worry about it getting too cold….hence the Snugglesafes as winter really bit in and it snowed.

    As for a blog, I don’t have one. I have been doing a ton of decorating recently, before that did up a rocking horse and posted pictures on Facebook. A couple of my freinds suggested I start a blog and document my goings on. Maybe I should? My friends all seemed fascinated by what I was/am up to…maybe thats just out of politness because they are my friends? LOL!!!

    I’m not sure, I seem to find it really boring, painting…endlessly, or so it seems! Possibly more interesting when you don’t have your nose to the grindstone so to speak and get time lapse type pics of it all happening?

    I think I know where I have stashed a link to the rocking horse on my laptop. I’ll find it and post it on your blog. Maybe I really should think about sitting down and doing a blog? Hmmmm.

    C xxxxxxxxx


    February 9, 2011 at 5:53 pm

  7. Flora,

    I think I am being incredibly idiotic…I choose to put it down to my laptop not playing ball. I can’t find a way to follow your blog, and thus put the link there. Pottingshedder, I hope you don’t mind it I drop it here until I sort out (beat manically) my laptop?


    I don’t mind if it gets deleted as its not really anything to do with quails, pigs or anything else covered in either of your blogs! *note to self, sort out laptop*

    C xxxx


    February 9, 2011 at 6:12 pm

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