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I have spent the last 20 years or more breeding, raising, and showing chickens, ducks and quail. Over that time I have had great success, but I have also had my fair share of failures, including quail chicks dying unexpectedly.
When quail chicks are born they are incredibly small and fragile, however, with experience and good hygiene practices, the vast majority of your quail chicks should survive. In this article, I look at the main reasons quail chicks die unexpectedly and draw on my experiences of how we can prevent them from dying.
The 6 main reasons quail chicks die are;
Coccidiosis is probably one of the biggest killers of quail chicks. Coccidiosis is caused by protozoa that invade the walls of the intestine and is normally spread from bird to bird via the quails’ droppings.
Young quail chicks are especially susceptible to Coccidiosis when they are kept in the same enclosure as adult birds. If an adult bird is infected with Coccidiosis, even if they are unaffected by the infection, the Coccidiosis can spread to the quail chicks when the chicks come into contact with dropping from the infected adult bird.
Symptoms of quail suffering from Coccidiosis include eating and drinking less than normal, weight loss (hard to spot in a tiny quail chick), lack of energy, ruffled or messy feathers, and diarrhea (often tinged with a little blood).
Prevention is better than cure when it comes to Coccidiosis. The easiest way to prevent Coccidiosis either entering your flock in the first place or spreading from bird to bird is by ensuring strict hygiene protocols are followed at all times.
Quail should be cleaned out regularly, and their bedding either added to the compost pile or burned. The quails’ feeder and water containers should also the thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis, especially if they become soiled with droppings. Unsanitary conditions almost invariably result in the spread of Coccidiosis.
If you believe one or more of your birds is already infected with Coccidiosis, then the best practice is to remove those birds from your flock and discuss treatment with a local veterinarian.
Being too cold
When quail hatch naturally, under the mother bird, she generally knows how to keep them warm, and she will do her best to make sure the quail chicks are kept warm at all times. Quail chicks are tiny, and their body mass is minimal, meaning they lose body heat incredibly quickly.
If the quail hen is inexperienced, or just a poor mother, she may not look after her chicks properly, and they may begin to suffer from the cold. Quail chicks can die from the cold within a couple of hours.
If we have hatched the quail chicks artificially, and we are raising them away from the quail hen using a brooder box, it is imperative that the quail chicks are kept warm enough, either with a brooder plate or with a heat lamp. Whatever means we use to keep our quail chicks warm, we must ensure the chicks can get close enough to the heat source.
Quail chicks are much smaller than chicken or duck chicks, so the height and strength of the heat source must be set accordingly.
Quail chicks are tiny, but they grow fast. To grow as fast as they do, they need food that is designed specifically for chicks, and ideally for game birds.
I feed my own quail chicks a dedicated quail chick crumble. I have had good success using Manna Pro Gamebird Showbird Crumbles (check the current price on Amazon.com). Quail chicks need food that is high in protein. Food that has between 19% and 25% protein will be best.
If quail chicks are being fed a low protein diet, or worse, only being fed scraps, they will not develop properly and can quickly starve to death.
Poor quality food can be high in fillers, and fillers offer the quail chicks little in the way of nutrition.
When we are raising quail chicks, keeping everything clean is really important. I can tell you from first-hand experience, that quail chicks do not care where they defecate. They will poop in their food, in their water, on each other, it can go everywhere.
It is not uncommon to have to clean their water bowl several times a day, and picking poop out of their food is a constant problem.
Quail chicks will also need their bedding changing frequently. How frequent will depend on how many chicks you have, and what size brooder you have them in. Personally, I look to change quail chicks bedding 3 times a week, but as they grow that may become more frequent.
If we don’t keep everything clean, pests or diseases can quickly spread between the quail chicks, and before you know it the whole brood can go downhill very quickly. I usually clean the food and water bowls with a weak bleach solution or a mild disinfectant. Bedding normally goes straight on the compost pile.
Cleaning everything is especially important if you are raising multiple broods. between broods, everything should be thoroughly cleaned to prevent any cross-contamination from one brood to another.
Sometimes, quail chicks just die because they are genetically weak. In an ideal world, all breeders would only ever breed from their strongest, fittest, and most colorful birds. They would select traits they wish to pass on to the next generation such as a good temperament, or good parenting skills.
In reality, there are a good number of breeders who just leave their flock to get on with it, then sell the fertile eggs or day-old chicks to unsuspecting buyers.
If you have purchased fertile eggs or day-old quail chicks from a less reputable breeder, there is a chance your chicks are dying because they are just genetically weak. Sadly, if this is the case there will be very little you can do.
As discussed above, quail chicks are small and fragile, and they can be easily damaged through rough handling. Even when handling them with care, they can suddenly jump out of your hands and drop to the floor.
My best advice would be to handle quail chicks as little as possible. There is a slight paradox here because the more you handle them, the friendlier they tend to be as adults.
If you do need to handle your quail chicks, hold them gently, but firmly and never hold them in an open palm. They can jump before you have a chance to react.
Raising your own quails from chicks can be one of the most rewarding things a homesteader can do. Whether you are raising them for meat, or as future egg layers, there is no better feeling.
Quail are very hardy birds, but as chicks, they are incredibly fragile. Care must be taken to get them through the first few weeks. After that, they become practically bulletproof.