Hobby now high-flying business

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 4, 2000

WOODVILLE – A declining quail population throughout the South gave Woodville attorney Shep Crawford an idea for a hobby.

&uot;It started out a hobby,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s grown into a business. Well, it’s grown into something my wife is patient enough to let me fool with.&uot;

Crawford raises around 5,000 bobwhite quail a year in barns near his home. He sells them for $2.50 a piece to hunting preserves and dog trainers, or cleaned and dressed for 50 cents more.

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&uot;Some people usually call around Christmastime wanting a dozen or so for Christmas dinner,&uot; he said.

Quail-lovers are these days forced to rely on people like Crawford, as a variety of factors have all but eliminated the natural quail population in the South.

Crawford began the endeavor five years ago with pharaoh quails, known more as an eating bird than a sporting bird.

He now raises pheasants as well as quails, although this is his first year dealing with the slightly larger bird.

&uot;I’ll probably wait to see how this pans out,&uot; he said, to decide if he wants to continue raising pheasants.

That’s understandable, considering the work that goes into raising quail.

Around 250 females are kept with 100 males in a lit cage with a slanted floor. The lights work off a timer, as the birds lay eggs based on the amount of time they are under the lights, Crawford said.

Eggs are collected daily and placed in a refrigerator, where they are kept at about 60 degrees for a week. The eggs are then placed in incubators for three weeks.

When hatched, the quail chicks are kept in a &uot;brooder box,&uot; in which the temperature stays between 90 and 100 degrees. The chicks are next moved to what Crawford calls his &uot;brooder barn,&uot; where the temperature stays around 90 degrees.

&uot;Young chicks need that kind of heat to survive,&uot; he said.

The quail are then moved to flight pens – long fenced pens in which the young birds can exercise their wings and grow used to the outdoors.

It is from these pens that hunting birds are taken, Crawford said.