Call Of The Quail
Editor’s note: Article courtesy of the National FFA Organization
When Kacy Schlesener of Dover, Kan., noticed a decline in the population of bobwhite quail in her area, she made it her mission to help bring back the small, plump birds popular among hunters.
In 2011, when she was a sophomore at Mission Valley High School, Kacy focused her supervised agricultural experience (SAE) project on repopulating her region with quail. She began hatching quail in an incubator at her parents’ home and raising them until they were ready to sell to local hunters and hunting preserves. Once she saw the first quail hatch from its small egg, Kacy was hooked.
“It’s pretty fun to watch,” she says. “I had 250 eggs in my first batch, and it was so cool to see them all hatch.”
Kacy ordered her first batch of quail eggs from Georgia, but was concerned about them being damaged during shipping. She then began ordering the eggs from Sharon, Kan., which is closer to her home. Her dad, Bruce, and mom, Jenni, have helped the project become a family business, as has her 19-year-old brother, Lukas.
“When we first get the eggs, they go in an incubator for 21 days,” she says. “Then we put them in the hatcher, where they hatch over the next 24 to 72 hours. We keep them in my parents’ basement for a while because it’s a constant temperature, and we check on them frequently to see if they are dried off and healthy.”
Next, the baby quail go into a brooder pen, where they are divided up equally so they don’t get too hot or suffocate one another.
“Occasionally we have some eggs that don’t hatch, so my dad and brother use those as trapping bait,” Kacy says.
A few unhatched eggs don’t cause a huge loss since she buys the eggs for 30 cents apiece and is able to sell the adult quail for about $4.50 each.
The quail stay in the brooder pen for eight weeks, and then are transferred to a separate flight pen that has a mesh netting over the top. Kacy and her dad built the brooder pen from an old shed, and she took out a $1,500 loan to build the flight pen.
“It’s neat to watch them grow from the size of a 50-cent piece to a little smaller than a pheasant,” Kacy says. “I enjoy it because it gets me outside, and I get to spend time with my dad and brother.”
Once the birds reach 16 weeks of age, they are considered adult birds and are ready to sell. Buyers often release them on their own land or use them to train hunting dogs.
“One client buys 25 birds at a time just to keep them near his home because he likes how they sound,” Kacy says. “The biggest client I have likes to band them so he can track them a year later. He has bought 500 birds, 1,000 birds and even 1,500 at a time.”
Kacy has come a long way since 2011, when she started with her first batch of 250 eggs. Today, she and her family hatch batches of 3,000 eggs at a time, with two different batches per season. She won four district FFA awards and two state FFA awards in wildlife preservation management for her quail repopulation project.
Kacy’s FFA advisor, Kelly Hoelting, says since Kacy launched her quail project, three other students have done similar SAEs because of her influence.
“Kacy is such a dynamic young lady who I knew was special,” Hoelting says. “I really encouraged her to try agricultural education as she was unsure coming into her freshman year. I saw a spark in her that I knew would help not only grow herself but our entire chapter.”
Kacy served in numerous offices and as committee chairs throughout high school and will receive her American FFA Degree at the 2016 National FFA Convention & Expo.
“I am lucky to have taught her all of her years in high school and have had her as a student in my program,” Hoelting says.
Kacy is studying dental hygiene at Flint Hills Technical College in Emporia, Kan., and will graduate in 2017. She also works part-time in an orthodontics office. Kacy hopes to continue the quail business with her family on a part-time basis after she graduates.
“Family is big to me, so I plan to stay close to home,” she says.