You can't train a bird dog without birds

by Steve Horton

This is for dog training novices, like myself. I am training my first bird dog; an English Pointer named Dixie. If you are new to this too, one thing you'll learn right away is in order to train a bird dog, you need to have access to birds. If you're like me, and you don't happen to live in an area where there are many wild birds available, you will need to provide the birds for the training sessions.

I got lucky in this respect as my Wife Debbie bought me 100 Quail for my birthday this year. When I told Steve Wagle about this he commented "What a gal". He's right of course; she is quite a gal. Sounds good, but this presented new problems for us like: Where do we keep these birds? How and what do we feed them? And other questions we didn't have the answers to. We've learned a lot since then, but still have lots more to learn.

I bought a "Call back pen" for taking the birds out in the field. I also got lucky again by finding a fellow who has a couple of large pens for Quail. We came to an agreement that he would keep and raise the Quail for me and I let him keep half the birds for his use. He uses them for his birds, as he's a Falconer. So when I need more birds I go see him and pick up 10-12 at a time. We learned that they can eat Poultry feed, available in most feed stores. 10-12 Quail eat about a cup to two cups a day of food. We also supplement this with wild food when we can get it. Wild food they like is Blackberries, Raspberries, blueberries, Black cherries from Cherry trees, Elderberries, apples, etc.

The callback pen is neat. If you leave at least two males in the pen, they will call to the birds you release. Eventually the released birds will return to the pen. They walk into the pen via a funnel like ramp that allows them to go in, but not out. This allows you to use the same birds over and over. The best results are when you can leave the call back cage out overnight for their return. We've released 6 out of ten and seen the released birds all be back in an hour. Debbie likes to watch them come back and enjoys hearing them call to each other. We've lost a few birds to predators too. Mostly Hawks, but we think we've lost a few to Owls and Fox too.

You can keep and use the same 10-12 birds for several months, if you feed and water them correctly. When it rains we put the call back cage under our deck or carport. You need to keep the Quail dry. When the birds first arrived as chicks, they spilled their water on themselves and Debbie dried them off with a hair-drier. They seemed to enjoy the warm air blowing on them.

We ordered the birds and had to wait for them to come in for about three months. They ship them as day old chicks. When the birds first hatch they can survive several days without food and water. This makes these first few days the best time to ship them. When they arrived, there were 104 chicks in a small 12-inch by 12-inch box. We ordered 100, but they ship some extra in case you lose a few in shipping. They shipped 105 to us and we ended up with 104 birds. We tried to buy adult birds initially, but they are hard to find. This is why we went to ordering the birds as chicks.

So now we know, that in order to raise and train a bird dog, we also need to raise birds. Makes sense now, but what did I know when we started out on this road. We have also learned that the bird part is almost as much fun as the dog part. It makes a very big difference in training to be able to use live birds as you need them. Raising some on your own will add another facet to your training program that you may enjoy too. Good luck, and send any questions to Steve's web page:

Steve Horton

Tarentum, PA