The Sand Prairie Quail Farm in the eastern Iowa town of Maquoketa is another example of small family-owned Iowa business that’s found a niche market. Becky Davidson started the operation in 1975 with her husband Dale. She spoke in the hatchery as a shipment of birds was being prepared.
Davidson pointed out the baby Bobwhite quail that were being boxed up and shipped to go all over the country. She says the birds are the size of a large bumblebee when they hatch and workers try to scoop up a handful at one time to avoid extra handling that can stress the birds.
The birds are sent out in climate-controlled trucks. Davidson says the birds absorb the yolk of the egg into their belly and they can go 72 hours from their hatch time until they need food or water. The birds are used for a variety of purposes across the country.
She says these particular chicks will go to other growers who will raise them to adults and then they will be sold to hunt clubs or property owners, or dog trainers. “We have an awful lot of people who want them back out on their property, they want to hear them call again,” Davidson says.
They started the business with a tabletop hatcher and now they can hatch out 60,000 birds each week. They also have 20,000 breeder birds that produce eggs that are sold and then hatch out into chicks. Davidson says creativity and hard work allowed them to build the business from its small beginning to what it is today.
She says they managed to build the business on 50 acres and then expand it to several other locations to produce two-million eggs each year and over one-million chicks each year. “If you’re determined to make something work on a small piece of property, you can do it, you just have to be dedicated to getting it done and doing it right,” Davidson said.
Davidson says sales are down about 25% this year because of the poor economy, but she is optimistic about the business. She says people have to get these types of birds somewhere “because we don’t want to live without ’em.”