Greenhouse Extension - Making a Safe Living, Nesting & Brooding Area for Organic Coturnix Quail




Introduction: Greenhouse Extension - Making a Safe Living, Nesting & Brooding Area for Organic Coturnix Quail

About: I live in a forest garden by the sea in an old Celtic longhouse in the Baie de Mont Saint Michel, France. Before I escaped and became a happy peasant, I had three jobs and one half day a week in which to be cr…

The above films show both the initial build and impromptu 'opening ceremony' and also how the space was adapted for the Winter months.

I started keeping quail in 2000 to obtain organic therapeutic grade eggs to heal my husband's hay fever, which he had had ever since 1978. In effect the quail and their eggs did this very speedily and incidentally took care of his eczema at the same time but we fell in love with these little birds and decided to carry on keeping them. I started my flock by hatching and raising them with a bantam Ardenner but then one year I used a Frizzled Cochin and she was such an extraordinary mother that she kept them with her right up into adulthood. Not only did she teach them so much but she was also instrumental in successfully introducing a group of newly-purchased young adult quail to her own brood and to instructing them as well! This large group got on really well moving from greenhouse to greenhouse, cleaning up pests in the Spring, eating weeds and the occasional vegetable through the Summer, moving into the glass Greenhouse in Winter and sleeping in a communal coop at night. However, in the following Spring they started to show signs of pairing off and courtship behaviour, which is rare in Coturnix and something I no way wanted to discourage by breaking that bond. Already at night, I could see they preferred to sleep together in little 'forms' or depressions in the earth and I was hoping that they would go on to choose nesting sites. Therefore, I decided to design and make an extension to one of their favourite greenhouses, which would be safe enough for them to sleep 'outside', to nest, to raise chicks and live as natural a life as possible..

Step 1: The Site

As you can see from the above in our forest garden, we didn't exactly have a great deal of choice as to where to site the quail safe house! The choice of making it an addition to an existing building was an obvious one for three reasons:

  • the quail already knew this greenhouse space, in fact it was there preferred one and they had started to nest in it,
  • it was protected from the prevalent Westerlies by the back of a neighbouring longhouse
  • it additionally had the trellis arbour adjoined to it and this would allow yet another space for the quail to use, under supervision, as it is potentially open to predators.

Step 2: Design Criteria

This new quail home/greenhouse was to have very specific criteria due to its unique position and function but these are actually in reality minor in structural design and no way preclude it from being useful for a multitude of purposes including just growing 'predator-free' food. In particular round here we have field voles, who have a brilliant and clever way of eating root vegetables by hollowing them out slowly and methodically, so you don't realise what's happening until all of a sudden a whole row of beetroot, for example, will suddenly wilt and keel over!

Here are the criteria for the quail safe house:

  • all year round outdoor living
  • an environment that encourages pair-bonding
  • safety from predators above and below
  • a planted environment, which will sustain itself
  • an environment which encourages the proliferation of arthropods
  • a roof that could be partially open (or covered) to allow access for rain and direct sunlight (vitamin D₃)
  • a windproof environment except from the South (we get Atlantic breezes)
  • an illusion of being open and spacious but without dangers
  • natural materials which blend well with our forest garden
  • would not interrupt the view; so built on a slight angle to blend into the vista or enfilade, which flowed from the trellis arbour, and existent greenhouse*
  • easy care and maintenance
  • can be built of recuperated/recycled materials
  • can be added on to an existing and favourite greenhouse of the quail to allow for them to access that additional space when vegetables/fruit were above quail height**
  • big enough footprint to allow a group of 12 or more quail to feel unpressured and able to form their own mini territories.
  • allows the rose bushes at the side of the planned extension to get good access to light

* Top Left Photo

** Top Right Photo - the recycled glass window will be removed and replaced with a doorway to access the new build quail house.

Step 3: Materials & Measurements

The design (and thus the materials needed) is informed by the dimensions of the window frames to be used.

For example, we had already recuperated 3 identical pairs of double-paned, single glazed casement windows. These frames measured as follows:

Each pair was:

width 60" (1535mm)

height 57" (1440mm)

thickness 1½" (35mm)

The thickness of the frames you choose is crucial, as this sets the thickness of the posts, which were made from sandwiching together two pallet uprights. I will explain this further when we come to the section on fitting the windows. These planks, we can find easily at plumbers, glaziers and general carpentry businesses (see photo above).

For the rest of the material I drew from our collection of untreated pallet wood, you can find all the information on identifying untreated pallets here on Instructables: Organikmechanic's Weekend Chicken Coop project.

The breakdown of the pallet wood used is as follows:

For the roof: 16 standard pallet wood planks of ¾" (20mm) thickness, plus...

For the stops and and ridge connecting pieces a couple of pallet planks or uprights of 1" (25mm) thickness

For the support posts for the walls 9 uprights - this is because each upright can be cut in half lengthwise to furnish one post.

For the supporting frame of the greenhouse boards and roof purlins 18 extra long pallet planks 8' (2540mm)

Laths cut from pallet wood (approximately 1 standard pallet) to attach the polythene.

200 micron UV-Stabilised Horticultural Grade Polythene 130ft² - 12m²

Chicken wire (optional) to cover between the first and second roof truss. This is then covered in Winter with screw on frames of polythene (see film)

Screws and Nails

I had already changed the recuperated window at the back of the existent greenhouse for a homemade pallet wood door, some time previously.

Step 4: Preparing the Site and Laying the Bottom Board

The Bottom Board each made from a single large pallet length were laid in position and the earth was adjusted accordingly. At the end of the build a layer of brick was dug in to butt up to this board to prevent ingress from rats. It has worked so far!

Step 5: Support Posts

These as previously stated were made of a long pallet wood plank cut lengthwise and then sandwiched together with nails.

These were then pointed at one end and driven into the ground in their designated places i.e. where they would support the windows

Step 6: Fitting the Outer Facing Board

Another long pallet length was fitted to the top of the posts on the outside face so as to be vertically inline with the bottom board.

Step 7: Preparing and Fitting the Windows

The casement windows have a central vertical weatherstrip attached to one of the pair both on the inner and outer face, approximately a 4" length was removed from the top and bottom of the window, so as to permit the inner and outer board to fit snuggly against it.

Step 8: Fitting the Windows

The windows rest on the bottom board.

They are sandwiched between the outer and inner board at the bottom and inner and outer barge boards at the top.

These boards in turn are screwed to the posts. This is why the posts are cut to the exact window thickness.

Step 9: Gable End

This comprises just outer boards, to which are screwed laths to sandwich the polythene.

Diagonal braces stiffen the structure.

Step 10: The Roof Carpentry - Construction

In order that the four roof trusses should be identical, a jig was created from two pallets, so that each truss could be replicated easily.

Each truss comprised 4 standard pallet planks nailed to 'stops' and a ridge plate. These were sandwiched between the planks at the bottom and top respectively.

The stops were trimmed to the slope line of the trusses with a saw once they they were nailed together as were the ridge plates (picture above). This is much easier than trying to gauge the slope and cut each stop and ridge plate beforehand.

Step 11: Roof Carpentry - Fitting the Trusses

The first truss to go on was the one that butted onto the end of the existing greenhouse and was screwed to it.

The second was the one that fitted to the opposite gable end. This truss was screwed through the 'stop' to the top barge board of the house carpentry.

I then ran a string between these two, so as to make sure that I had all the other trusses in line.

I also ran a plumb line to check for vertical levels too.

Step 12: Fitting the Wire and Roof Ridges

The wire was fitted to the first pair of trusses with planks to hold it into place. This was also to facilitate the screwing in of polythene covers in the Winter.

Two lengths of long pallet wood planks (purlins) were screwed either side of the ridge to join the trusses and form a rigid roof structure.

Step 13: Fitting the Polythene

The polythene was positioned and held in place with spring clamps and then screwed to the roof trusses with pallet plank laths.

The edges of the polythene were secured with narrower laths and screwed in place (see detail above)

Step 14: Planting Up

I carried in several loads of compost which the quail were more than happy to help me with. They cleared up as many invertebrates as possible although I was hoping that some of them would survive to reproduce. I also set up a small pile of compost within a simple wooden framework, basic compost bin, as this is a great ant environment and the quail's favourite food are ant eggs particularly those of the flying ants which are large and a dusky pink and obviously highly prized. However, they also love eating the ants as well!

Going on previous experiences with quail nesting, their favourite nest sites seem to be under aromatic plants, so my first plantings were of a large rosemary cutting and a lemon balm, quail will eat the latter, so it's worth planting quite a large root of it with well advanced foliage. I then planted up several different vegetables, which had come in the 'chicken boxes', I get form my local organic shop. This is the damaged fruit and vegetables that can't be sold but what can't be eaten can usually be planted. Quail aren't that keen on carrot tops, so I planted a fair few whole carrots, which also went on to produce very pretty flowers. The turnips and the salsify I planted were constantly nibbled but I managed to get some going in pots first and then they stood a better chance. I also planted some succulents in hanging planters and a large edible passion flower that I had grown from seed. Quail like cover but also planting quite thickly in certain areas, gives the illusion of more space and allows them to make territories. These plants also of course attract insect life and I did plant brassicas because the quail love cabbage white caterpillars, they chase the butterflies too.

Step 15: Success

Hope you enjoyed this project as much as my poultry did, both in watching it going up and in living in it afterwards!

All the very best from sunny Normandie, Sue xx

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    11 months ago

    Love your username, very clever! So are you now a peasant with a pheasant?

    Just curious, why did you choose to use polyethylene for the roof? Will it hold up to the weather?


    Reply 10 months ago

    Hi there, sorry to be so late in replying, we have had serious technical difficulties here - terrible unworkable internet speed and then the computer went bang.

    So actually yes I am or rather was, pheasants are difficult to keep in a free-range environment but we did have one for a very short time - 'Fluffy' who we rescued and then released (see photo).

    Polythene of horticultural grade 200 micron is pretty tough, it withstood the recent hurricane, plus the quail safe house is sheltered by my neighbour's longhouse. I do have other greenhouses though and they all have the same roofing. I would not however, put anything less than 200 micron on the roof. That said, we did start with a much less robust polythene on one greenhouse roof but it eventually ripped in a severe storm but had lasted many years before that happened. It is mainly the sun that is the problem and that is why we use horticultural grade, as it is UV stabilised.

    All the very best from Normandie, Sue


    1 year ago

    Your quails are so cute :D


    Reply 1 year ago

    Hi there and thank you so much - quail are such lovable birds. I don't know if you've seen my most recent instructable on 'Do Poultry Make Good Pets?' but in the film that goes with is you can see both how affectionate they are and how they love playing silly games - I had a juvenile that would play 'jumping in the food bucket' - you can see it on film and he decided to do that all by himself. I do hope you either have quail or have a chance to get some, they often get such a raw deal from humans and they need more good people on their side.

    All the very best from Normandie, Sue


    1 year ago

    Wow, that’s just great. Wonderful job on building your garden. I’ve often wanted to build a hutch for our wild quail. I’m not sure they would like it though. Even with predators around they seem to prefer the low shrubbery and probably wouldn’t move in. They do run through the fence to get away from the coyotes but it doesn’t take a coyote long to figure out how to jump a fence.

    On a side note, my son grew out his beard and has a striking resemblance to the statue of Rollo.


    Reply 1 year ago

    Hi there Arthur and thank you so much for your kind comments, they are appreciated! You are really lucky to have wild quail, there are hardly any left here in France but the organic dairy farm from where we buy our milk has them. I think you could definitely attract them with planting schemes but in my experience they don't like being in low enclosed structures unless it gets really cold. Rats are the big problem here as predators for quail and hawks.

    Yes we have deep Viking roots in this part of Normandy (also pirate ancestry too). The everyday vestiges though are the famous cows for which the area is very proud, they are the descendants of the Telemark cows the Vikings brought over with them in their ships. If your son look like Rollo you should check out your ancestry and see if you either come from Normandy, Brittany or Scandinavia. here's some photos of the Norman/Breton/Viking cows. All the very best, Sue


    1 year ago

    I love seeing photos of your land, it's so pretty :)


    Reply 1 year ago

    Thank you for your lovely comment, it makes me so happy because we grew this from an abandoned field and a lot of it, including many of the trees, we grew from seeds or cuttings. Here are a couple of views to give you an idea of what we started with. It is actually a very old Inn yard, we believe - the hens scratched up two coins from the early 1500s! All the best from Normadie, Sue

    Garden West to East.jpgLooking from Wanut tree.jpg