Quail? What is a quail? Most people have only heard of quail in a hunting story, or in the Bible. Well, here on the homestead, a quail is what got our whole family started in farming! We started out with Japanese coturnix quail eggs as a project and within 3 months, we realized that these birds would be a great source of meat. So, let’s talk about why you would want to raise quail and how to do it.
The most convincing reason to raise quail is how short of a time it takes to raise them from egg to plate. A Japanese coturnix quail takes only 18 days to incubate. From hatch to harvest, this quail only needs 6 to 8 weeks, while other varieties can take up to 18 weeks. Since quail is a small breed, it does not take a lot of space to raise them. Whether you live in a neighborhood or in the country, quail take up very little space and time. Which leads to my final reason for raising quail. The meat and eggs are delicious! If managed properly, quail can provide a meal for the family and even a small income.
So now that you know why, let’s talk about how. The very first thing you will need, is housing. If you plan on keeping your birds outside, you will need a way to protect them from the elements of weather. It is my opinion, that you should try to house birds in an area that at the very least has a roof on it. Our quail are raised in our rabbit hutch. It is a stand alone building that has an incubator, brooder box and several bird cages, along with rabbits!
The quail cage only needs to be as big as your flock. Each bird needs approximately 2 square feet. There really is no set way on how to build your cage, but here are a few pointers. Definitely use 1/2″ hardware cloth for the bottom of the cage. If you use anything smaller, the quail poop will not be able to go through the bottom. This causes a huge mess and can lead to unsanitary birds. Before we knew any better, we used 1/4″ hardware cloth because we used it for our nuisance wildlife removal business. We ended up with birds that had feces dried onto their feet. We immediately went back to the drawing board to create a better system to allow their poop to go through the bottom, but still be close enough for them to still walk in comfort. If you use 1″ hardware cloth, the openings are too big for the quail to walk around. Keep in mind that they are small birds, and small birds have small feet!
Another thing to include in your quail cage is a light fixture. You can do this several different ways. When we first started, we had hardware cloth across the top and just placed a clamp lamp on top of the wire to provide light and warmth for the birds in the winter. The benefit to this was that the quail could not bump into or peck the light bulb. However, since the whole cage was made from hardware cloth, it was open to air from all angles. In our second attempt, we put the quail lower down, with a flip lid made from wood. We cut a hole out and installed a light fixture. This cut down on the draft, but also exposed the light bulb to these jumpy birds. We replaced several light bulbs because of the constant bumping by the birds. We were told that getting a red bulb would stop them from pecking, but it did not stop them from trying to fly and bumping into the bulb. Finally, we put the quail in our rabbit hutch, which is enclosed, and went back to the original design of hardware cloth on all sides. We installed a light fixture in the middle on a small piece of plywood. We learned that the birds eventually leave the light alone. By only using it in the winter, we cut down the possibility of a broken light bulb. They are trying to stay warm and realize the warm comes from the light. They will huddle under it, rather than try to take it out. Here is a short video on how we have our quail set up:
So, once you have your cage built, you will need to decide what kind of quail to raise and whether to buy eggs, chicks or adults. As far as a breed, we have always raised couturnix, also known as pharoah quail. The reason for that is how cost efficient they are to raise. Both male and female quail are mature by 7 weeks. The females will lay consistently, and the extra males can be thinned out and butchered. Other breeds, like the bobwhite or Georgia giant, will get slightly bigger, but do not reach butcher age till 17 or 18 weeks. In my opinion, couturnix quail are the only way to go!
So now the question is, do you start with eggs, chicks or adults. The answer to this question will depend on your resources. If you have access to an incubator, I recommend you start with eggs. But, be careful where you get them from. If you are buying online, make sure that the seller knows how to ship eggs. If they are not packaged properly, the egg sacks can pull away from the egg rendering the egg useless for hatching. The benefit to starting from an egg is that you know the entire lifespan of the bird when it is time to butcher. You know what it was fed, how it developed, if it was susceptible to any disease.
If you do not have access to an incubator, your next best option is to order chicks from a reputable hatchery. Why not buy from your local farmer? Unfortunately, it has been our experience that most birds in an area are all related. This can cause problems with growth and fertility. Both of these are important to your production of meat and keeping your stock going. So it is best to buy from a hatchery, whose best interest is to keep their bloodlines clean in order to stay in business. The more local of a hatchery the better, since the birds will be at the mercy of the post office. In most cases, day old chicks can only survive 48 to 72 hours without food and water. So it is important that you know exactly where they are coming from and how long it will take them to get to you.
Your last option is to get adult birds. Based on my last two options, I am sure you can guess that I do not recommend getting adult quail. You do not know where their bloodline came from, what they were fed, how they were raised or even how old they are. Since couturnix quail are mature at 7 weeks, you could buy some female quail that are laying, but they might be 8 months old. Fertility drops off considerably after 8 months. The meat becomes more tough after 8 months. So, unless you are getting them for free, I would not get adults….And even then, if they are free, I would butcher them within a few weeks. Just my opinion.
Once you have your birds, you will need to take care of them. If you start with chicks, you will need to keep them in a brooder. A brooder is simply an area where the chicks can stay warm until they develop their feathers. For the first few days, you will need to keep the temperature around 95 degrees. The best way to know if your temperature is good is to watch your chicks. If they are all huddled up together, it is too cold. If they are staying far away from the lamp light, it is too hot. You want your birds to be active and curious. If they are warm, they will move around and chirp. Before we purchased a wooden brooder box, we used a plastic storage container with a heat lamp bulb. For the first few days, you want to put down a sturdy, but disposable surface so that the chicks don’t have any problem walking. One good suggestion is to use shelf liner material. After they get the hang of it, you will want to put down a type of bedding to absorb their feces and urine. The best product out there is pine pellets also known as equine pellets. They are highly absorbent and will last longer than other types of litter. Plus the pine helps neutralize the smell.
Also, you will want to give them food and water. Most people start with a chick starter. Whether you want medicated feed or not is solely your choice. I do not use it. In fact, a buddy of mine had me incubate some of his eggs one time. He brought a bag of medicated feed for his chicks. When they were hatched I put them in the brooder with the medicated feed. The chicks were lethargic and very sluggish. After several of them died, I changed out their feed with some of my own unmedicated feed. Within hours the remaining chicks were back to being lively and hopping all over the place. Each batch of chicks is different. So do what you need to do to keep your quail healthy.
Which ever feed you choose, you will need to use a feeder. We use a metal attachment feeder that screws onto a mason jar. Some people use a trough style feeder. Others make a feeder out of a 2 liter bottle. The mason jar feeder and trough style feeder are fine for a chick. The trough feeder and 2 Liter bottle feeder (mounted to the cage) are better for adults. The bigger the birds get the more likely they are to tip over the mason jars. This can be messy and expensive.
As far as water, you will need to give small amounts of water until the chicks get used to drinking. It does not take much water for a chick to drown. They make a mason jar attachment specifically for chicks. This works fine for us. Some people use a regular waterer and put marbles in the drinking tray so that the chicks won’t drown. If you are going to raise chicks most of the time, I would recommend buying the chick waterer. It is well worth the investment, besides they only cost a few dollars.
When the chicks are about 2 weeks, you can swap them over to game bird feed. It is typically a 26% protein feed. Quail need a very high protein diet to stay healthy, so do not skimp on their feed. You will have a choice between mash (sometimes called ccrumbles) and pellet. I recommend using the mash. We have seen less waste when using the crumbles. Usually the birds will be ready to move to a pen when they are between 4 and 5 weeks old.
In their grow out pen, you will need to provide water and food. In our current pens, we have a gallon waterer and three 1 quart mason jars with feeding attachments. While it works, it is not the best option. In one of our earlier attempts, we mounted a gutter to the back wall of the pen and capped it on both ends. From the ceiling, we ran a water pipe that dumped into the gutter. This way, all of the birds could drink at once. Since our quail cage is indoors now, we will have to fashion a drain to let out the dirty water, each day. For the feed, we will use the same concept. By providing a long, shallow trough, the birds will not tip the feeders over and waste the feed.
Be sure to feed and water your quail each day and monitor them in case they need more. In the summer time, we found that our birds drank more and ate less. In the winter, they ate more and drank less. So just be attentive of your birds and change your routine accordingly. You may find that they do better when they are fed in the morning, while others might do better eating at night. Just be watchful and vigilant.
When your birds reach about 8 weeks, the girls should be laying. Quail are not broody in captivity, so you will need to incubate the eggs if you wish to hatch any chicks. You can put a paint tray filled with sand in your cage to encourage the girls to lay their eggs in something soft so that the eggs don’t crack or roll around the cage floor. At this point, you can start to thin out your males. Remember, you want to keep one male for every 3 or 4 females. As you start to hatch out chicks, you might want to keep your breeders separate from your eaters. When your breeders reach about 8 months old, you will want to replace them, since their fertility drops. Besides this, there is not much else to it….
So what are you waiting for…..start raising quail! You can do it!