As promised, here is a primer on how to raise these delightful little birds for fun, profit and food.
Let me begin by stating I simply don’t understand why anyone interested in urban farming would not raise quail. The only logical reason against it would be if your community does not allow it, but my experience is that most communities have yet to write laws for or against them. Quail seem to have flown under the zoning radar so far. Excuse the pun and yes, it was intentional.
Let me give you just a few reasons why I think you should raise quail: they take up very little room; they are cute; they are champion egg-layers; their eggs are much more nutritious than chicken eggs; they are easy to butcher if you want them for meat; and did I mention they are cute?
Let’s get started, shall we?
COST OF QUAIL
Most quail chicks can be purchased from local farmers for two or three bucks each. If your goal is to raise quail and eventually hatch your own eggs, then purchase one male for every four or five females. If you just want eggs you don’t need a male.
Safety, safety and more safety! Quail are basically defenseless against backyard predators and, in all honesty, they are not terribly intelligent. In other words, their survival instincts suck. As I stated in an earlier posting of this blog, our quail are housed in two outdoor aviaries. One aviary is 14’x19’ and has forty quail in it. The other aviary is 10’x14’ and has twenty inhabitants. We use ½ inch hardware cloth for the sides and the top of the aviaries, and we sink that cloth at least a foot into the ground along the sides. The hardware cloth is non-negotiable. Raccoons and weasels can fight their way through chicken netting, so don’t use it.
Quail, in the wild, spend most of their time on the ground in tall grasses, so we simulate that by throwing hay into their pen. They like to hide in the hay and lay their eggs there. It gives them a sense of security and as an added bonus it’s cute to watch them try to hide. Quail can fly, about a maximum of ten feet vertically and horizontally, and they will break their necks if there is a solid ceiling to the aviary, so that’s why we use wire for the top in one of our aviaries. The other aviary is over ten feet tall, so we have plastic roofing on top of that.
There are bags of quail feed available at your local farm and garden center. Quail will also eat chicken feed. They will also eat fresh greens. They love watermelon. Baby chicks need to have their feed ground down to a powder. We just toss the feed in a blender and grind it up. Adult quail just eat the pellets whole.
RAISING THEM FROM CHICKS
If you buy baby quail then they need to be in a brooder for about four weeks. We just use a large Rubbermaid tub with a heat lamp about 18 inches above the brooder. We place wire over the top of the brooder and keep their food and water fresh. In warm weather, the quail can be placed outside after three or four weeks. In cold weather, four weeks in the brooder is a minimum. They are hardy birds, and they winter just fine, but they need to be old enough to handle the cold before putting them outside. A day or two before we put our quail outside we turn the heat lamp off for a few hours at a time just to get them used to the colder temps. Off with the lamp for two hours, on with the lamp for two hours, and so on. In a day or two they will be ready for the great outdoors.
If you live somewhere that has brutally cold winters, you might have to string a heat lamp out to your quail enclosure and turn that lamp on when the temperature really takes a dip below freezing. We’ve had nights in the teens and the quail were fine without a heat lamp, but I think any temps below that you will be pushing your luck without that supplemental heater.
Quail will lay, on average, 1.5 eggs per day during laying season. They need about fourteen hours of sunlight to lay, and they will lay during the winter if you provide artificial light for them. We don’t do that, so we get eggs from ours for about four months out of the year, but with all the quail we have we get a lot of eggs each day.
The eggs taste, to me, just like chicken eggs, but they are considerably more healthy. As you might suspect they are small. For us, it isn’t worth the effort to fry up a batch of eggs for breakfast. Too much work to make a decent omelet. What we do is hard-boil them. They make a great snack done that way. Peel the shell, pop three or four in your mouth for a quick snack, and your appetite is satisfied.
THAT’S ABOUT IT
If you have questions just include them with your comments. Oh, breeds…we raise Japanese Coturnix. They are the most common here in the States and the most affordable. There are quite a few breeds to be found online, but the Coturnix is our breed of choice.
And I did not mention how to butcher quail, but you can find out how by watching Youtube videos. It’s an easy process if you are into that sort of thing.
I hope that helps. I’ll talk to you about raising chickens next time.