Raising quail is a great way for even urban homesteaders to have fresh, sustainable eggs. Many cities and towns have banned chickens, but don’t specifically outlaw quail, creating an opportunity for you to start raising quail for their eggs. Although their eggs are smaller than chicken eggs, they’re just as tasty, and can still be used in cooking. Quail eggs are even considered a delicacy in some cultures.
On our homestead, we keep Coturnix quail, which originated in Japan where they are prized for both their meat and their eggs. After a particularly difficult winter which brought an upper respiratory infection that killed half our chickens, we decided raising quail might be a smart idea. The Coturnix quail are quiet, pleasant birds that are in some ways easier to keep than chickens, requiring much less feed and space.
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Learning how to start quail farming was natural for us, since quail can eat game bird feed and eat and drink out of the same type of feeders and waterers as chickens. In this basic quail farming guide, I’ll show you how to prepare your homestead and how raising quail has some advantages over chickens and other poultry.
What are some advantages of raising quail?
Quail are quiet creatures
Quail roosters don’t crow like chicken roosters. Instead, they make a quiet chirping noise that is barely audible but quite pleasant. If you decide raising quail is perfect for your homestead, your neighbors might not even know, especially if you keep the birds, in a greenhouse or outdoor shed.
Quail don’t free range
Quail fly much better than chickens, and they are not as domesticated. In my experience, you don’t want to let them free range because you will probably lose one or all of your flock of quail that you’re raising. And I can tell you from my experience raising quail that a loose one blends into it’s surroundings very, very well.
I’ve never had a quail I was raising go on the lam for very long, so I cannot say if they come home to their hutch at night, but I don’t recommend trying if you value your flock. As far as poultry go, quail aren’t the sharpest tool in the box. So, no free ranging means no angry neighbors, and I don’t need to explain the advantages there.
Quail don’t require much room
Since they are much smaller than other poultry, they do not take much space, time, or resources. In a hutch or coop, you should provide 1 square foot per bird, which means they require much less space than chickens, which need between 4 and 10 square feet per bird in a coop.
When it comes to raising quail in a coop or hutch, in my opinion, they’re better off in a hutch. Quail can be skittish and spook easily. I’ve had quail shoot straight up when frightened, and if they get too much momentum, they can easily break their necks. We raise our quail in a hutch that is 18 inches in height; since quail are ground dwellers and don’t roost like chickens, they’re happy in something that small.
When you build a hutch for raising quail, you’ll want to use hardware cloth on the bottom. Since quail don’t roost, they lay on the ground; if you don’t want your quail covered in poop, hardware cloth is best. The poop will drop to the ground, and you can compost it to use in your garden.
Our quail hutch is 2′ wide by 8′ long, so it’s perfect for the 12 quail we keep in it. The hutch is made of wood, and we used hardware cloth on the sides and bottom. The roof is made of spare roofing tin we had laying around (after my husband burnt our barn down. I’m still not over it). The poop drops through the hardware cloth bottom, and the chickens like to scratch through it to help it compost.
Coturnix quail mature and start laying at 6-8 weeks of age
And the hens lay every day, just like chickens. Because they mature so quickly, they have a distinct advantage over chickens. Instead of waiting 4, 5, or 6 months before you get eggs or even know if you have a hen or rooster, you will know in as little as 6 weeks.
It’s easy to tell the difference between male and female Coturnix quail. The males have a “blush” on their chest, and their feathers are very tan. Their chests feathers are smooth. Female quail have rougher feathers, and lack the “blush” that males have. In the quail video above, you can see how to sex quail and know the differences between males and females.
You’ll start getting quail eggs at around 6 weeks of age, although in the winter, like other poultry, you will need to provide supplementary light. Quail eggs are much smaller than chicken eggs, and when cooking, you’ll want to use 3 quail eggs for every 1 chicken egg.
Breeding quails is as easy as hatching chicken eggs
You can incubate quail eggs just like other eggs (and hatch them together, actually). Unlike chicken eggs, however, quail eggs only take 17 days incubate (although you can expect hatching a little before and after).
Newborn quail are very, very tiny, and very skittish. They’re about the size of a quarter, and make newborn chickens look like giants. They are easily frightened, and will take flying leaps. My first experience hatching and raising quail was crazy – the only one that hatched decided to take a flying leap out of the incubator and 4 feet down onto a hardwood floor. Luckily, the quail lived, but now I only remove quail if the incubator is on the floor.
Quail are hardy and rarely catch poultry diseases
Although it’s certainly possible your quail can catch some diseases from your other poultry, they generally are hardier. If their hutch is kept clean and warm, and they’re not crowded, you’ll likely have few health issues raising quail. That being said, it’s best to coop the quail your raising away from your chicken coop. A garage or outdoor shed will suffice. I know many people who also raise quail in their basements.
Introducing new quail to an existing flock
One thing to look out for as you’re raising quail are pecking order disputes. Quail can be nastier than chickens, and particularly the roosters are upset by new comers. If you need to introduce a new quail into an existing flock, separate it using hardware cloth so it can see the other birds, but they cannot touch. They will sort out their pecking order through the hardware cloth, and hopefully integrate peacefully after. Raising quail is easy, and a great alternative if your town won’t allow chickens.
I’d like to hear from you!
Are you thinking of raising quail? Would they work for your homestead? Email me at [email protected] or comment below!
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.