Quail are a popular game bird prized for their meat and eggs. They're a relatively easy, low-cost addition to any homestead. However, they're are often overlooked by those striving to lead a more self-sufficient lifestyle even though they take up little room and eat far less than other poultry. Weather you have a homestead that spans acres or live at a limited urban abode, quail are an ideal choice for those who want to produce their own eggs and meat with little time and effort.
Commonly Raised Quail Varieties
The two main types of quail found on American homesteads are bobwhite, which are native to many parts of the U.S. and coturnix, which originate in Japan. Most people choose to raise coturnix quail on their homestead because they mature quickly and lay an egg nearly every day. Bobwhite quail begin producing eggs after they are a year old and only lay from around May to July.
Proper Quail Accommodations
Quail require little space compared to other poultry. They are content with one square foot per bird. They do not return to a coop to roost like chickens and prefer to sleep on the ground. They also fly, therefore, they must be kept in an enclosure to ensure safety. They can be kept in a wire-bottom hutch raised off the ground or in an outdoor pen. Many homesteaders keep quail in a hutch in a garage or storage building while others create an outdoor aviary so the birds can be in a more natural environment.
They don’t require heated spaces in winter unless exposed to an extremely frigid climate. However, it is important to keep them dry and away from drafty areas. Be sure to keep their feeders full and change the water when it ices over. Warmer climates are fine as well if they have plenty of shade and water to keep them cool.
How to Feed Quail
Quail produce one pound of eggs per two pounds of food, so they require less food for what they provide when compared to chickens, which require three pounds of food to supply one pound of eggs. They can be raised on non-medicated turkey or game bird crumble since it contains more protein than other poultry food. Chicken feed may be substituted, but the birds will grow more slowly.
As birds reach maturity, calcium and phosphorus levels must be increased by adding shell grit or ground limestone to the ration after around five weeks of age. In hot weather, the birds might not eat as much so it's important to make sure there is enough calcium available to maintain egg production.
Quail require greens to supplement their diet. If they have access to grass they will get what they need on their own. When kept indoors, they must be provided with grass clippings or various greens such as spinach and kale.
It's a good idea to use smaller water containers like the ones designed for chicks because quail are small and can easily get stuck and possibly drown if the containers are too big. They can be fed free-choice as they self-regulate their food intake.
Coturnix quail typically reach maturity between six to eight weeks of age. The males develop a “blush” across their breast while females have speckled feathers on their chests. As the breast feathers grow in at around two to three weeks of age, it is quite easy to see the rusty brown feathers of the male compared to the buff and black speckled feathers of the female. Males tend to have slightly darker coloration around their eyes as well.
Bobwhite quail mature more slowly, but can easily be distinguished as male or female as their adult plumage develops. Males have a white throat and a black stripe over the eye while females have a buff stripe and no white on their heads.
To deter fighting among males, it is best to have a one male for every three females in each enclosure. It is also fine to have pairs of each gender in separate cages. This works well if you are breeding for specific traits in offspring.
All About Eggs
Bobwhite quail lay white eggs starting in May and continue for about three months. They sometimes brood their own young in captivity, but most homesteaders use an incubator to hatch eggs and raise the young under a heat lamp until they are feathered out. If you choose coturnix quail, an incubator will be necessary as they do not sit on their eggs or rear their young in captivity. Their eggs are usually speckled.
Quail lay their eggs on the ground. Unlike chickens, they don’t usually lay them in the same place each day. Instead, they lay them wherever they happen to be at the time. However, it is rarely hard to find and collect the eggs as long as the birds are kept in a confined area.
Although they are small, quail eggs contain more nutrition than chicken eggs because they have a greater yolk to white ratio. When used for cooking, it takes three to five quail eggs to equal one chicken egg, but the taste is the same—some would argue that quail eggs are even tastier. Quail eggs are often pickled or turned into delicious deviled eggs. They can also be used in baking or served up any way chicken eggs are typically used.
Coturnix quail are ready to butcher at around six to eight weeks. Bobwhites are ready between 15 to 20 weeks. They are easy to pluck and do not require a dip in boiling water like other poultry. The meat is tender and quail can be cooked whole just as one would cook a turkey or chicken. Quail can also be used in soups, stews, and casseroles.
When raising quail for meat, it's best to keep them in an enclosure that is just big enough for them to be happy. This will ensure that the meat stays tender. For the same reason, they should be processed right at maturity, and then packaged and frozen for future use.
Quail and fertilized quail eggs can be purchased from hatcheries and shipped or picked up as soon as they hatch. There are a variety of online hatcheries to choose from, and when comparing options, the distance the quail are shipped should be taken into consideration. The shorter time they spend in shipping, the more likely they are to thrive when they arrive at their new home.
Quail and eggs can also be purchased at small animal swaps and markets. Local quail suppliers often advertise in newspaper classifieds or on sites such as Craigslist. Some people prefer to hatch their own eggs and raise the quail themselves, which requires special equipment such as an incubator, heat lamp, and brooder. Others opt to buy birds that are already feathered out and reaching maturity.