Quail

One of our Coturnix roosters.
Quail are an urban homesteader's best kept secret. I'm of the opinion that anyone can manage a flock, even when living in a small apartment. They take up very little space, are fairly quiet, and they're ridiculously easy to care for. There's information available online about raising quail, but it's not always easy information to find.

There seem to be quite a few quail breeders around; lots of people admit to raising them, but not many people choose to write about them other than in passing. The two exceptions I've found are lovely blogs called The Holistic Hen and Quails Among the Gum Trees. These two blogs have given me so much useful information, and much to think about, as they both raise quail organically on the ground, something we're getting close to doing ourselves. Neither of them are located in the US, and I've yet to find anyone writing about raising them in the Pacific Northwest, where we have our own, unique issues.

I'll be updating this page as we go along, but for now here's my best advice for raising quail:

Starting Out
  • Get your quail from a reputable breeder. Do your research. Does the person selling to you answer all of your questions? Will they let you take a look at their set-up? Do their birds look healthy? They should also give you enough feed so that you can safely transition onto whatever feed you'll be providing. Will they continue to answer your questions after you take your birds home? If you have an existing flock already, I would recommend getting eggs to hatch instead of bringing in live birds which may also bring in health issues that might affect your existing flock.
  • Have your set-up ready before you bring your birds home. Quail are crazy. They startle at anything new, and will shoot straight up in the air, right past your head. While this is entertaining to watch, it can be a problem if your new flock disappears into the sunset. Having a secure set-up ready is crucial.
  • Handle with caution. Like I said, quail are completely nuts. While they are curious and friendly, they do startle frequently. There are multiple ways you can hold quail, but I prefer holding them in one hand with the other hand over their head. This allows me to stop them if they try popping into the air, and it also keeps their eyes covered, making them less likely to startle in the first place.
  • Find a reliable source for feed. Quail generally do best on gamebird feed. They need a crumble, which is easier for them to eat than a pellet feed, and be prepared for them to waste a lot. They're messy eaters. There are ways to cut down on feed loss that I'll elaborate on below. There's loads of information out there about how much protein quail need, but my experience is that they do fine on any feed with 20 to 24% crude protein.
  •  Keep fresh water available all the time. This sounds obvious, but quail poop everywhere, and in everything. Depending on the type of water access they have, this could mean that you end up changing the water several times per day. Healthy birds drink fresh water.
  • Give them a break. Especially after any changes or moves. They're remarkably sturdy little birds, but they do need a bit of time to adjust to changes. Give them a couple of days to recover any time you move them, deep clean the cage, or introduce anything new. Healthy birds are not stressed.
  • Handle with care. Quail really are adorable! They're cute, tiny, and fun to watch. We get a lot of kids stopping by to see the animals, and unlike the other animals, the quail are a hands-off exhibit. They're too small, and they're rather unpredictable. 
  • Be prepared for poop. These guys poop a lot. Get a few of them together in a small space, and you've got a lot of poop piling up fast. It's great if you're a gardener. If you don't garden, find someone who does, and you'll have a friend for life. Quail poop, like most manures, needs a few months of composting before it can be added to a garden bed, though, or you risk scorching the plants with the heavy nitrogen content. 


Habitat - You can house quail in nearly anything as long as you keep the following in mind:
  • Due to the aforementioned shooting straight up into the air tendency, quail have a tendency to brain themselves on the tops of cages. In order to keep them safe, cages need to be either 10 - 12 inches tall or 6 - 7 feet tall. Anything in between, and you risk them breaking their necks.
  • There are lots of ways to adapt an existing cage, however. Using cage wire or hardware cloth to lower a ceiling would work. We are currently house a flock in a rabbit hutch. In order to keep the quail from hitting the ceiling, I attached branches all across the top. 
  • Building cages out of cage wire is not as difficult as you'd think. This is how I built our cages, as I didn't want to spend a lot on purchasing premade cages. There are loads of Youtube videos on how to make cages. I used this one. If you go this route, you definitely want to get the j-clip pliers. It's not even worth trying without it. And, wear gloves. I still have scars from the pointy bits of wire...
  • Each quail will need at least one square foot of space, but with all our animals, we choose to give more than the minimum recommendation. You'll see people keeping them packed into smaller spaces, but keep in mind that the more crowded they are, the more stressed they'll be. Stressed birds get sick, don't lay, and can become aggressive with each other.
  • In the Spring, we'll be moving at least one of our flocks to a more natural, on the ground habitat. I'll be posting updates when that happens, so check back for more info. 


What Next?
  • Be prepared for eggs. A LOT of eggs! We currently have seven quail hens, and we got eleven eggs yesterday! They can be egg laying machines. That's under prime conditions, though. Decide ahead of time what you plan to do with all those little treasures. They'll pile up quickly!
    • Eat them! 
      • The kids adore the teeny-tiny fried eggs we make. They are perfect for tiny tea parties!
      • Hard boiled quail eggs are too cute, and they're great for school lunches. The best way to hard boil them is actually steaming. It cooks them better, and makes them easier to peel. Ann, from A Farm Girl in the Making has a great how-to post here
      • Pickle them! I was not a pickled anything fan until I tried Ann's recipe. Trust me. These are fantastic! Pickled Quail Eggs in Jalapeno Brine
      • Quail eggs are great for baking. Because they're mostly yolk, they add a richness to baked goods that you just don't get with chicken eggs.
      • 4 to 5 quail eggs = 1 chicken egg
      • Quail egg scissors are a thing. And, you're going to want some. Trust me. 



    • Hatch them! Quail will not set their own eggs. They've been so thoroughly domesticated that their natural inclinations have been bred out of them. Unless you're willing to start raising them in a completely natural habitat, be prepared to use an incubator if you want baby quail. I'll talk about getting quail to hatch their own eggs in the Fact from Fiction section.

Separating Fact from Fiction
  • Noise - Yes, I said quail are quiet. Relatively speaking, they are. But they aren't silent. The males do crow. It's a beautiful trilling sound, and the reason people in Victorian times kept quail as songbirds. Some of these little roos will crow only occasionally, and some will go at it from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. While the noise level of the roosters seem about comparable to the noise a parakeet makes, you'll need to decide if that's something you can deal with. They also make all sorts of little chirruping and cooing sounds, especially when they're excited or happy. It's pretty cute when they greet you with little happy humming sounds. 

  • Pets - All of our quail have been raised outdoors as a combined flock. While they are curious and friendly, crowding around the front of the coop when I approach, they aren't quite tame enough to be considered pets. You could definitely raise them as pets, though, and many people do. They're like tiny, feathered clowns, and would be a great starting pet/livestock for older kids looking to get into farming or homesteading.
  • They're really stupid. Yes, and no. Quail are given a bit of a bad rap. Before we started raising them, I heard all about how stupid they were. - They can't hatch their own eggs. They're startled by everything. They just sit all the time. They won't avoid being eaten by a predator. They roosters are scared of their own crow. The hens are scared of the egg they just laid. - After spending a fair amount of time with them now, I'm starting to doubt most of this. A lot of this "stupidity" is simply the result of taking them out of their natural environment, and raising them in small, wire enclosed spaces. The more natural we make their habitats, the more naturally they behave. This is something I'm planning to write more on in the coming months, so stay tuned!
  • Eggs - Quail have the potential to lay a lot of eggs. Several of our hens lay more than one per day, and we call them the the egg machines. The conditions have to be right, though. Quail need 14 to 16 hours of light per day to lay. We tacked up a strand of Christmas light around the top of their pen to provide them with a little warmth and extra light during the winter months. Without it, we'd be getting no eggs. 
  • Hatching eggs - Nearly everything I've read will talk about how quail are too stupid to hatch their own eggs. While I initially agreed, I've come to believe differently the more time I spend with the little birds. I think it's less that their natural instincts have been bred out of them, and more likely that we're not giving them the opportunity to figure it out. We've been raising our quail in a converted rabbit hutch for the last several months, and I've got a more natural habitat set up for them. Within weeks, the hens began laying eggs in a community nest. We occasionally find one or another of them sitting in the pile. We're going to be moving at least one of our flocks to a ground pen in the coming months, and I'll be curious to see if we can encourage any natural hatching with the hens. I'll keep you posted!

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