Raising quail in your backyard can be both fun and profitable. I mainly do it because it is the highest form of farming my city allows on my small lot. It provides meat and eggs for my family and gives me a hobby. I keep anywhere from 20 – 50 birds at a time with 18 dedicated to eggs and the others in various stages of grow out for meat or replacement breeders. Each female will lay a single egg a day or every other day given the time of year and lighting conditions. I have raised mostly coturnix quail, this year I plan to try some Texas A&M. It should be interesting since you cannot sex them by color.
First you will need a cage. A good rule of thumb is about two square feet per bird. I have cages I found on Craig’s list specifically made for raising quail, they are slanted so the eggs roll to the front. There are plenty of plans online, so I won’t labor the point. I also have an old two part rabbit hutch that I use as a grow out cage. Make sure the birds are secure against predators. I lost several birds early on until I used a small size wire to cover the cages. Give the birds a place of shade to get out of the hot sun, some sort of roof system will also protect them from rain. Also, make sure it easy to clean up below the cages. I spread straw below mine and rake it once a week onto the compost pile before adding new straw. Keeps the smell down.
If you are looking for fertile eggs it is recommend to have 3:1 female to male ratio. I have found 2:1 works better in my smaller cages to keep the fighting down.
Feed is very important; if you want consistent egg laying it should be 24% or higher protein. Personally I use the Purina Layena. Occasionally they also receive extras from the garden, fruits, vegetables, and greens. In addition, for sustained egg production a calcium supplement like crushed oyster shells is recommended.
Winter care for your backyard quail flock is simple. The birds need fresh water, good food, and protection from the elements.
Fresh, unfrozen water is key to any livestock or animal under your care. For quail it is important they have access to water at a minimum of twice a day, but obviously more often or all day access is better. Depending on your latitude, frozen water will be the main winter concern. While I have yet to find a system I am truely happy with using for a small flock of quail, here is what I have or am using. When I am keeping quail in smaller breeder cages with a water bottle or tray I have succumbed to changing it out twice a day. Here in the US midwest the weather is variable so I can get away with this plan, but further north water can freeze in minutes. I have also used a heated chicken watered in a colony cage. It held almost three gallons and at the time I have about 18 quail so it works well. While there are other options (fish tank heater, bird bath heater, stock tank heater, heated dog water bowl) they all require you to have electricity available at the cages. I have not tried it myself, but I understand moving water does not freeze. I have seen a gravity feed system from a pond which is something I don’t have access to in my backyard. I have also seen a system with a barrel buried in the ground to get the water below the freeze line and pumped up to the cage, then gravity drained back to the barrel. Not sure this would completely work in the colder climates, but I found it interesting.
Game bird feed is high in protein by definition. In the winter it is important the birds have high quality feed available at all times in order to generate body heat. Again winter weather is the concern here. On my breeder cage, the feeder is a tray mounted outside. So I have to work to clear snow from the feeder and replace any feed that has become wet from rain or melting snow. Soggy, wet food can freeze and become unavailable or worse moldy. On my colony cage the tray feeder is inside under cover and protected from the elements. In addition to quality feed a little extra fat in the birds diet during the colder months can help them build internal fat to stay warm as needed. A good source is meal worms, which can be purchased or grown. This is something you don’t want to over do creating obese unhealthy quail. Plus you want to back off towards the end of the cold season allowing the birds to return to normal weight.
Protection from the elements is both obvious and not. While your quail need protection from cold wind, rain, and snow. They also need fresh air and ventilation. It’s a balance. When I kept the quail in the breeder cage for winter, even though it had a roof I covered it with a tarp to block the wind and blowing rain/snow. There was still fresh air from underneath through the cage floor. It was more work because I had to watch the weather and remove it on warmer days. When using the colony cage, one end is already completely enclosed so all I do is cover the additional sides. I staple feed bags on all except the door allowing fresh air to enter and flow out the cage floor.
The colder months can be hard on your flock, but with a little work and planning it is survivable. I have yet to loose any quail to cold temperatures. One final thought, young and older quail would be the most vunerable to bad weather. So I make it a point to only winter quail that are at least two months old and less than two years old. The two year olds are spring breeder that will be retired before the next summer.
Join our news letter and comment below with your questions or other thoughts on winter care.
Clan Mating or also called Family Mating is a breeding plan to insure good genetic diversity in a small flock or herd. While this system can be used with any type of livestock, obviously we are going to focus on quail.
In order to do clan mating you will need at least 6 birds, 3 male, 3 female. You tag or group the three separate clans with 1 male and at least 1 unrelated female per clan or family. For arguments sake lets assign them group colors for this discussion. I have a red, yellow, and green groups. Why? Because when I ordered the leg bands that is what colors were available for order, no other reason.
For this system to work you need to isolate each clan for breeding purposes to be sure of who fathered the chicks. I actually use three separate cages for my breeders, but if you don’t have that option you will need at least two separate cages. One for the main flock and one for the isolated breeding clan. Typically I recommend waiting two weeks after isolating the breeding clan, this will allow for any non-clan related breeding to have worked itself out. What I mean by this is if you are raising your quail in a colony cage with several males of different clans, your females may have been recently breed by a non-clan related male. After two weeks of isolation, any eggs you collect for incubation are guaranteed to be from breeding with the clan related male during isolation.
Then once the chicks are hatched you assign the females to the color or clan of the mother and the males to the next color or clan. So for example, when I am breeding and incubating the “red” clan in my system. The females will get a red leg band and stay apart of that clan. The males will get a yellow band and become apart of the next clan. When I am breeding the “yellow” clan, the female chicks remain yellow and the males get a green band. Finally, when breeding the “green” clan the female chicks remain green and the males get a red bad.
This system allows for sufficient genetic diversity in your flock with the minimal size flock of six birds. It is easy to run and doesn’t require a lot of complicated setup.
Take to the comments below with any questions or additional thoughts on clan mating quail flocks! Thanks!
Well yes and no!
Like most animals they are in tune with the seasons and during the winter month they will stop laying. It makes sense since any eggs that would hatch or young being born during the colder months would have a smaller chance of survival. This reduction in egg laying is triggered by the shortening of the day, less sunlight means less eggs.
While they naturally will slow down or stop laying eggs in the winter you can trick them by providing supplemental lighting. If you can provide 12-14 hours of light per day the quail will quickly return to laying every day. My recommendation is a simple string of Christmas lights with an inexpensive weather proof timer, both readily available at stores that have forgotten that we haven’t even had Thanksgiving yet, but I digress. These lights are weather proof, cheap to run (lower power usage), and easily hung around whatever cage you are using.
I recommend setting your timer based on your sunset time, meaning have the lights come on early in the morning to extend the first part of the day and go off either later morning or early afternoon. This allows the bird a more normal ease into the darkness of night as opposed to a sudden removal of the lights after dark and them walking into walls or something crazy. You don’t need to run them all day, just until after sunrise then they can go off saving even more energy.
Depending on your climate though you may need to collect eggs more often than once a day. Frozen eggs tend to crack and let in the bad bacteria. So make plans to collect at least twice a day or more if you climate gets and stays below freezing for extended periods.
Final thoughts – some people will say this practice is bad for the birds and they need to have a time of dormancy to recovery or it will shorten how long or how well they lay in future years. I believe to each his own. In my system I will use lights to keep them laying into winter and as spring time nears I hatch out new birds and replace all my layers with new stock. So I never know what I may be losing in future years.
It was my never my intent to go out and become anything. It was back at the beginning of the urban chicken movement. While I can remember at least one house in the town I grew up in that had chickens wandering about the yard, it just wasn’t that common at the time I decided to get a few hens. Our town was a suburb of a large metropolitan area and this was back before having city chickens was cool.
Fast forward and seemed like everyone was starting a garden and getting chickens, even the city dwellers. A lot of municipalities were moving to legislate how they would allow or not allow chickens. We had moved a little further out, but still in an urban area at the edge of the suburbs. Our city had decided to only allow chickens if you had at least 3 acres, which didn’t include us. We had more like a 1/10th of an acre, so chickens were a no-go. So I pouted around for a little while. Then I decided to actually read the city code and it put a crazy thought in my head. You see while the code was very verbose on the who, what, where, when, and why of chickens, cows, goats, and horses it was a little thin on others animals. It had a short list of animals that were strictly forbidden – pigs, ducks, geese, and guinea fowl. It allowed for pets, specifically dogs, cats, rabbits. The code had a final general section that required a special use permit for other domesticated animals, “except fowl which were covered above”. Hmmm….. So I thought there were lists of fowl specifically allowed or NOT allowed. One of my favorite sayings is “It is easier to ask forgiveness instead of permission”. While researching chickens I had seen references to raising quail and since they were NOT specifically restricted, I went for it.
There was a lot of good information on the internet about raising quail, but it was spread all over the place and didn’t really address the needs of small back yard quail keepers. So this website was born. I started documented my journey from knowing nothing about quail, to raising, butchering, incubating eggs, etc. It has been a great and delicious trip!
So now that I am “The Quail Man” what can I do for you? Feel free to ask questions in the comments of this post so we can all share in the answers or feel free to use the contact page to get a hold of me directly. If I dont have the answer I will do whatever I can to find out.
What do quail eggs taste like? Can I eat fertilized quail eggs?
Given that you feed the quail a commercial game bird feed, the eggs will taste the same as chicken eggs. If they have a different diet it can affect the taste, but not much. I have also been asked about eating fertilized eggs. There is no problem eating fertilized eggs, the problem comes in if you dont collect, clean, and refrigerate them daily. If it is super hot (90F plus) or super cold (below freezing) you should collect eggs at least twice a day.
Why raise coturnix quail? Why raise quail? Why keep quail?
Quail, especially coturnix quail, are easy to raise. They will give you eggs and meat if you desire. Finally, most locations and HOAs do not restrict them like chickens or ducks. Need more information check out my post “backyard quail – ten reasons why they are the perfect backyard animal”
Why aren’t my quail laying eggs? When do quail lay eggs? When do Japanese quail start laying?
Japanese coturnix quail will start laying eggs around 8 weeks old. A couple things that might affect this is hot or cold weather, age, and gender. Seems obvious, but make sure you have a female quail. Also, a lack of fresh clean water or good quality food can also decrease egg production.
What to feed quail?
I recommend a good quality commercial game bird feed. I tend to use Purina game bird products because they are available locally and easy to use. You can do some research online if you want to mix your own, but it is difficult to get the nutrition, protein level and vitamins just right. So proceed with caution! At one time I tried to feed some treats of grass/weeds/bugs, but my birds didn’t seem to get it, so I stopped.
What is a group of quail called?
A group of quail is called a “covey”.
What sound does a quail make?
Different quail make different sounds but the Japanese coturnix quail make a sound like a cricket chirping. The males do “crow” but it it is very soft. My urban neighbors didn’t know I had quail until I told them.
Can you free range quail?
The direct answer is “no”. Quail do not roost in the same place each evening, so if you release them they are not coming back. See my “free range quail” post for more information.
When do quail eggs hatch?
Typically they take 17 days to hatch. I say typically because modern quail, coturnix in particular, have had the ability to sit on and hatch eggs breed out of them. This means you will have to use an incubator. Differences in temperature and humidity can cause some eggs to hatch earlier or later. But nothing more than a day or two each way. So 16-19 days.
Quail when to start regular feed?
I feed my new quail chicks game bird starter feed with 30% protein for at least the first three weeks, then until it runs out after that to finish the bag. Then I start them on adult game bird feed of at least 20% protein.
I hope this was helpful to someone. Feel free to use the “contact for”m if you have any other questions or need more information.
Been a while since I posted, so thought I would begin with a post for folks looking to get started raising quail for eggs and/or meat in their backyard.
1) Cage or pen
You will need a minimum of a 2X2 area for each pair or trio of birds. This is a minimum and more is better. The needs here are pretty simple, something to keep the birds in and predators out. While there are a lot of crazy flight cages and things you could build, I recommend starting small and building up to it. Check Craigslist or eBay for a rabbit hutch or something similar. Place it in a location that gets good ventilation, but not direct sun in summer. I also recommend a raised cage with a screened bottom. This allows for a cleaner area for the birds to live in without you constantly needing to clean it.
OK, this seems obvious, but be careful. Some birds have specific requirements, limits, or permits in different states and locations. I recommend checking your state and local requirements before making any purchases. For beginners I highly recommend Jumbo Brown Cortunix quail. These birds are easy to keep and identify the male from the female based on feather color. Also, they usually have no state or local restrictions. They too can be found on Craigslist. If you are daring you can get an incubator and some hatching eggs, but might want to save that for later.
I recommend a good quality game bird feed of at least 20% protein, I use Purina brands. Some folks want to mix their own so they know what the birds are eating, but it is very hard to do this and provide proper protein and nutrition/vitamins needed by the birds. Just starting out go with store bought and if you want to mix your own, transition the birds to it slowly later so you can watch for any problems.
Fresh clean water, fresh clean water, fresh clean water! Get it? The birds need fresh clean water at all times regardless of weather or season. In the heat of summer, fresh clean water. In the middle of an ice storm in winter, fresh clean water! It will depend on your cage setup how you do this, but give it some thought or try different things For me, down the length of the cages I added a piece of PVC pipe with a slot cut into it. This allows me to easily clean it out or remove ice.
Lastly, anything you do requires some time. Quail do need much! Feed them once a day, fresh clean water twice a day, collect eggs and remove waste as it builds up. I can do all of this in about 10-15 minutes a day and 15-20 minutes extra on weekend to clean out from under the cages.
Hope this helps and inspires someone to get started raising quail!
See this post for more detail “Backyard Quail – butchering – simple killing cone”
See this post for more detail “Backyard Quail – ten reasons why they are the perfect backyard animal”
Finally feels like summer around here, got a heat wave this week that made both me and the birds a little hot. Not too much activity this summer with the quail, no hatches, no loses, just collecting eggs and maintaining. It’s nice when a system gets to the point where you can run it on auto-pilot and the weather has helped.
So speaking of the heat, just a couple of friendly reminders. I have positioned my cage so that it is under a large pine tree. This provides all day shade in the summer and protection from cold winds and snow in the winter. The other key is that the cage is open (wire mesh) on two sides and the bottom to allow good airflow. Finally make sure your birds have fresh clean water available all the time and replace it twice a day on hot days.
Trying to decide what to do this fall. Just thinking out loud, I will probably get some outside eggs to hatch and retire a couple of hens. I need to get on that soon so they have time to mature before the weather changes. How about you, what are you bird related plans for the fall?
Winter is FINALLY over! I ended up with 10 quail after a long brutal winter. Thanks to the surviving females I have 28 eggs in the incubator. With my normal 50% hatch rate I hope to have 10+ new additions to the flock.
I have a cheap low end styrofoam incubator. Last year I got a digital thermometer and it shows the temp range (hi/low) and this thing varies wildly which is why I think I get such a low hatch rate. I am thinking I will need to see what I can do it better insulate it and see if I can get it into a narrower temp range. Thoughts?