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.
Decided this weekend that the weather was finally done with the brutal cold and moved the birds back into the suspended breeding cages. One mistake I made this year is I kept too many males over winter – feed cost I didn’t need to spend. Ended up with 4 females and 6 males, since I keep the 2:1 had a few extra bachelors.
Since I was short females and to diversify the gene pool I ordered some eggs off eBay. It was almost a bad situation since I didn’t account for my travel schedule, they came one day before I left. Which actually works well as they can incubate while I am gone. Hopefully in 17 days I will be at full capacity for the summer.
My hope this year is too focus more on meat production. Have to wait and see how quickly I can cycle them through the incubator and brooder.
Bunny update: my existing doe had a litter of 6 last week, 5 made it. I seem to loose one right off the bat with each litter. Hopefully the other two does I kept from the first litter last fall are pregnant and will have litters in two weeks.
UPDATE: birds started laying last week while I was gone. Took about a week and half after I put them back on 12-14 hours of light a day.
So spring is trying to arrive, but intermittent snow storms (12 inches at a time) are trying to slow it down. All the quail except 1 of 2 Texas A&M made it through the winter. I have been keeping them in a section of the rabbit cage I built. It allowed me to have a single heated water source and provided them some protection from the elements. Suppose to warm up next week so I plan to move them back to the breeder cages and see if I can get them started laying again. It was interesting that after only 2 days of being in the larger cage and no lights they stopped laying entirely. Hopefully they remember how! I plan to order some eggs online and hatch them to rebuild the flock, but that will have to wait until I feel like the eggs will stay warm enough during shipping.
Other backyard quail farm happenings:
Chickens: my wife applied to the city for a special use permit to have chickens and we were approved. Secretly I think she hopes this will replace the quail, but I don’t have the heart to tell her. Really the quail are little trouble (less than what I think the chickens will be) and since I can not have a rooster according to the city I am not able to hatch chicken eggs to refresh the flock. I will be setting up a brooder this weekend and hopefully getting chicks next week from the feed store. I am looking to get White Leghorns. Everything says they are good egg layers and lay large white eggs, the kids will never know – shhhhh!
Rabbits: the bunnies made it through the winter as well. Keeping their water unfrozen proved a challenge. The heated bottles I bought were only good down to about 25 degrees. But I currently have the two original bunnies (1 male, 1 female, both flemish giant, new zealand mix) and two of the does first litter does. I breed the original doe a month ago thinking it would be warming by now, she had a litter of 5 over the weekend. The other two does are not from this buck and are now old enough to be moms, so I have breed them as well this week. We will see how they do over the next month.
Garden: the seeds have been started indoors for a variety of items: cabbage, broccoli, kale, tomatoes, peppers. If the snow ever clears I will harden of the cold tolerant plants and hopefully get something in the ground soon. Also, I planted garlic for the first time this past fall. Looking forward to see if that comes back up and makes for a harvest.
I have gotten a couple of questions lately about “free ranging” quail. While this works well for chickens, ducks and other fowl it is not recommended for quail. They tend to fly off never to be seen again. They don’t tend to roost in the same place each evening making free ranging difficult.
If you check my site I recommend a smaller cage for urban quail, about 2X3 foot. If you have more room you could use what is called a flight cage. It is a larger completely enclosed area that will allow the quail some height and distance to fly and exercise. It is usually used by growers who intend to sell their quail for training dogs to retrieve. Quail used in this way need to have strong flight muscles. it could also be used at ground level (as opposed to raised cages with wire bottoms) to allow the birds some ranging. It creates a real problem if part of your intent is to raise the birds for eggs, they are harder to find in such a setup.
Although I have never heard of it being used with quail, I would assume you could also used what is called a chicken tractor (search it). This would allow the birds some ground contact and a chance at natural foods like insects.
I would recommend regardless that you can a small box with some sand in it the cage to allow for some natural stimulation of the birds. Although the don’t need the grit if given a all purpose feed, it cant hurt them.
Just my two cents, but they are a great alternative to chickens if your local government prohibits chickens or you just want to try it out. The are easy and cheap to get started. They require less space than chickens – heck you could keep them in a bird cage in the house like parakeets. The eggs are good, nutritious, and fresh. Give it a try!
No need to chase the kids out of the room, this is a G-rated post, no gory pictures. Sorry!
Anyway I was looking for something to use similar to a killing cone that is made primarily for chickens, but these were all too large for my quail. Yes quail are small and easy to handle, even during butchering, but I was looking for something to help speed up the process and reduce the mess at the same time. So when you don’t find something you need shopping online, you of course make it yourself.
Looking around I decide a plastic soda bottle was about the right size. It is easier to explain using pictures, so follow along below. The one note is the curved shape of the bottles I chose actually help to hold the birds better. I have not experimented with bottles of different shapes.
Required Items: bucket, board, bottles (2-3), nails, and kitchen shears.
Cut the bottle along the lines, leave the tab at the bottom to use as a nailer:
Completed setup with two bottles, I located them on the board so they sit just inside of the bucket: