Quail are becoming increasingly popular amongst poultry enthusiasts due to their compact size and the delicious products produced by this small bird. Even though the quail is considered a game bird, they are quickly becoming another staple for homesteaders.
There are many reasons people are falling for the quail, and whether you live in the city or the country, you may have the perfect location for a few of these little feathered friends—because, well, you can pretty much take them anywhere due to their compact size.
Quail are actually a part of the pheasant family, along with partridges (another small game bird that is often confused with quail). There are 100’s of different breeds, just like chickens, and species of quail throughout the world. It’s no wonder they are starting to gain some traction outside of gaming. They not considered to be a domesticated or farmyard bird, in fact, they are still thought to be quite wild, or in other words, game birds.
There are only a few quail breeds that are raised like domestic birds. Which breed you purchase depends on your intended use for your future covey of quail. Some of the most popular quail breeds for backyard farmers are the Northern Bobwhite Quail, the Cortunix, and the California Quail (which just-so-happens to be California’s state bird)!
While raising quail has a lot of parallels to that of raising chickens, there are quite a few differences in how to go about it. So, if you have chickens, you have a leg-up on this new venture, and if not, that’s ok!
Quail are easy to learn, and before you know it, you will be enjoying their boiled eggs on a weekly basis. Before you establish your first covey (a group of quail), there are a few things to take into consideration that will help you prepare. But first, let’s talk about why you should make the decision to start raising this sweet little bird in the first place.
Why Quail are Awesome
It’s been said that chickens are the gateway animal to farming, and for the most part, it’s true. But when you have a smaller, more manageable bird that delivers many of the same features, it’s a little bit of a competition to see who comes out as more convenient. Quail are awesome for a lot of reasons, but here’s some of the most important reasons a quail might end up being the most prized “poultry” on your farm.
No matter which breed of quail you are considering, the truth is, they are all considered to be small game birds. Most are much smaller than a bantam-sized chicken, but why does this make them awesome, you ask?
Well, it depends on who you are talking to, but smaller means less space, and if you live in an urban area, you can easily keep some of these little cheepers on your porch or in your backyard in a simple cage or well-furnished coop.
An average quail weighs approximately 5 ounces. Yeah, that’s pretty tiny, and while there may not be much meat on their bones, the meat that exists is mighty tasty and kind of fun to serve up. Their small size means they don’t need as much space as some of the larger barnyard poultry, which means city-dwellers can easily keep a couple quail in a small space.
Some urban farmers have even been able to get around the “no chickens” ordinances in their cities by owning quail instead. Some cities just don’t know how to categorize these little birds.
If you are really strapped for space, it might interest you to know that there are people who opt to keep their quail indoors. They tend to think of their little egg layers as any other caged bird or pet. There isn’t anything wrong with this method of quail-keeping, as long as biosecurity measures are in place—in other words, the cage should be cleaned almost daily for sanitary, and sense of smell, reasons.
We aren’t really comparing quail to chickens, because its like comparing apples to oranges, but if we are taking a look at the main differences, the sounds that a quail makes are arguably less likely to annoy the neighbors.
Some quail are extremely quiet, and even the males don’t have as much to say as a chicken rooster. However, both males and females do a lot of low cooing and trilling when they see their favorite human approaching. Some owners find the Quail’ song to be soothing and sweet.
In general, the quail is a much quieter bird to keep than a duck or goose, for example.
A quail is a small bird, which means the meat yield is much less than you would find on other farmyard poultry. Even the large-sized quail breeds, like the Bobwhite Quail, will probably produce less than a pound of meat per bird.
The good news is, the quail matures quickly and incubates in nearly 18 days. This means that while there may be very little meat per bird, you can house more in small spaces, and raise more, quickly, if you are looking for a higher yield. After about 7 weeks, a quail is considered to be mature and ready to be harvested if it is being raised for meat. So, when you think about it, quail don’t need as much space or feed, and the turn-around for eggs and meat is much quicker than a chicken…not too shabby.
A quail can produce up to 1 egg per day and while they are a fraction of the size of chicken eggs, they taste fairly similar–and some will tell you they taste better! Even though they are teeny tiny, you get plenty of fresh eggs every week, and hey, if you don’t get the number of eggs your family needs, just add a few more Quail!
Aside from the fact that quail mature at about 7 weeks, they also lay eggs sooner than most other poultry! Their eggs are available on the breakfast menu much sooner than chicken eggs. Some Quail will lay their first egg at 2 months of age compared to chickens that take 18-20 weeks.
These tiny eggs are gorgeous and come in a variety of colors based on which breed you decide to keep. However, the majority of quail eggs are a cream-colored base with dappled specks and flecks of red and brown strewn about.
While the eggs may be small, think of all the fun things you can do with them!
Bite-sized deviled eggs, scotch eggs, pickled eggs, hard-boiled eggs, and in Spring you probably wouldn’t even need to color these beauties!
Special Note: female quail will lay eggs with or without a male present—just like chickens!
Quail are game birds that have petite frames, come in a variety of colors, and have plenty of flare. Some people decide to raise quail just because they enjoy their presence and the ornamental quality they bring to their home. All-in-all, quail are actually lovely little birds that have a dainty air about them.
Some quail have a lovely plume atop their tiny heads, and their bodies are adorably round. Some males are more brightly colored than their female counterparts, like many birds. However, females tend to be larger than males, but not by much.
Most coloration on quail are browns, black, grey, and white, aside from the fancier breeds, and their underbellies have a scale-like pattern to them.
Starting out with quail doesn’t cost a lot of money, in fact, you can get one or two quail for a few bucks and upkeep and feeding quail is not a costly endeavor, so maintaining your flock will not break the bank by any means.
If you decide to breed your quail, you will need at least 3 females to every male, and just like male roosters, they should be kept separate unless raised together—and even then you should be cautious about leaving them together.
Having a healthy rooster-to-hen ratio is important to keep the peace. A rooster will need more than one hen, otherwise, he may “wear” her out and hurt her with overbreeding. In other words, he needs to be able to rotate his hens so he doesn’t harm just one by being overzealous.
Why You Should Raise Quail
Aside from being a quiet tenant, quail have quite a few other amazing characteristics, especially when considering the products they produce naturally. Let’s take a look at why some people decide to raise these cute little game birds.
Meat and Eggs
Well, what other reason do you need?
Not only are the meat and eggs awesome to have on hand at your homestead, but they are also in pretty high demand from higher-end restaurants and even a few grocery stores.
If you feel ambitious, you can consider selling to these local establishments, or at farmer’s markets. Just make sure that you check your local laws to be sure you are following protocol—this can get confusing and dicey, but if you take the proper precautions, cross your t’s and dot your i’s, you should have no problem sharing your products with others safely.
Many fly fishermen will tell you they love using quail feathers for crafting their lures due to the small size. Due to the intricate nature of fly lures, and the fact that most are hand-crafted, artisans elect to use small petite feathers of certain colors–and the quail’s feathers fit the bill perfectly.
Most quail have dark feathers, but they also tend to have interesting patterns on them. If you are into ornamental birds, you can definitely find exotic-looking quail, but expect to pay more for them—remember, there are over 100 different species of quail worldwide, maybe more!
Crafters also find quail feathers useful for many of their projects. So, if you are a crafter or fishermen, you may be able to put the quail’s plumage to good use!
Like chicken manure, quail manure is a fantastic fertilizer. You can use it on your crops, or sell it to others looking to jumpstart their gardening efforts with some nutritious fertilizer.
If you decide to use your quail’s manure, make sure it is aged and composted as it is very high in nitrates and can burn off your plants if it has not been prepared properly. Adding straw and other compost can create the right mixture for a garden if aged for a few months to a year prior to applying it to your crops.
As harsh as this may sound, if you were planning to keep quail as pets, live quail are great training aids for prospective hunting dogs. Certain breeds love to hunt birds, especially quail, and if you have live quail to teach your dog to flush out wild quail, it makes the training process that much easier and more realistic. There is nothing better than the real deal if you want to train your dog to flush quail.
If you aren’t keen on using live quail, you can consider simply utilizing the feathers to teach a hunting dog to flush and hunt. Dogs that were bred to hunt and flush birds have a natural instinct to roll in the feathers of their prey, and even young puppies can be started with quail feathers.
Not a hunter? Avid hunters are happy to pay for your birds or their feathers because using them is a great way to expose their dog to a new hunting hobby. It’s just another way to make some cash from your new birds.
Typical Quail Behavior
Quail can be quite interesting to observe, and after raising them for a while, you will become more familiar with their quirky little habits. Here are a few fun quirks to get you started:
They Like You!
While Quail are fairly skittish little birds, they do tend to recognize their caretakers, and will eventually become accustomed to your presence. Quail typically don’t like to be held, so don’t expect to make a cuddly pet out of your quail. With that being said, you may be able to train them to tolerate handling when they are young. Just like chickens, their reaction to humans will depend upon how they were raised.
After you have been caring for your covey for some time, your quail will begin to recognize you and get excited as you approach them—probably because they are hoping you have a tasty treat for them. They will coo to say hello, and have also been known to vocally wish you farewell.
Yes, quail roosters crow too. While most will tell you that they are much quieter “crowers” than chickens, don’t let the sentiment fool you. The males crow all day long and if you have more than one they will most likely engage in a competition of sorts.
With that being said, quail roosters sound nothing like chicken roosters. Instead, they trill and warble. Instead of a drawn-out chicken rooster’s crow, the quail’s crow is quite brief and not as rough, or harsh, as the chicken. In other words, they sound less like a tiny dinosaur than a chicken does.
Since quail are not avid flyers, nor are they graceful, they tend to forage on the ground for most of their food. They look for proteins by scratching for bugs, and worms, just like chickens. As they mature, they opt for a diet that is more vegetarian-friendly by foraging more for seeds and berries.
Speaking of foraging, the fact that quail are good foragers can tempt some quail owners to let them free-range, but Quail love to travel (within a reasonable distance) and cannot be counted upon to stick around like chickens. Plus, they are much smaller and more susceptible to predator attacks. If you do want to keep them in a more natural environment, opt for fencing and enclosed spaces to keep out predators.
If you’ve ever taken a walk in the woods and come across a quail, you have most likely been nearly startled to death. Quail are ground-dwellers, but they are quick to take flight to escape danger and confuse their predators. When Quail take flight, they never fly in a straight line, instead, it is extremely sporadic and hectic. This is actually the perfect flight pattern when the goal is to protect themselves from hunters who have quail in their sites.
Even though a quail can fly better, or higher, than a chicken, it doesn’t mean they are good at it. Flights are short-lived due to the amount of energy exerted by the rolley-polley quail, and eventually, end in a slow glide back to the earth.
So, if you need to catch your Quail for medical care, you might want to wait until the evening when they are sleeping. Unlike chickens, they don’t need a running start to fly away from you, because they will go almost straight up. It can be startling, and that’s what they are going for!
Quail like to keep themselves pest-free and clean by employing the same behavior a chicken does to keep up with their hygiene: dust baths.
Quail use dust baths to deter and eliminate mites and other pests that might have decided to hitch a ride as well as to keep their oil glands, and feathers, in check. So if you see your quail rolling around on the ground, flopping its body around, don’t fret, it’s just taking a spa break
Where to Get Quail
Often, you can find common breeds of quail at your favorite hatchery. If you decide to order your quail via mail, make sure you are prepared before their arrival by ensuring that you have the right materials, and food, needed to get your Quail off to a good start.
Once your new babies arrive at the post office, they will need to be picked up as soon as possible. Not only will it please your local postal workers to have the chicks taken off their hands asap, but it will also give your chicks the best chance of survival. They’ve had a long ride, and are ready for some food and water.
If you know a local breeder with a healthy flock of quail, you can turn to them to save on shipping costs, and quite possibly tap into their quail knowledge. You can scope out potential breeders at poultry shows and local swap meets.
From Hatching Eggs
An alternative, and sometimes less costly, option to purchasing live chicks is to buy hatching eggs online or from your local quail enthusiasts. If you have a nice incubator, you can hatch out baby quail in about 18 days if conditions are right. Who doesn’t love to watch those beautiful speckled eggs turn in an incubator for a few weeks?
Equipment Needed to Raise Quail
Coop or Cages
Due to the small size of the quail, many people opt to raise them in cages rather than coops—mostly to keep them safe from predators, but also for ease of care. As a rule of thumb, each quail should be given at least 1 square foot of elbow room…at least.
If you are worried about confining your quail, you can create a safe environment for them that offers more space, however, quail actually do very well in small spaces. They won’t complain if they are comfortable, but as usual, the more space you can give them the better.
Even though quail are one of the smaller types of backyard poultry, they can still make just as much of a mess out of both their waterers and their feeders as a chicken, for example.
For that reason, founts that are used for chickens can also be used for quail, however, it is wise to keep them elevated off the ground since quail love to forage and are sure to scratch plenty of dirt and feed into the water.
If you have young quail chicks, make sure to add pebbles or other objects that will prevent a tiny little chick from drowning. It’s easy enough for chicken babies do fall in and drown when they are small and week, but Quail are even smaller and weaker, making them more susceptible to drowning.
Automatic waterers are also becoming increasingly popular for caged birds in order to increase the amount of space they have to be, well, birds. These are typically little cups with a nipple attached to it, and when the quail pecks at the nipple, it dispenses water into the cup. These are very nice because they are easy to clean and prevent stagnant dirty water from accumulating.
Feeders that prevent quail from scratching food out and all over their pens are ideal for both cages and coops. Any feeder that has a small opening can help prevent an inevitable mess from occurring. A messy cage is a cage that is perfect for pests and diseases to hang out.
Flight Pen or Run (optional)
If you have decided to raise quail that will eventually be released into the wild (some people do this for game farms or other hunting motivators) you should plan to allow your quail to have enough space so they can learn to fly.
You can opt to keep your quail in a cage with a run attached from day one, or you can move them to their flight pen when they are about 1-2 months, before they are scheduled to be released into the wild. The pen should be large enough that the quail will easily be able to test their wings and learn what they are capable of. If the cage is less the 30 feet long and 12 feet wide, the birds may not be able to practice flushing (what they do when danger approaches), and this can hurt their chances of survival in the wild. Each bird should be offered at least 2 sq feet each in the run in order for them to be able to stretch their wings and fly.
Quail hens will appreciate having a nesting box, however, they will also lay their eggs wherever, and strangely enough, whenever they want. Unlike chickens, Quail don’t have to have the perfect conditions before laying an egg. Chicken hens are extremely picky and secretive about laying eggs, and where they lay them, but quail couldn’t care less. So, you certainly can offer your quail hens a lovely nesting box, but don’t be offended if they decide not to use it.
What isn’t a predator for a quail? As tiny and delicate as they are, they are bound to have a world of predators lining up to take a taste. Even small rodents that would never attempt to attack a chicken would consider a small quail to be an easy kill. With that being said, some of the more prominent predators to watch out for, and protect your flock from, are:
If you have the luxury of keeping your quail housed outside, and you do not have poultry netting in place, you are putting your little quail at risk of being attacked by a hawk, eagle, or even an owl. While quail are experts at hiding under shrubs and growth in the wild, they may not have as many options for protective cover in captivity. It is up to you to make sure aerial predators do not have easy access to your covey.
Raccoons, opossums, foxes, and coyotes all love it when quail is on the menu, and they will use every opportunity to get into your quail coop. Ensuring that all nooks and crannies are secure, and cages are sturdy, will go a long way in protecting your flock from larger predators.
If you thought the danger stopped at large and aerial predators, you’d be quite wrong. Rats are one of the most common predators for quail, and unfortunately, they are usually the perfect size to squeeze into a coop. Rats love to eat the quail’s feed, eggs, and yes, if rats are large enough they will kill your quail as well.
Barn and Feral Cats
Unfortunately, your barn cats may also have quail on the menu, especially if pickings are slim during the winter and all the mice have been moused. Cats have been known to attack and kill chickens on occasion, so don’t trust your favorite barn cat with your quail.
Diseases and Illness and How To Treat Them
Since most people elect to keep their quail safe in smaller areas and cages, they can often become fidgety and start pecking at each other, or themselves to ease the boredom. Additionally, more birds in a small area can mean susceptibility to more disease, which is why ample space and coop cleaning is extremely important
Let’s take a look at some of the more common, and serious ailments to watch for with quail.
Quail Disease (Ulcerative Enteritis)
One of the most deadly diseases of the quail is actually nicknamed for the quail itself. It is an infection that is spread through droppings, containing the infectious bacteria, from one bird to the other. Quail disease causes lesions in the intestines of the affected bird, as well as anemia. If Quail contract this illness, and are not promptly treated, they will most likely die.
Signs of Quail Disease
- Droopy Wings
If you suspect that your Quail have this illness, consult a veterinarian for antibiotics. If caught quickly, this disease can be stopped, but all birds that have been in contact with the infected quail must be treated, including any other poultry on the property.
Chickens can also contract quail disease, but they are able to fight it off on their own easier than a quail can. Regardless, they can spread the disease to healthy birds, thus they should be treated as well.
Mites and Lice
Like chickens, quail are susceptible to lice and mites. If you see your Quail scratching, losing feathers, or you notice dirty looking vents, you may have a mite infestation.
To treat mites and lice you should first remove your quail from their current living quarters, and then do the following:
- Thoroughly clean every nook and cranny in the coop with water and bleach
- Dust the coop with diatomaceous earth (food grade) which can kill and deter mites
- Either dust your quail with diatomaceous earth or mite/lice spray
- Return your quail to their clean home
- Dust or spray your quail again in a week, and then once more in two weeks to ensure that you have caught all of the mites/lice that hadn’t already hatched during the first treatment
Yes, even quail can get a nasty bought of round or tapeworms. You will know if they have them if their egg production has slowed down, they have runny stools, and they seem extra hungry. You may even see some of the worms in their stool, and occasionally in their eggs. If your covey has worms, they should all be treated by a veterinarian. You can also try some holistic alternatives, such as apple cider vinegar in their water, or garlic.
If you have opted to keep your quail in a small area, always be sure that it is well-ventilated. Quail droppings have a higher ammonia concentration than other types of poultry, so frequent cleaning is extremely important to prevent respiratory infections.
Symptoms of Respiratory Infections
- Difficulty breathing
Sometimes these infections can be fought by your quail on their own, or with some immune boosters, like garlic or apple cider vinegar, but if you are pressed for time and the rest of your flock appears ill, time to see a vet for treatment options.
If managed properly, the quail is an exotic dual-purpose bird that is easy to raise and exciting to own. They are the perfect little game bird for someone who wants to start small or doesn’t have a lot of space to use for scratching their animal husbandry itch. The quail’s ability to provide meat, eggs, fertilizer, and other valuable products makes them an extremely versatile bird for the hobbyist, homesteader, or even hunter.