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How to Raise Quail on an Urban Farm
Let’s Establish This Fact Right Away
I’ve been raising quail now for about eight weeks. Let me say immediately that I am no expert. I learn through the method of trial and error, and there are days when it seems that error far outweighs success.
Still, I come from stubborn lineage, so I keep trying. I’m determined to make this work, so I read everything about quail I can get my hands on, and I plod along with a goal in mind and willingness as my constant companion.
You are lucky. You get to learn from my mistakes.
Quail are wonderful birds to raise on an urban farm. They are relatively clean birds, they are small and easy to handle, and they require very little space. In return, they will provide you with fresh eggs daily, and those eggs are nutritionally superior to chicken eggs. In addition, if you have a mind to, you can raise quail to eat. Quail reach maturity in as little as five weeks, and they are delicious.
For the purpose of this article, we will not discuss such unpleasant matters as butchering. Let’s, instead, talk about the joys of raising this egg-producing machine of nature.
Check Your City Ordinances
The beauty of quail is that, in many cases, they are not covered by local laws like chickens are. Still, I highly recommend you check with your city lawmakers to find out if it is legal to raise them.
We are lucky. We live in Olympia, Washington, and urban farming is not only allowed here, but it is strongly supported. There are no restrictions on raising quail in our city. One can raise five or one can raise five-hundred, and thank the gods that this city sees value in urban farming.
Starting out on Your Quail Adventure
We raise Coturnix quail, a Japanese import that is plentiful wherever quail-breeders are found. They are hardy little birds and very inexpensive to purchase. Here we can buy newborns for a dollar apiece, or mature birds for as little as three dollars each.
Let’s work from the assumption that you are buying newborns. Starting out, quail require heat, food, and a dry environment. We used a large plastic washtub to house our quail the first couple weeks. We attached a heating lamp to the side to provide warmth, and put a chicken feeder and chicken water holder in the tub with them. We lined the bottom with straw, and spread poultry netting across the top so they couldn’t fly out. There they stay for about three weeks.
Newborns will eat chicken-starter food, but it must be mashed into very small pellets in order for them to eat it. In addition, the watering supplier is lined with small rocks because the newborns can drown in a small amount of water.
After about three weeks we slowly wean the birds from the heat lamp. We turn the light off for a couple hours, and then turn it on again. The quail will let you know if they are cold by huddling together in sort of a rugby scrum. This tells you that they are chilly and you need to turn the lamp back on. After a couple days of this they will be fine without the lamp and ready for their permanent housing.
Housing Your Quail
Any discussion about housing your quail must begin with determining how serious you are about this quail-raising business. If you plan on going with a small operation then you have very few problems to consider. The larger the operation, the more your problems will multiply. Keep that in mind.
If you start out with, say, five quail, then an enclosure of 3’x3’ will be sufficient. Not ideal but sufficient. The floor of the quail aviary should be either dirt or fine wire mesh. The walls should be made of the same fine wire mesh. It is entirely possible to raise your quail indoors if that’s what you prefer, but most people set up an aviary of some sort outside. Just keep in mind that quail are basically totally defenseless, so make sure that aviary is critter-proof from the very beginning, and make sure there is a roof on it to protect them from harsh weather.
Naturally, we did not take the easy route on our adventure. We have an enclosure that is ten feet wide, twenty feet long, and five feet high. It is protected by one layer of chicken wire and one layer of welded wire. We lost two birds early on because we did not fortify the enclosure properly. Now we have. So far no critters have broken in, so our fingers are crossed and we are hoping for the best. The top is bird netting, and that seems to be sufficient for keeping out hawks and owls.
Inside the aviary we built a quail house that is two feet by four feet. It is made of wood and wire, and it serves as a place for the quail to head to when the weather is nasty.
In this aviary we currently have twenty mature quail. We could easily double that number, and we will soon.
The mature quail need water and chicken pellets. They also scavenge for bugs. We allow the grass to grow high inside the aviary because quail love to hide in tall grass, and we regularly toss garden greens in there for a special treat which they love.
Would You like Some Eggs?
Well quail are egg-laying machines. Quail lay, on average, 1.7 eggs per day. In other words, our twenty quail can be counted on to lay approximately thirty-four eggs each day, and those eggs are exquisite.
Comparing quail eggs with chicken eggs, we find these facts:
- Quail eggs have four times more nutrition than chicken eggs
- They have five times the iron and potassium
- They are packed with calcium, protein, and very high in A and B vitamins
- They have no bad cholesterol (LDL)
- And they do not cause egg allergies
Yes, they are small. It takes about three quail eggs to match one chicken egg in serving size, but we find the taste to be much, much better, and we absolutely love our home-grown chicken eggs.
If you are considering raising quail as a cash crop, there is always a market for quail eggs. A quick check on Craigslist finds quail eggs selling for between $2-$6 per dozen, depending on the area and availability, and restaurants will pay a premium price for them.
Don’t count on your quail to be brooders. It is a rare quail that will sit on an egg until it hatches. Their normal routine is to drop the egg wherever they happen to be at that moment, and then never looking at it again, so if you plan on hatching eggs you will need an incubator.
There are two types of incubators to consider: still-air and circulating. Still-air incubators are less expensive, usually costing about $70. Circulating air incubators will cost about $125. We opted for the still-air because, well, we’re cheap. We saved money and we are more than willing to open the incubator three times a day and allow air into it, and at the same time rotating the eggs by gently rolling them over with a passing wave of our palm.
With the proper insert, you can incubate 120 quail eggs at a time, and it takes seventeen days for the eggs to hatch. It should take very little imagination to realize how quickly your flock of quail can grow if you have an incubator. Never fear; you will have no problem selling the babies once they hatch, if that’s what you choose to do.
A Few Words of Warning
I stated earlier that quail are helpless. It is worth mentioning again. They have no defense against raccoons, possums, weasels, and all other creatures of the night. They also have no defense against the family cat or dog, or for that matter birds like crows, hawks or, in some cases, chickens. They must be adequately protected, and that protection can be costly. We have spent a fair amount of money making our aviary critter-proof, and now we are fairly confident that we have achieved a safe place for the birds. Remember, the larger the aviary, the more problems you will have in protecting the birds.
Also, quail are small birds, about the size of your adult palm. They are fully capable of getting stuck in small places. If there is a hole in the defenses, they will find it. If there is a random nail sticking out, they will cut themselves on it. You’ve all heard of baby-proofing a house. The same theory applies to quail.
And finally, you will lose some birds. It is inevitable. There will be random deaths. We have lost five in eight weeks, mostly because of our inexperience, but even if we had been experts, it is easy to have deaths in your flock. The best advice I can give is don’t name them.
Are you willing to give it a try?
We began this venture because we wanted to raise quail for the eggs and to make money, but it only took about one week for us to realize we received a huge bonus. We love to sit on the deck and watch the quail in their aviary. We love listening to their chirps, and watching their rather funny attempts to fly. We love to enter the aviary, lie down on the grass, and relax while the quail walk around us and over us.
They are enjoyable. They are profitable. And I highly recommend them.
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)