Some time ago, I shared some information about raising livestock. Although it was a bit tongue in cheek, the serious part of it all was that if given the room, it would be wonderful to have a small flock of chickens that could provide fresh eggs for consumption. That plus chicken meat, of course.
A few days later I was contacted by a Backdoor Survival reader who had decided to raise some Coturnix quail in his back yard after learning that his city ordinances did not allow chickens. At that time, my only knowledge of quail was as an expensive menu item in the fanciest of restaurants. Since that time I have done a bit of research and have learned that quail can be the perfect starter livestock, especially for folks living in urban areas.
Quail require less space and less work than chickens and rabbits plus they are quiet and easy to raise. They do not eat a lot, convert feed into protein efficiently, and are much more congenial creatures than even the sweetest-tempered chicken. Many cities allow quail when chickens are forbidden and given their quiet nature and modest space requirements, they can even be raised on the balcony of an urban apartment.
When it comes to eating, quail eggs are nearly identical in taste and nutritional quality to chicken eggs although it takes about five quail eggs to equal one chicken egg. The meat is tender and can be broiled, baked, roasted, stir-fried, or stewed – the same as chicken.
Perry has been very gracious in answering my questions about quail and has allowed me to share his expertise with my readers. In turn, he has updated the information on his website, Backyard Quail, so that the rest of the world can also learn from his experience raising quail.
10 REASONS WHY QUAIL ARE THE PERFECT BACKYARD ANIMAL
Reason #1: City ordinances do not allow or restrict keeping chickens
More and more cities are allowing residents to keep chickens. A lot of the times they place such restrictions on having them that it becomes impossible to comply.
In my case you had to have at least three acres which my small city lot was not even close. When I checked the city code it specifically listed several types of birds (chickens, guineas, ducks, etc.), but did not include or exclude quail. In addition to making sure you follow city and county ordinances, some states have restrictions. My state requires a permit if you are keeping more than 50 bob white quail.
It is your responsibility to make sure you follow the law, but “pet” quail may just what you need.
Reason #2: Low cost to start and maintain
It is easy to get started with quail. For literally a couple of bucks you can get a mating pair of birds.
Start in the spring when breeders are selling them or try late fall for a deal when breeders don’t want to keep the birds over the winter. Depending on how many birds you have a small cage and ratio of daily food is the only real cost involved.
Live birds will cost you $1-$5 each depending on their age and the time of year. A cheaper route is to purchase eggs. They can be purchased 50+ for under $20 depending on the species of quail.
The price of feed like everything else has been increasing, but a 50lb bag is currently about $23. I prefer to use the Purina Game Bird Layena. I have had the best egg production using this brand.
Reason #3: Simple habitat requirements
If you are not raising the birds to train hunting dogs, then you don’t need a flight cage. A simple cage that allows the waste to fall out the bottom to be collected and 1-2 square feet of space per bird and you are all set.
Reason #4: Simple care requirements
Quail need access to food and water at all times. I
feed and freshen water once a day, same time as I collect any eggs. Then I keep straw below the cages to collect the waste and keep down the flies. Once a week I move the straw to the compost pile and add a fresh layer.
That is really it. The exception might be in the winter months. When it gets cold they need to be protected from wind and drafts. You can completely cover the cages with a tarp or if you have an out building move them inside. Keeping unfrozen water becomes the biggest chore. They can be kept outdoors all year round as long as they have protection from the wind and the elements. If you decide to move them indoors, like any other bird or small pet, they will need to have their cage cleaned often to keep down the odors.
Reason #5: The eggs!
The fresh eggs are great during the laying season. Yes quail eggs are smaller than chicken eggs, but for my family it has been about a 5/6 to 1 ratio. If you assume each bird averages 5-6 eggs a week, then get enough birds to cover your normal egg consumption times 5.
To extend the laying season, in the spring or fall you can provide a total of 15-16 hours of light during the day the birds will keep laying. I placed a string of inexpensive Christmas lights around the cages and use an outdoor timer to make sure they get at least 15 hours of light.
They taste no different than chicken eggs, just about 1/5 the size. Our favorite uses are egg poppers (bite sized hard boiled eggs) and crème brûlée.
Reason #6: Quail meat
So maybe you weren’t looking to eat your “pets”, but quail meat it both good tasting and nutritious. They are mainly dark meat. They mature quickly, 6 weeks, so they are economical as well if you consider chickens mature in 8 plus weeks depending on breed and size desired. Plus raising them versus hunting makes sure your finished meat is buckshot free.
Reason #7: Quiet and clean, especially if female only
Compared to chickens and guineas, quail are extremely quiet.
Some make a sound similar to crickets or the distinct “bob white” call. Even when the male birds crow it is nothing to draw attention. If you have females only, which is all that is needed for eggs, then no crowing at all. Males are only needed if you want fertilized eggs for hatching. When they are raised on wire with the droppings being contained with straw they are both clean and have little if any undesired smell.
Reason #8: Many varieties for your taste
There are many varieties in both size and color of quail to fit your taste. Please remember to check your state and local ordinances because some types require permits. Otherwise, do your research and pick something you like.
I prefer Large Brown Coturnix quail as they are in abundance supply, hardy, and good egg layers.
Reason #9 Possible money making venture
I say possible because it will require some work and maybe an increase in space requirements.
There are several sellable products with quail: live quail, eggs, meat and manure. Once again check state and local ordinances for details on what you can or cannot sell. You may not be able to sell the meat due to FDA or USDA restrictions, but I have heard of people giving away live birds and charging to have them butchered. Live birds and fertile hatching eggs can be sold easily on Craig’s List and E-bay.
Finally the manure is high in nitrogen and makes for many a happy local gardener.
Reason #10: Useful for barter purposes.
I was able to trade 15 chicks for a pair of mated rabbits. Of course the sky is the limit when it comes to bartering options.
WHERE TO PURCHASE QUAIL
I had a couple of additional questions for Perry.
Do you have some suggestions as to how and where to purchase quail for raising in the backyard?
My recommendation for getting live quail would be Craigslist so they are already acclimated to the local climate. For the more brave souls I would recommend using Ebay to get hatching eggs and to incubate them. It is much cheaper this way.
Also, can you recommend a book or other online resources?
The best resources I have found are university extensions, specifically the Mississippi State University at www.poultry.msstate.edu/extension.
In addition, I found that the following free download from the Texas Agricultural Extension Service has some useful information: Producing Quail for Home Consumption.
THE FINAL WORD
Not everyone has adequate space to have a mini-farm that allows them to both grow food and raise food animals. On the other hand, there are options available for even the most cramped quarters. In today’s article, I hope that I have opened up a possibility that you have not previously considered.
For more information on raising quail, please visit Perry at his website Backyard Quail where you can find tips on raising quail, instructions for easily butchering quail and many other useful tips to help you get started.
Note: This article was updated in November 2016
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