City Farming with Backyard Quail – An Alternative to Raising Chickens

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quailBack in September, 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 (Perry) 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.

adult quailSince 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 REASIONS WHY QUAIL  ARE THE PEFECT 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.

Backyard Quail - Feed

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.

Quail Pen

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.

Hatching

Quail Eggs versus Chicken Eggs

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. The 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.

Quails_browning_in_pan

Cooked Quail – Delicious!

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.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

Gaye

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Comments

City Farming with Backyard Quail – An Alternative to Raising Chickens — 33 Comments

  1. This is my favorite article on here so far. I’ve been following the blog for several months. My town just passed a ban on chickens, so I’ve been heavily considering ducks but have limited space (although it’s waterfront space on a large river – so there are real options for ducks). I hadn’t even considered quail, but they could work really well. You might be able to fashion a dual use hutch that had rabbits on one side, and quails on the other, slightly more enclosed (or at least the ability to enclose) side.

    I’d enjoy hearing more – I bet these are all covered in the links which I’ll read later tonight.
    A video on butchering quail?
    What about egg collection do they need nesting areas or do they drop them willy nilly?
    What about flooring in the cage – do you need some non-cage bottomed areas to protect their feet or any perches?

      • I’m glad to hear you are considering quail.
        Check YouTube for butchering videos, because of the small size it is a really simple process. If you do a lot of them check my site for a processing setup I made from coke bottles and a 5 gallon bucket.
        The broodiness has been breed out of domestic quail over the years, so they do lay them willy nilly, no need for a nest box. For ease of collection the cage is typically built with a slight slope so the eggs roll to one side for collection.
        They do not require any non-cage place, if it is elevated to help keep the feet clean. If you do add something for them to stand or roost on, make plans to keep it clean for the health of their feet.

        Perry

  2. Good article! I also raise Jumbo Brown coturnix quail in town for many of these same reasons.

    To answer the question above, the eggs are laid “willy nilly” as you put it. I prefer my cages to have a slight slop down towards the front to have the eggs roll in that direction. I also have the bottom in cut out of the front and a small tray running along the front of the cages to collect the eggs as the roll forward.

    Also I have no perches, and my cage floors are 1×1/2 galvanized wire, (narrow gap up) , and I’ve not had any issues with the birds having feet issues.

    Peace,
    db

  3. This is very intriguing for me. I cannot have chickens where I am, but I might be able to pull off quail. I’d have to do some research. I will also read more of the links… but until then, one

  4. This is very intriguing for me. I cannot have chickens where I am, but I might be able to pull off quail. I’d have to do some research. I will also read more of the links… but until then, one question came to mind…

    Do quail want to be “free range?” Can they run around and then return to a hutch/cage? Are they “happy” or “content” living in the cages all the time? I’m no crazy animal activist, but I would like my animals to be happy!

    Thanks for the great article!

    • Depends on the breed of quail. The Coturnix that you find in the States are all from stock that have been domesticated for hundreds of generations, and have lost much of their ability to survive in the wild. In fact, I’ve never seen one that has ever wanted to hatch her own eggs, so without human intervention, would quickly die off. Living in cages is simply “normal” to them….just be sure to offer them enough space, and not too many males together without enough females for each…
      My quail don’t seem to mind being in a cage, though I promise you that a tray of sand for them to take a dust bath in will keep them occupied for hours! Not to personify an animal, but they LOVE it!

      Sorry to keep answering the questions, but quail are a subject dear to my heart 🙂

      db

    • I agree with the comment above and would add that if you try to “free tange” them you are just going to loose a lot of quail.

  5. When my state’s Fish and Game Dept. found out about my backyard quail, I got in big trouble. I ordered the eggs from another state, hatched them here and unknowingly broke the law. Apparently, their designation as a game bird meant that only someone running a licensed hunting preserver can raise quail in NM.

    I was turned in by a wildlife rescue volunteer I spoke to when one of the babies had a broken leg.

    • Nope. My chickens have been known to corner and eat doves that flew in to eat some spilled chicken feed. To a chicken, a quail isn’t a cousin, its a meal….

      Now if you started them all as chicks together, I suppose it would be possible to let them coexist…..but the amount of space required by quail, just pen them up separately.

    • I have raised 4 quail with 10 chickens and 4 rabbits in a 10 x 30 chicken coop/run without any issues whatsoever. I haven’t put feed out for the quail in over 6 months. They just peck at whatever scraps they find on the coop floor.

  6. Another important thing to note is how much of the seed you are giving is actually just filler. Many less expensive feeds use a lot of filler, which the birds don’t generally eat and are basically a waste of money and can make a mess in your yard. Filler seeds include milo, sorghum, red millet and golden millet. Birds will push through these fillers to get the food they want, so it is more financially sound to choose one that is higher quality.,

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  7. Coturnix eggs are bad cholesterol free. Not the same as chicken eggs. They do taste similar. Good selling point to people who must watch their cholesterol levels. I have seen eggs sell for upwards of $4 a dozen for eating.
    Coturnix, even though domesticated, are considered migratory birds and will go as a group where there is food, unlike the Bob White who has a “food memory” and will return to the spot where it was released if some feed is sprinkled around on the ground for about three weeks after release.
    Many states, like Ohio for example, require a State Permit to have Bob Whites. This is due to the fact that Bob White are indigenous to Ohio. You must release information about who buys from you, how many birds you release, how many you raise etc. Our permit runs $40 a year in Ohio. Coturnix is the perfect way around having to get a state permit. Be sure and check your state if you plan on having Bob Whites.

    Also, it takes 1 lb of feed for a pound of eggs out of Coturnix, compared to 3 lbs. of feed to one pound of eggs out of chickens. So even though they are small, they are mighty!

    If you do raise your birds for hunting and training dogs, you can set traps and recover some of your birds that are released for that purpose. Don’t expect to free range Coturnix as they will go off and not come back!

  8. We are raising some quail. I am wondering for hatching purpose. It gets around 30 at night when they lay an egg and I do not get it out to the next morning. Does this affect the egg for hatching?

  9. Nice article, we raise Coturnix here on a more commercial level but we also use them as a self sufficiency tool as well. Keeping them on no seeds and a good game bird starter of 28% protein or high is key to a great stock and having them away from chickens, biosecurity, etc. This is a great article for the beginner, Thanks for sharing!

    Alexandra Douglas
    Stellar Game Birds, Poultry, Waterfowl,
    Author of “Coturnix Revolution”

  10. Where I’m at, we are not allowed to raise poultry unless we have at least 10 acres (yet you only need 3 for a horse), and we are also not allowed to raise anything listed as a game bird; that includes quail, pheasants or guineas. Its ridiculous.

  11. Hello,
    I live near Vancouver BC and I am currently building a quail pen and hope to pick up some birds soon. Can you tell me where you buy the Purina Layena seed? Can you also let me know where you bought your feeding supplies like the feeder and watering system?
    Thank you for all this information!
    Best,
    Shaye

  12. Thanks for the fast reply. Yes, your website is very interesting. We had a few wild bobwhites on this place when we bought it in 95 but they disappeared.
    My husband said the fertilizer on the hay field. Fire ants are in the area also. Thanks again. Joan

  13. Hello everyone
    i need help i have question
    i had three chickens in my yard that i used for fresh eggs someone called the state and complained about A rooster? that i didnt even have, so i called to find out what was going on so they asked me, if i had chickens i said yes and Quails they lady Named officer Gutierrez was being rude from the beginning but i still kept calm, so she tells me right away if they get there and you still have quails too we are going to give you a fee for each quail…. I told her quails wasnt chickens they are like doves she kept saying no no no , so i went online to see what i can have and not have it dosent say anything about not keeping quails, so i called the state i talked to a lady and she told me it was fine to not worry about she even asked her manger and said it was ok to not worry that i was fine.. but when i call back to tell the officer back to let her know quails are fine where i live shes still says no.. So if anyone can help me out with my answer about keeping my quails
    thank you!!

  14. I have a few female quail and one is laying on 6 eggs and the males we got rid of approximately 5-6 months ago. Would those eggs be fertal? I don’t want to take them away from her yet until I find out! Thank you.

    • no, those will not be fertile. Eggs are produced daily, and the egg must be fertilized during formation period, so there isn’t much chance of those being fertile…sorry

  15. I wanted to try raising quail, after having chickens for years. I bought10 eggs. They act like they are happy and energetic, but they are dying off one at a time, and I can’t imagine why. I’ve done research, and I am doing all that I have found, but I’m down to5 chicks now, and I don’t want to lose any more. Please help!

    • I’ve read that quail chicks need to be kept at a certain temperature and are sensitive to big temperature changes. You might want to look into that if you hatch more eggs. I hope that some of your chicks from the last hatch made it.

  16. Maybe you can help (sorry if someone asked this before-I didn’t read through all of the comments). I have had adult bobwhite quail for three weeks. They are not laying eggs. I bought them from a large scale breeder who said they are 18 months old. I make sure they get 14-16 hours of light a day (mix of natural and artificial). I feed them laying hen food, meal worms, cuddle bone or crushed egg shells, and greens. I have two cages. Each cage has four hens and one rooster. How can I get them to start laying for me?

  17. Sorry, I don’t know how to make them lay eggs. Mine just did it on their own.I’m down to three, two hens and a rooster. I also have three banty chickens and they seem to get along ok. I know with chickens that if you put an egg, real or fake, in their nest, it will sometimes encourage hens to lay eggs. I don’t know if quail are the same in that respect, but it might be worth a try…

  18. Hi I am new to quails in fact I had one from my granddaughter she moved and I got button her quail well he made lots of noise so I called a quail person and they said Button was a boy, so I got 3 girls. Some of them are laying eggs but I don’t want babies really I would love to try them, do I need to collect them from their box everyday? Is it okay to let them acculumate? How long in the refrigerator are they good? Thank you, my email is allaboutthebouncefl@gmail.com my name is Adreanna

  19. In this article, it states that quail are quiet. I wish it would have said ‘some’ quail are quiet.

    I recently got male and female quail, two sets of 1 male to 3 female, in separate cages. The males are so loud, that it is as loud as a rooster crowing. It immediately wakes me up, seemingly, every time it crows. It’s that loud. I’m going to have to get rid of them because of the noise. I wanted to breed them as I already breed chickens (much easier by the way, so that’s another odd thing stated in this article), but now I have to get rid of all of them.

    The only thing i’m glad about is that I found out right away, so I can still return the two cages I bought. However, the ‘incorrect’ information from your article has wasted some time and resources. Furthermore it has been a tease to the young ones that liked the small birds, that now have to be gotten rid of. Just my thoughts when you are sharing ‘facts’. Thanks for your help.

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