How to Raise Quail: An Alternative to Chickens

Avatar Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: March 30, 2021
How to Raise Quail: An Alternative to Chickens

Quail are a great way to put some eggs and meat on the table even if you have just a small space to do it in.

Even if you live in an area where you are not allowed to have chickens you can probably get away with raising quail. Instead of a lot of squawking, quail just make very low cooing sounds.

Since you can raise a lot in a small space it is one of the options open to those on small lots that want to be more sustainable when sourcing their food.

City Farming with Backyard Quail | Backdoor Survival

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.

In this article, I interview Perry, who is an expert in raising quail, so that the rest of the world can also learn from his experiences with them.

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. Any quail breeder can help guide you.

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 quail coop 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.

Types Of Quail

Coturnix

These fast maturing birds start laying at 6-8 weeks of age and grow off fast so you are producing meat and eggs before you know it. The Coturnix is a very heavy layer, producing as many as 200 eggs in the first year of life and 300 the second year and beyond.

Unfortunately they do not go broody very often so if you want to keep breeding them yourself you will need to get an incubator to keep the hatch going. There is a jumbo version that can weight up to 16 ounces if you are concentrating on meat production. It will say Jumbo in the descriptions so it is easy to tell before your order.

Where To Get Them: Cackle Hatchery has fertile eggs for shipping year round. If you want live chicks you are limited to the hatching season which is May-September. They do say that if your order totals 50 that you will have to wait until June to get them but orders of 100 or more begin shipping in May.

Bobwhite Quail

https://tse4.mm.bing.net/th?id=OIP.7qV8gKnfThi2QRjx-QvMFQHaE8&pid=15.1&P=0&w=241&h=161

These are a common native breed of quail and the quail that you might have heard outside running around as a kid. These wild quail grow off a bit slower than the Coturnix so they are not as popular for those that are trying to maximize the potential of their space by producing as much meat and eggs as possible. One advantage to Bobwhites is that they will sometimes go broody.

Other Breeds

There are 130 species of quail in the world so even in the USA there are some rarer ones that you can get if you want and there are specially developed ones too. Here are a few names you can look into if you are interested.

  • Texas A&M– A bright white quail developed for meat production.

  • English White– Developed out of the Texas A&M but can vary more in color. Larger bird for meat production

  • Golden Coturnix-These birds also go by the names Manchurian and Golden Speckled and they come in standard and jumbo sizing

  • Tibetan– These quail are dark chocolate to light brown in color.

  • Tuxedo– A cross of Tibetan and Texas A&M. These birds are supposed to be very colorful and striking in appearance.

Considerations When Sourcing Chicks or Eggs to Raise

There are a lot of places to get quail chicks or eggs. Many mail order places have minimums so if you only want a few you might consider splitting an order with a friend or family member. If you have a quail farm close enough then you should consider buying locally.

Putting your order in early will allow you to get them shipped on the week that you want. Sometimes hatcheries are over run with orders and sell out fast.

There was one season when I was ordering chicks that you could not get through on the phone because it was at the height of the “backyard chicken craze” and everyone wanted to order chicks.

Hatching Eggs

Of course hatching your own is possible with an incubator. This can be a fun project for kids, especially homeschoolers learning about nature. There are all kinds of incubators out there and some require more attention for a successful hatch than others.

If you don’t give it the attention needed then your hatch rate will be low or you may even get no chicks at all which can be a major disappointment for everyone not to mention the loss of time and money.

Planning on Raising Quail Long Term? Hatching Your Own Is More Economical

This is the most economical way if you are going to make quail a part of your typical routine around the homestead. Hatching the eggs out costs very little even if you only get part of them to actually hatch out.

Buying already hatched chicks costs a lot more. After you order that first batch of quail you should hatch your own out after that so you can increase your profits.

There is also the expense of buying an incubator to consider. If you are not going to use if very often then investing in a large or expensive unit might not be practical. Again if you have someone to share it with then that might change the equation.

Ratio Of Males To Females For Breeding

Most sources I could find recommended a ratio of 1 male for every 2 females. This is a lot higher ratio of males than what is recommended with chickens, geese, ducks, and turkeys. All the hatcheries I have researched do not sell sexed birds so you get what you get.

How To Tell The Difference Between Male & Female Quail Chicks

Once quail are feathered out it is pretty easy to tell the difference. Females are slightly larger than males but the males have a brighter color and more flashy appearance. This is pretty common with game birds.

Females need to blend in more to avoid attention from predators when they are setting and raising chicks.

Males on the other hand want to attract as many ladies as possible and that flashy appearance makes them more susceptible to predators so attention is drawn away from the female.

It might be about 3 weeks before you can visually tell how many males and females you have.

Give Your Incubator A Day To Adjust To The Right Temperature

Have your incubator calibrated to the right temperature and ready to go by the time your eggs arrive so you can get started hatching.

Do keep in mind that hatching times can vary by a day or two so make sure you plan your life appropriately so that you are around to care for them or make arrangements for someone to be there if something unexpected comes up. They really need you that first week!

Things You’ll Need When Raising Quail

Brooder Area

Make sure to have your brooder set up before your chicks arrive or have it set up around the time you are expecting them to hatch out.

Like any small bird, baby quail need protection from predators and a place where they can stay dry and warm. Since quail are so small you can fit a lot of quail chicks in a small brooder.

Your brooding space needs to be clean, dry, warm, predator-proof and well-ventilated (but still warm!).

You need a heat source, to maintain brooder temperature at around 96 degrees F in the first week. This temperature can later be reduced by 5 degrees F per week, down to 75 degrees F. I really like these when it comes to off the shelf heating units. They’re affordable and can warm around 25-30 chicks.

Lighting in the brooder area is important, too. A dim bulb on continuously for the first three days will help chicks find feed and water. A low-intensity light after this time will keep cannibalism—a common issue—at a minimum. These lights are cheap and effective.

Of course if you’re handy, homemade brooders can be less expensive than buying a premade unit. You just need to be careful to make it solid enough to keep them safe from predators.

Sourcing Food For Quail

With any bird it is very important to feed them a ration that is formulated correctly. There is also considerations to make when it comes to GMOs and all the nasty stuff they can be sprayed with. In the US it is mostly Roundup of course.

A high protein crumble is recommended. If you want organic then it can be hard to fine something really high protein to use.

I have heard of people using the standard chick starters that you get at any feed store and using that to start out their quail. The one thing I have to say is that a lot of these contain antibiotics which I do not think are necessary if you are maintaining a good and clean quail raising area.

I really like this high protein chick starter that contain no antibiotics at a reasonable cost.

There is so much concern about pesticides and herbicides in animal feeds and availability of specialty foods can be more limited in some regions than others so that makes food something you need to really think about so you have something that is acceptable to you.

This is after all meat and eggs that you will be feeding to your family.

Keep in mind that quail are very small and efficient with their food so one bag of this is going to last you for a long time which makes it a bit easier to justify the cost.

You will want to switch them over to a grower ration after 4 weeks. As the quail get older, I like the Purina Home Grown Feed. I have to say that don’t try to start them on a lower protein food even if it is a better deal. When birds don’t get the right level of protein when young it can stunt their growth and cause other issues.

Non GMO starter feed is on average 30%-60% more in terms of cost from what I can gather.

The Importance Of Cleaning Your Brooder Daily

Quail excrement is high in ammonia and this means brooders need to be cleaned out daily. One reason that so many choose to use a wire floor is that some of the waste drops through. Cleaning out a brooder can be a bit of chore. In some cases you may need to have a separate cage you can move them to briefly while you clean.

A Forex container or storage tote that you can place a piece of hardware cloth over to contain them works just fine. Some people use news paper in the bottom to help with cleaning for the first week or so. Just don’t use pine shavings or anything like that.

Quail should be kept in a 90 degree brooder for up to 4 weeks. Remember that these bird s are really small and can be hard to catch if they get loose. Younger birds are even more vulnerable to predators.

Food and Water Availability

Food and water should definitely be fed in a free choice manner. You do want to be sure that the waterer is appropriate for very small birds. If you put a dish pan in there or other larger container, then they can drown or even just walk around in it or fall asleep and get too cold. A jar style waterer keeps the supply fresh but there is a good chance they will get the base dirty so just make sure to clean it out daily or more depending on how dirty it gets. Little birds use the bathroom in their water sometimes so you might be surprised how often you have to clean it for the first little while.

Feeders

While you need to have a feeder for your brooder that is okay for very small birds, as they get older you will want to switch to another feeder.

To eliminate the amount of wasted feed get a feeder that they cannot get into and scratch around in. Quail like to scratch and that can mean a lot of nice feed getting dirty and wasted.

The Day Of Arrival: Getting Your Birds Started Out

https://www.purelypoultry.com/images/coturnix-1_01.jpg

When you order chicks in the mail then you have to pick them up at your local post office. They will call you very early in the morning but you will already know what day they are getting there because poultry farms send out tracking numbers. It is critical that you be there or have someone arranged to pick them up that morning.

A few hours later is not the end of the world but remember that these chicks have not had any food or water. Poultry can survive up to 3 days on what reserves they are born with but the sooner you get them eating and drinking the better. This is why it is good to buy them as close by as possible because it can cut a day or two off the transit time.

While I have never opened up a pack of chicks at the post office, the poultry houses usually say that you should inspect your package of chicks before leaving. I just do it when I get home because opening up a box of 50-100 birds in the post office lobby seems a little much. Also I have never had any birds die in transit. The postal service is very good about taking care of them.

When you get them home, take and dip each birds beak in their waterer and then into the quail starter food. This shows them what they need to do and they will quickly get the hang of eating and drinking.

When To Expect Eggs

Quail can start laying eggs when as young as 6 weeks old if you are raising the fast maturing Coturnix! That is pretty impressive when you consider that a chicken takes at least 16 weeks before they start laying. Quail eggs are considered a delicacy and fetch a high price at specialty markets and grocery stores. This can help provide some extra income while utilizing a relatively small space.

Bobwhite quail mature slower so don’t expect to get eggs from them quite as fast.

Butchering

Quail can be butchered as young as 5 weeks but plenty of people wait until 12-16 weeks so they have a chance to reach a larger dressed out size of 8-9 ounces. The Coturnix variety has a good yield at 9 weeks rather than the 5 that is possible.

Preserving And Selling Your Harvest

Since quail are such good producers of eggs, it might be worth your while to find a market or multiple markets that will sell them for you or you could start selling at your local tailgate or Farmer’s Market.

Restaurants love to use quail eggs. Find the gourmet and farm to table restaurants in your area and let them know you have eggs or meat to sell. Since you might only have some occasionally, the restaurants that like to mix up their menus are a good source because then they can impress their customers by offering quail or quail egg dishes as the chef’s special or similar.

Vacuum sealing and freezing dressed birds will help ensure the quality of your product. I am sure you could can and process quail too but the amount of bones and the size of these birds makes it hardly worthwhile in my on opinion. Freeze them or eat fresh. One quail equals a nice sized entree for an adult so if you are packaging for your own family then you can seal 2-4 in the same package.

Packaging Eggs For Sale

You can buy special quail egg cartons for an attractive presentation. They are sturdy and protect your eggs from breakage and damage. There is also a place where you can put a label on them for a professional look and some advertising.

Preserving Eggs

From what I can gather you can preserve quail eggs just like you would a chicken egg. For more information on preserving eggs, check out my post on methods of egg preservation. Pickled quail eggs are considered a delicacy and great in salads.

Rules Regarding The Sale Of Meat

There are some nice exemptions for some types of farm raised and butchered meats that allow you to sell them directly yourself without any inspection. That being said, you want to make sure that you are providing a well dressed, cleaned, and packaged bird to your customers.

Nice places are not going to buy from you again if you don’t deliver quality and your average customer will definitely bring the meat back to you and demand their money back or an exchange.

In many cases you are allowed to butcher and sell up to 1,000 birds legally without inspection. There are even some exemptions for up to 20,000 but the 1,000 bird figure is usually what everyone goes by.

Different states may have their own separate rules that you must adhere to so it is a good idea to check.

I have butchered a lot of livestock on the farm and it takes some work to get it dressed out right and clean. Make sure to take your time and don’t expect the first few you butcher to look as good as those that you do after. It takes time to learn anything new.

After you get through the first few batches of butchering for your own table and it all looks good, then go on to selling.

Where to Purchase Quail

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.

Other Resources on Raising Quail

The best resources I have found are university extensions, specifically the Mississippi State University.

In addition, I found that the following free download from the Texas Agricultural Extension Service has some useful information; Producing Quail for Home Consumption.

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41 Responses to “How to Raise Quail: An Alternative to Chickens”

  1. 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…

  2. 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?

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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!!

  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. 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.

    • When telling people about rules and regulations where you live it’s often helpful to the reader to know where you live.

  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. 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?

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