Poultry is big here at our house. My kids love birds more than most other livestock. We started with chickens, then added ducks, and finally quail. We raise coturnix quail, which have a lot of pluses when it comes to poultry. They are small- perfect for urban homesteads- and so they require less space per bird. They also mature early and start laying eggs by 8 weeks of age. If you are thinking about adding quail to your homestead, here are the basics when it comes to their care- from hatching to adulthood.
How to Raise Coturnix Quail
Coturnix quail can be a bit fragile at hatching- so I would strongly recommend hatching your own or finding a local source as opposed to mail-ordering your quail chicks. They are quick to hatch- taking only about 17 days- so if you have a local farmer with fertile eggs it’s an easy way to go.
Caring for Chicks
At hatching quail are pretty small. Much smaller than the day old chicken chicks you may be used to. Their needs are similar to chickens in that they need a brooder box, heat lamp, water and food. You will want to place marbles or a sponge in their water to prevent drowning at first. Also cover any bedding material with paper towels at first to keep them from pecking and eating the bedding.
We keep our quail in a 50 gallon water trough for the first couple weeks before moving them outside to their final pen. You will want to make sure they have screen on the top of their box to prevent them from flying out- these guys learn to jump and fly quick! You will want to keep them under the lamp (starting at 98 degrees on hatch day)- unless it’s the middle of summer and really warm- until about 4-6 weeks. Reduce the temperature under the lamp by about 10 degrees each week until you hit the outside air temperature.
For feed you will want to find a high protein, unmedicated game bird feed. We use Manna Pro Gamebird/Showbird. At first you might need to pulse the feed through a food processor the first week or so to prevent choking, but after the chicks have gained some size they should be fine with crumbles.
Housing for Quail
Because of their small and flighty nature quail are not really suited for free ranging. You have a lot of options when it comes to your cages. I have seen stacked pens with wire floors, refurbished rabbit cages, etc. I prefer to house mine on the ground since it is more similar to their natural habitat. If you are on the ground be sure to provide some begging materials- ours love the days we add straw- they tunnel through and make holes to hide in. They also enjoy added “hideouts” made from branches or buckets.
You will need to provide about 1 sq ft per bird. Quail do have the tendency to fly straight up when startled so you will either need to keep their cages short- 8-10 inches or tall enough for them to fly without hitting the top. Our current set up is 4 ft tall and we haven’t had any issues.
They can be kept indoors or on decks if you keep the area cleaned regularly or outside, as long as you provide them with protection from draft. We keep our pen wrapped in a tarp in the winter to keep them warm and protected from our high winds. It’s easy to unwrap on warm days to let them enjoy the sun.
If you are raising your quail for eggs, coturnix quail should come into maturity and start laying by about 8 weeks. They will then lay about an egg a day for life. In order to keep up production year round you will need to provide a light source so that they get 14hrs of light per day. Quail do not need- and would most likely not use- nest boxes. Some people slope the floors of their wire cages to that eggs roll out for easy collection. I just send my 5 and 8 year olds in to the pen to collect. It’s like a mini egg hunt for them.
Sexing Your Quail
By 3 or 4 weeks you should notice feather color differences in your quail. The most common coturnix quail coloring is the pharaoh- the males will show rusting on their feathers whereas the females will not. The males will also start to call at 5 or 6 weeks. We have some all white ones- and we just wait until they start breeding and calling in order to tell them apart. You can also vent sex them- but that’s not something I am really knowledgeable about.
Do you raise quail? I’d love to hear about your experience or share your set up!