When we were first thinking about bringing home some farm inhabitants, we were thinking along the lines of that timeless children’s tune, “Old MacDonald”. Between the choruses of moos, oinks and quacks, we realized that we had forgotten one important fact: We live in the city and the local ordinances made those critters illegal. With their various barnyard smells and sounds, they are not considered to be good neighbors in an urban environment.
Through a quirk of fate, an internet friend introduced us to the species that Old MacDonald overlooked: the Itty City Biddies AKA Coturnix quail. A small group of these fabulous birds can produce both eggs and meat for your family’s consumption, while only occupying the amount of space required to park a car. If you’ve never considered raising quail, then you may be missing out on the perfect (little) poultry.
When we eventually pack up to relocate to a farm, the quail will always have a place in our hearts and on our property due to their easygoing nature and their low maintenance. Quail require access to fresh water, gamebird feed and secure housing to keep neighborhood cats and dogs from bothering them. That is about it!
Domesticated in Asia, Coturnix quail are the kissing-cousins of chickens, pheasants and partridges. Hens begin to lay eggs at six weeks of age and birds of either sex can be slaughtered at seven weeks of age. They consume very little feed, making them an economical choice, too.
Fairly gentle birds, Coturnix quail come in many varieties and are easily raised in small spaces. Unlike chicken roosters, the crow of a male quail isn’t as long, nor does it carry as far. The sound always reminds me of that duck on those tv commercials. Aside from the crowing, most Coturnix quail make a pleasant chirping sound, which is similar to that of a cricket. This makes them a community-friendly choice, even for those living in the close quarters of an urban or suburban environment. Our quail are housed close to the garden, which ensures that they receive a steady diet of bugs every time that the garden is weeded. They aren’t at all picky. If it can wiggle and fit into their mouths, then they will endeavor to eat it!
We’ve noticed that having caged birds in the backyard encourages other species to hang out in the yard. We get regular visits from grackles, crows, robins, sparrows, blue jays, cardinals, pigeons, doves and the occasional peregrine falcon.
As with any livestock, you’ll want to check with the local zoning office and respective state government to determine if quail are permitted in your area. In many states, it is illegal to raise or release domestic game birds without a government-issued permit.