In the last several years, the homesteading movement has swept across North America. Numerous folks have started growing vegetables and fruits, as well as raising chickens and other animals, which establishes self-sufficiency and a visceral sense of fulfillment.
But often flying under the radar in the backyard bird-raising trend are additional yet unconventional options, like quail.
Quail provide eggs, meat and hours of enjoyment. They’re quiet, detailed, efficient birds that complement a self-reliant lifestyle. Whether you have a fenced-in backyard or acreage to roam, you can raise these birds on a manageable scale in a natural environment.
At any rate, raising quail certainly enriches the homestead lifestyle.
It’s likely you can legally raise quail in even your small urban backyard; they’re a wild game bird separate from the poultry and livestock categories. Some municipalities that restrict residents from raising certain “farm animals” like chickens leave quail off of the restricted list. However, because they’re game birds, it’s always recommended to see if your state, county or town has restrictions before getting started. Often, you can contact the local wild game bird association and they can refer you to that information and more.
Once you have the go-ahead, there are a few things to consider before you begin. Start by researching quail breeds, necessary supplies, where to purchase birds, housing, and how to deal with predators.
Quail breeds for starter flocks
Beginners typically begin their experience with the hardiest quail breed, the Coturnix, also known as Japanese quail. This breed was imported to North America in the late 1800s for the purpose of eggs and meat, as well as released as game birds.
This is the fastest growing breed among quail and can be raised in all types of environments. The Coturnix matures between 6 and 8 weeks of age. You’ll be amazed when they start laying eggs between 6 and 8 weeks old – it takes about three to four jumbo Coturnix quail eggs to equal one chicken egg. Be sure to wait until they’re at least 11 weeks old before processing for meat.
Other breeds to consider once you’ve gained experience are the native breeds. My favorite is the Bobwhite; they’re perfect for meat and release, and they have one of the most recognizable, pretty quail calls of them all. You’ll find other breeds like the Gambel’s, Mountain, California, and others across North America. Some states have restrictions against raising native breeds, so be sure to do your research. Information varies from state to state.
Purchasing quail can be done online through wild game hatcheries, or Craigslist can be an option. Or, as with chickens, you can incubate fertile quail eggs.
Chicks, supplies and setup
If the idea of raising quail has sparked your interest, the best way to begin is with baby quail chicks. Beginning with babies will establish a strong immune system within your beginner flock, and will help you learn as much as you can about raising quail. Chicks are small, fast, and a bit messy. But there are a few things that can make the brooder stage less difficult.
Brooder containers consist of a plastic tub with a wood wire frame lid. A lid is necessary because the quail will fly out of open spaces, sometimes within the first one to four days after they arrive. Brooders should be set up and ready to go prior to your chicks hatching or otherwise arriving.
Bedding is necessary and should always be kept clean. I use hay instead of shavings. It’s less messy, and it inspires the quail nesting instincts.
Heat lamps are used to keep the birds warm. This is vital, and temperature at chick level inside the brooder should be 95 to 97 degrees Fahrenheit the first week. Like chicken chicks, young birds that are too cold will bunch up under the heat source, while birds moving away from the heat source indicates too much heat. You want comfortable chicks evenly dispersed throughout the brooder. The temperature can be reduced 5 degrees per week until it reaches 75 degrees, and the chicks will be fully feathered. Choose a colored bulb if possible – this will keep the birds calmer and decrease pecking. Make sure to plug in your heat light to a reliable energy source.
Water containers can be small, and you need to add pebbles or marbles to the rim. This simple step can keep baby quail from drowning. At about week three or four, you can remove the marbles.
Feed begins with wild game starter crumbles. You can also use a chick feed starter. You’re looking for a nonmedicated, 30-percent protein feed in the form of a crumble. Grinding their feed the first few days makes it easier to digest. Feed can be purchased in 50-pound bags. Treats can be introduced by the end of the first week. They will enjoy meal worms and small bits of fruit. Feed dishes should be small so the quail cannot sit in their food.
It’s extremely important to keep the quail brooders clean. Babies tend to eat their own feces, which can cause disease resulting in death. Clean the brooder containers at least every other day. Water and food dishes will need to be cleaned at least two or three times a day.
Quail chicks will live in the brooder until they are fully feathered – this will be about 3 weeks of age. Only then can they be sent outdoors to their stationary or mobile home.
The quail home
Quail housing is an important part of the planning process. Each quail requires 1 square foot of space. You never want to overcrowd your birds, as this can lead to fighting and disease. Available space will determine your setup, but your two options in a general sense are mobile and stationary housing. These options can both include interaction with the ground, where the birds live and nest in a natural environment.
Mobile housing is nice for those with limited space. These setups are perfect for the backyard or for someone who wants to try raising quail on a small scale to see if they like it.
A mobile house can be as simple as a wooden frame enclosed with wire, where you have access by roof and end door. The frame lays flat on open ground, keeping the birds safe from all types of weather and ground predators. This housing option allows the birds to nest on the ground, eat bugs, and keeps the quail from flying away.
You move the house about every two or three days onto fresh grass – this means no ongoing purchase for shavings. The grass is naturally fertilized and revives quickly. The quail have the opportunity to nest and lay their eggs on the ground, where they also enjoy hunting for bugs in addition to their feed diet, scraps and treats.
Stationary housing is similar, but you have the opportunity to add height and additional square footage. This type of housing does not move due to size. The added space allows the birds to test their flight skills and offers additional interaction with the ground.
Keeping quail warm and shaded from different types of weather is simple by adding shelter boxes to both types of housing options. Shelter boxes are three-sided with a roof and can be moved as needed. The quail use these shelters for a variety of purposes.
Quail can live naturally with both options. The one best for you will depend on the size of flock you want to raise and the space you have available.
Natural quail settings
Keep expenses minimal by supplementing a quail’s diet with natural living conditions and the ability to forage. These birds love grasshoppers and crickets; they also enjoy flies or almost anything they can grab. They’re quick and always on the hunt when provided an opportunity to live on the ground in a protected environment.
What I really love about these birds is the hours of enjoyment they provide. Their instincts are incredible, and they use their environment as a way to entertain and calm themselves.
Tall grass is a big attraction; they use it for nesting and camouflage shelter. Wild quail are routinely seen marching along with their flock, and this is how they discover new places to nest and food to eat. The sound of flight speaks freedom. For quail, it’s an opportunity to escape predation.
Protection from predators
Protection from predators is always a concern whenever you decide to raise animals, and especially when you decide to raise game birds and poultry. Some of your biggest threats will be dogs, coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, skunks, owls, hawks and vultures, to name a few. City, suburb and country environments all deal with some type of predation – it’s important to be prepared to protect your investment and eliminate stressors on your birds.
For those with backyards, make sure your quail house is placed in a fenced-in yard. Either housing option will keep your birds safe from flying predators. With stationary housing, build the setup away from the fenceline if possible. The temptation is great for neighboring dogs to dig and otherwise find a way over or through your fence.
For those with land, the list of predators expands, and the same rules apply. Always place your quail house in a fenced-in area. If you want to keep ground predators off your property, a strong, welded-wire fence is a great place to begin. You don’t need to fence in all your land – start with a small area and slowly add to that over time.
Remember the quail will be living in a closed-in house, but if they’re not in a fenced-in area, coyotes or dogs could easily dig their way in and destroy everything you’ve work so hard to establish. Predators are hungry, and they will do whatever it takes to get what they want. Plus, as a responsible animal husband, there’s nothing worse than arriving late to the scene of predation on your animals.
Enjoy the process of raising quail. This experience is an opportunity to add a little self-reliance to your lifestyle and discover the beauty of a bird you might be less familiar with, yet deserving of your efforts. Plus, the eggs, and especially the meat, are a delicacy in many parts of the world.
Welcome to the possibilities and advantages of backyard quail!
Carole West, founder of Garden Up Green and author of Quail: Getting Started enjoys farm life in north Texas. She raises Coturnix and Bobwhites for the purpose of eggs, meat and enjoyment. Her experience includes raising quail on the ground in a protected natural environment. Her enthusiasm for providing an essential habitat is inspiring others to seek out these neat little birds as an option for their own homestead.