This year we have added quail to our livestock resume. It was originally intended to populate our aviary. But after talking to a local breeder and finding out that they are not as cold hearty as the ringneck pheasant, we decided on putting them in a movable “tractor” of sorts that we could pull around the yard. These bird do fly, although not too far at a time, and don’t come back. All our animals that we can free range we do, but these guys must be fully enclosed. So after buying 50 day old chicks, we began our adventure.
The chicks must be kept warm and dry, even normal chicken waters can be too much for these tiny guys. Rocks were added to the bottom to prevent drownings. We had a quart waterer spill over, killing some of them because they didn’t know any better than to get out of the wet. We were able to save some of the chicks that got wet, even though they seemed to be barely breathing, by moving them under the warm and dry area under the heat lamp.( So if this ever happens to you, don’t give up!) My lesson with the waterers is to add the chicks to the brooder for about 10 minutes BEFORE adding the waterers. The chicks are quite scared entering their new home, running all over the place. They will run right into the water dishes. This can be fatal if the weather is cold. After they calm down, then add in the water dishes.
The chicks are good at monitoring their heat however,and will move in and out as they need. (turkey chicks never seem to figure this out) They should to be kept at 95 degrees the first week and slow reduce by 5 degrees every week after. I do not completely follow this, and usually rely on behavior. Huddling chicks are too cold and chicks that make a “ring” around the lamp circle of heat are being kept too hot. This just takes a little observation and practice and you will be doing without the thermometer too.
After my little cuties feathered out and grew, they were ready to be moved to their outside tractor. Loving called the “quail Jail” they enjoyed their new home getting moved everyday to a new section of grass and buggy treats. The males started crowing, and then we received our first egg at 5 weeks to the day.( Quail eggs are pretty awesome. They all look different, the patterns and even size and shape vary egg to egg.)
Then they starting fighting. We found one quail completely decapitated, and others had bloody heads. It seemed the sexual maturity of the females had set the males into aggressive mode. So then we had to figure out males from females. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Gross, not hard. To sex a quail, flip it over (feet up) in one hand, then with the other hand press on the vent. If white foamy stuff comes out, its a male. No foamy stuff, female. The males also have more of a cinnamon color on their chest, females have more of a cream color. Females also tend to be larger, but the vent method has been more fool proof for me, even though it is pretty gross. So after we separated out the male female ratio to 5 to 1, extra males went into a cage together without further incident.
Eggs seem to come slowly, I had 20 hens and was only getting 4 eggs a day at week 7. What was I doing wrong?! Well two things as it turned out. First I was really stupid and forgot to switch their food from the growing feed, to the higher calcium layer feed. I also added oyster shell free choice. This helped some but still, 7 eggs from 20 hens was still not good enough. So we made a judgement call to end the quail jail experiment, and move them to retired rabbit cages. It wasn’t as fun, and I felt kind of bad taking the grass away from them, but everybirdy has to pull their own weight. And this did the trick. I’m not sure why, but after the move, they ALL starting laying. Now I have more eggs than I know what to do with! 20 eggs a day is a lot!
They are so fun to collect, and even more fun to cook with! I have made the best ever cheesecake with quail eggs! And I have made a lot of cheesecakes. You just have to use 3 quail eggs to 1 chicken egg in your recipes. I have also been quite successful in hatching out our eggs as well. This makes quail a great renewable meat source. ( I love to eat our cornish rock cross chickens, but hate that we can’t hatch out our own) Those extra males that we had ended up on the grill Fathers Day. Yum! I was pleasantly surprised at the meat taste. And they weren’t all that much trouble to butcher since we just pulled off the skins-taking the feathers off with it. All in all, the quails have been an awesome experience. The birds have such a different personality than chickens. They lay all spralled out, looking dead, then when you get closer they pop up like popcorn! These birds would make a great addition to any homestead, or urban farmer (quails are not banned from city limits like chickens are). Hope you consider adding them to your livestock resume!