Often people who are first getting started in the farming or homesteading thing will want to acquire chickens. Chickens are wonderful animals. I’ve had several of my own flocks and enjoyed them on my land. That being said, many people who want to get started with farming aren’t in a good location for it. Maybe you are in an urban setting or a neighborhood with restrictions. I’m running into that situation now as I’m currently in a bigger city.
What is an aspiring farm chick or dude or person to do? Well, you look into quail.
Quail has a couple of main perks that make it an ideal solution if you don’t have the right situation for owning chickens.
Quail really don’t require a lot of space. The popular method of keeping Coturnix quail is to give them 1 square foot per bird. They run around just fine and often don’t mind or even prefer snuggling with their other bird mates.
They go through a usual daily routine of running around or eating and then they might go take naps, usually at the same time. Many people buy a cheap rabbit hutch to keep them.
It is also possible to convert an old piece of furniture to house them as I’ve seen people do a little DIY magic to an old bookshelf and making a fine bookshelf cage they keep in their garage. I wish I had pictures, but that was 6 years ago. The main thing is it is easy to keep clean.
Your usual quail will lay more eggs per year than your average chicken. Quail also have a better egg to feed ratio so they are more efficient in terms of cost. Quail also tend to start laying at 7 weeks old which is much sooner than the 20 weeks required for chickens.
Quail also have some color variety like chickens. The feather colors of the quail don’t matter, it comes down to how their egg genetics end up. You can have eggs that are blue, or all white, maybe golden, possibly light olive, tan or brown, there are even reports of some eggs looking silvery white.
Some make the claim that quail eggs are healthier and superior. I’m not so sure there is really that much difference, but that is the claim. It is reported that some people who have chicken egg allergies can consume quail eggs without problems. Though this depends on what exactly is giving them the allergic reaction as there are 7 different proteins that could be causing them problems and those proteins vary between birds.
They are small little things, but they pack on decent meat fast. The birds can go from hatched to butchered in 8 weeks and the costs are far less when dealing with quail.
Quail meat has a higher protein to fat ratio when compared to a chicken broiler. Their smaller size makes it easy to process them with little or no equipment. They are also pretty easy to store because you are dealing with smaller sizes. Just throw them in a freezer and take them out when you need to cook.
Quail are also superior to farming out meat chickens. In order to do meat chickens your options for the most efficient method is to order in the specially bred cornish cross chicks that will cost you $2.50 a chick. These birds are a specific cross-breeding between special parent birds.
You can’t keep them to breed down a line and often cornish cross die of heart attacks or overheating or something. They aren’t bred to be functional chickens, they are bred to put meat on fast and go to slaughter. Other chickens exist that serve as meat chickens but their meat to feed ratios might shut a would-be chicken farmer out of the market.
With quail, you have a little egg or meat factory going where you hatch them out in 18 days and they grow quick for slaughter if needed.
Most places with ordinances forbid the keeping of things considered livestock. Quail are instead classified as “pets”. Coturnix quail aren’t considered “game birds” so you won’t need a permit to keep them. Some other quail do require special permits so it is always good to check your local laws or restrictions.
Quail are also very quiet. You won’t end up with a rooster that crows at all hours and pisses off your whole neighborhood. Even on my homestead property my poor neighbor had to suffer with me as I figured my stuff out.
I had one little roo that would run to the very edge of my property and do his broken adolescent crow at 8 am or so (roosters have to learn to crow, their first attempts are pretty hilarious). My neighbor was not happy and I apologized and we both laughed over the funny sound Petri (the rooster) made. My poor neighbor also had to deal with my screaming goat problem, though I’ll save that for another article.
The interesting thing about owning pretty much any bird is they really do have their own unique personalities. Some of them are brave, some are shy, some like to cuddle, and they are really fascinating to study and keep around. They even talk to each other a bit and have different sounds that signal different things.
Basic Care of Coturnix Chicks
So maybe you took the plunge and got yourself some chicks, now what? The chicks are surprisingly hardy when all care needs are tended to and I had less issues with quail than I did with chickens.
The first thing to tend to is making sure they have heat. Coturnix chicks are extra tiny and are very heat dependent. Their day 1 temperature needs to be 99 degrees Fahrenheit. You can drop the temps down a degree every other day after that.
You have to keep an eye on your chicks and notice their cage habits. If they are all collected directly under their heating element, they are probably too cold. If they are trying to be anywhere but near the heat source, you are cooking them. The ideal situation is a flock of baby chicks that are active and spaced all around.
Food and Water
From the moment you start feeding your chicks, you will want to be feeding them high protein chick feed. Most people use a gamebird crumble feed with a “starter feed” label intended for chicks. The ideal feed is 27-30% protein and you will want a 1.5% calcium crumble. Some people opt to use turkey grower if that is all they can find.
Water is something that needs to be present at all times and you want the container shallow and ideally be a self watering thing that keeps a steady supply of water available. You want it decently far away from the heat source though not too far.
If you put it too far the chicks might not want to leave their heat source. But if the water is too close you might end up with chicks trying to sleep in the water. You do not want wet chicks as that just leads to problems or possibly death. Again, make sure the water dish is shallow. Drowning chicks is a thing and makes any quail parent very sad.
You will want to avoid having too many chicks in too small a place. When I had my 10 gallon aquarium brooder, I found I could comfortably house about 6 chicks at least until they were ready for their bigger pen.
Ideally, you want to give the quail plenty of space to move around. You can usually tell if your brooder box is overcrowded because the mess factor will be a bit overwhelming and you will see missing feathers on their backs. If you see this then investigate and change things up.
Leaving the Brooder
Usually, you want to move your chicks out of the brooder at 3 weeks old as they should be fully feathered and won’t need a heat source. When you move them outside depends on your own assessment as climates are different. If you are in a cold climate, you may need to wait longer.
You need to be careful of the bedding you use. Pine shavings are said to work the best though I used to use newspaper bedding I changed once or twice a day. I had a lot of paper stored up so it was a free bedding. You will want to doing frequent cleanings to keep the quail happy.
When cleaning the cage by washing it you will want to use a solution of half water to half dish soap. Do not use any harmful chemicals. If everything is kept clean and sanitary, they should do well.