By Carolyn Evans-Dean – If you’re looking for an easy livestock addition for your backyard or homestead, you need look no further than the Coturnix quail for quail farming. They consume very little feed and require very little care to produce healthy, gourmet-quality quail eggs and meat for your family.
The recent surge in urban farming is shining a new light on these fabulous little birds, though they are equally suited to rural areas. First domesticated in Asia, quail belong to the family of birds called the Phasianidae that include chickens, pheasants and partridges.
Coturnix quail are gentle birds that come in many varieties and are easily raised in small spaces. Prized for their meat and egg production, they are considered to be fully grown at six weeks and begin to produce eggs at eight weeks. Unlike chicken roosters, the crow of a male quail is not as loud, nor does it carry as far. This makes the quail a neighbor-friendly choice for anyone who wants to start quail farming, even for those living in the city. As with any livestock, you will want to check with your local zoning office and the state to determine if a special permit is required before getting started with quail farming. In my home state of New York, it is illegal to raise or release domestic game birds without a permit issued by the Department of Environmental Conservation.
Most modern Coturnix quail begin their lives in an incubator, as their parents seem rather disinterested in hatching quail eggs. After 17-18 days of incubation, thumb-sized chicks emerge from speckled shells of the quail eggs. Though sluggish at first, the chicks begin to eat finely crushed game bird feed and drink water within a couple of hours of their hatch and begin running around at top speed. They do seem to have a death wish and can easily drown in a quail waterer. For that reason, we start our birds out with a few soda bottle caps as waterers. We place a marble in the center of it to prevent them from falling in.
Like chickens, quail require heat from a heat lamp for their first few weeks of life. An inadvertent chill can result in death within a very short period of time. The birds grow out quickly with adults weighing in at between 3-1/2 — 5-1/2 ounces and standing approximately five inches tall. The average lifespan seems to range from 1.5 years to 4 years.
Once they achieve adulthood, Coturnix quail have very basic requirements to maintain optimum health. Well-ventilated housing, access to clean water and a high-protein game feed are pretty much all that is needed for them to thrive.
Most people raising quail for eggs or meat prefer to grow them out in welded wire cages, resembling rabbit hutches. The wire used to construct the floor should have holes that are no larger than 1/4 inch in order to allow the birds’ feet to remain healthy. Wire also helps to keep the eggs and birds from becoming soiled. Each section of the cage should house only one male. An additional male in the cage will result in a fight to the death as each tries to assert his dominance over the hens. In a cold climate, fewer daylight hours will curtail laying activities unless supplemental lighting is provided. Quail hens require 14 hours of light per day in order to produce eggs. Though quail waterers are readily available at most feed stores, the water bottles commonly used for rabbits are a far better choice. They keep the birds from fouling the water and only have to be refilled every couple of days, making the daily chores related to quail farming minimal.
Quail are gentle birds, yet they can be a bit skittish. If they should happen to escape from a cage they can be a handful to recapture, even with a net. Our family found out the hard way just how difficult they can be to catch! Their bodies are just small enough to fit in the tightest crevices. Once they have gotten away, they are unlikely to return.
When it comes time to select a meat variety of quail, the Texas A&M is probably the most popular of quail breeds in America. Compared to other Coturnix quail, they tip the scale at 10-13 ounces in only seven weeks.
You may be thinking that you really don’t need to add quail to the mix at your farm because you already have chickens and they produce eggs and meat, too. The big difference between raising chickens and quail farming is in the length of time that it takes to get a return. Chickens begin to lay eggs once they are between 18 and 26 weeks of age. A single quail hen can lay between 72 and 120 eggs during that same time frame. Split equally between hatching and eating, there is the realistic chance that at a minimum, one hen can produce 36 eggs for eating and about 25 new quail chicks to start the process all over again. Admittedly, about half of those 25 chicks will be males and won’t be biologically equipped to lay eggs. That’s okay, though, because they taste great on the grill at 7 weeks of age!
Once you’ve made the decision to start quail farming, you should have a business strategy for maintaining them. This doesn’t have to be complicated. If your family plans to eat the eggs and meat, then that may be all of the planning that you need. If you would like to find a market for your birds or eggs, then you will need to study your local market.
There are a few niches that can be explored to grow a quail farming business. Quail eggs are extremely popular in the Asian community, as they are used in the preparation of many authentic dishes. If you live in an area with a growing Asian population, then you might want to focus on that segment of the market. Better yet … try to locate an Asian market to carry your wares.
Some hunters and dog trainers like to train their animals using live quail. This could be a solution for someone who has too many non-productive, older birds. Look to local game hunting clubs for leads. Additionally, some game hunting facilities purchase birds to stock their ranges for their clientele.
Posting an advertisement on Craigslist might yield people interested in purchasing either hatching eggs or live birds. There may also be a demand for fully dressed birds in your area depending upon local laws pertaining to the slaughter of animals. Once people try quail meat, they will keep coming back for more.
Quail eggs can also be boiled for use as a healthy snack for small children, who tend to have a fondness for tiny foods. When cooked with a splash of white vinegar in the boiling water, they peel easily and can be added to a lunch box.
If you live close to a city, quail eggs are also highly sought after by caterers for use as deviled eggs. Nothing says “trendy party” like bite-sized eggs on a serving tray! Fresh eggs can also be marketed at a premium price to upscale grocery stores.
Once you have established the business strategy for quail farming, it is easy to maintain your bevy (the proper name for a group of quail) at the optimum size to avoid feeding unneeded birds. Should demand for eggs and meat decrease, excess birds can be slaughtered and frozen until needed as meat. When the demand for eggs returns, fertile eggs can be set in an incubator. Within eight weeks, the egg and meat production is back to full capacity.
With very little work, good feed and some great recipes, you can look forward to smooth quailing when you get started with quail farming!
Stuffed Quail with Mushrooms
4 large, skinned quail
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 onions, diced
2 cups fresh moonlight mushrooms, sliced
2 cups breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons thyme, chopped
2 tablespoons rosemary, chopped
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup melted salted butter
Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Debone the quail from the back, leaving the bird whole.
In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil and minced garlic over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until caramelized and brown. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat.
Add in the breadcrumbs and chopped herbs. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
Dividing the stuffing mixture equally among all birds, fill the cavity of each bird. Plump the birds up into their previous shape, then place each in a foil envelope and brush with melted butter. Place the quail in the oven to roast for 15 minutes. Open the foil and continue to cook for another 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve on a bed of rice. Enjoy!
Originally published in 2010 and regularly vetted for accuracy.