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Keeping Coturnix Quail- On a Small Scale
I’ve been keeping Coturnix quail off and on, at a small scale, since I was a teenager. In the last few months I’ve gotten back into keeping Coturnix quail, and thought that I would share more about my setup and method of caring for these fun little birds.
If you want to produce some of your family’s food at home- but are limited by space or money- keeping Coturnix quail is a great option. If you’re new to raising poultry or “homesteading” generally, they’re a great bird for beginners too. (Find 32 other ways to start homesteading, without having to move, here)
Quieter, cleaner, and more compact than chickens, quail are the ultimate urban egg-layer, and you can even add a little meat to the freezer.
This post will be focused on keeping Coturnix quail- my quail of choice- but this information can easily be applied to quail of any variety.
What are Coturnix Quail & Quail VS Chickens
Coturnix quail, also known as the Japanese quail, originated from Japan.
They are a separate species of quail, not closely related to the Bobwhite and California quail native to the United States.
Coturnix quail can also be found wild in Europe and Africa. The Coturnix genus contains several species of similar quail that are found throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Why keep Coturnix quail?
The reasons for keeping Coturnix quail are similar to the reasons to raise any sort of poultry- eggs and meat. But the extra benefit of keeping quail is their tolerance for smaller spaces and how quickly they mature.
Compared to a chicken, which weighg 3-6lbs, the average Coturnix quail is significantly smaller- 5 or so ounces at maturity. This smaller size means smaller eggs and a smaller carcass, but it also means smaller space requirements and a smaller feed bill.
While a chicken will take 5 ½ + months to mature and begin laying eggs, a quail is mature at just 6-8 weeks.
Thanks to this quick maturation, you can have several generations of quail hatching and growing out within a single year- in a smaller space and with less feed than chickens.
Quail are also quieter and easier to handle than some of the larger poultry species. Their feed requirements and equipment requirements are also significantly less- making it easier to start keeping Coturnix quail if you’re on a budget.
Life Cycle of Coturnix quail
Quail take about 18 days to hatch from eggs. (That’s 3 days less than chickens, and 10 days less than ducks!) From the time they hatch, it’s only 6 – 8 weeks before these little gals will begin laying eggs of their own.
That’s a timeline only a fraction of chickens’, and several weeks shorter than a rabbit’s. If you’re looking for a quick turnaround on homegrown food, quail are definitely the ticket.
How Much Space for Keeping Coturnix Quail?
At less than half a pound each, keeping Coturnix quail doesn’t require very much space. In fact, the more difficult part of housing them is keeping them contained and safe from predators. They can be little escape artists if given the chance.
Their small size is why most people keep quail in all-wire pens. If you’re seen a commercial rabbit or chicken operation, those same cages will work for quail.
Right now I have a trio of mature Coturnix quail living in a 3’ by 3’ rabbit cage. It’s about 1 ½’ tall, with a removable tray to catch spilled food and their droppings.
To keep them a little more comfortable, I’ve got a piece of plywood (about 1’ square) and have the cage pretty thickly packed with straw. When I expand the flock (currently planning on several populations of breeding birds, plus grow outs to butcher) I’ll probably move away from straw and focus more on just boards, since they’re easier to clean.
They’re using a chick-sized (1 quart) feeder and a chick-sized (1 quart) waterer right now, which works just fine and didn’t cost me a penny.
The rule of thumb seems to be just under/around 1sq ft per quail. I’m not sure I’d go that small (or any smaller) for a breeding group, and you’ll find that most animals don’t complain about having too much space.
Feed Needs for Coturnix Quail
The only major difference in the care and keeping of young chickens and keeping Coturnix quail is the protein requirements of the birds. I feed my chickens a maximum of 20% protein in their store-bought feed. Quail pips on the other hand, need at least 22% protein. Quail pips should be fed a game bird crumble, and mature quail should be fed either a ration meant for mature gamebirds, or a high-quality layer pellet.
My mature quail are currently fed a 50/50 blend of 30% gamebird crumble and 16% mini layer pellet- for a ration that’s about 23% protein. I’ll be backing this off to contain a little less protein once my current ration runs out.
Watering Coturnix Quail
It should come as no surprise that quail need water. My current, tiny set up (think super beginner-friendly) is utilizing a 1 quart chick waterer for 3 mature quail. I fill it every other day or so, and they’re totally fine with it.
If you want to get a little fancier, and free up floor space in the cage, you can purchase specially designed drinking cups and make waterers that mount on the outside of the cage. (These seem to be really popular, but I can’t vouch for them personally) I haven’t taken the plunge on DIY waterers yet, since I’m still in the design phase of our permanent quail setup, but the external system seems like a great way to give them more space.
Brooding your Coturnix Quail
Brooding Coturnix quail is very similar to brooding chicks.
We want to make sure that they have food, water, and warmth at all times, and are protected from any drafts or moisture.
Because quail are especially small, in those first few days of brooding, we need to make sure that they’re quite warm and can’t drown or get into their waterer. I recommend using a narrower, “quail waterer base” like this one from Premier 1.. After a week or so you can switch them to a normal-sized waterer base.
Because of how rapidly they grow, you need to be sure that you’re feeding a high-protein feed. A gamebird starter crumble is perfect, but any sort of grower above 22% protein will work, Crumbles are best for young quail because of their tiny size.
Once they’ve begun to grow feathers all over, I raise the heat lamp a little bit every few days to slowly acclimate them to life without it. You can follow their lead on when and how much to raise the light. Their body language will change as they get too cold or too hot. (When to remove supplemental heat entirely will also depend on how warm of a climate you’re in- follow their lead)
Once your Coturnix quail are fully feathered, they can be moved to their adult cages/coop/flight pen. After a few more weeks, your birds will be fully grown and laying eggs, or ready for slaughter.
Chores for Adult Quail
Taking care of adult quail is kind of a breeze- as long as you have a well-designed system.
In my current iteration of quail-keeping, my quail are in old wire rabbit cages. They have a thick layer of straw inside the cage, and a tray for droppings & fallen food under the cages.
I collect eggs every morning.
The quail have feeders that are big enough to only require filling once a week or so. I’m feeding a 50/50 gamebird feed and layer pellet right now, but will be backing off to ⅓ gamebird and ⅔ layer pellers.
Their waterers are also big enough to require infrequent filling, probably three times a week.
When the straw in their cage starts looking dingy, I swap it out for fresh. The trays under their cages will get cleaned out at the same time. Everything goes in the compost bin.
My quail are currently in an outbuilding, easily protected from the elements and predators. On warmer days and cleaning days, I move all of the cages outdoors and let them have some fresh air and sunshine. In the summer, I plan to build something more permanent outdoors (maybe in conjunction with the rabbit pens) that will still keep them warm and secure.
Uses for meat & eggs, yield
Coturnix quail are prolific. I get eggs every day from my hens, even without supplemental light. (It’s February as I write this, and while my chickens are just starting to lay again after a winter pause, the quail haven’t stopped at all) At almost an egg a day per hen, you’ll need to keep 3 or 4 hens to equal the egg output of a high-production chicken.
Put another way, 3 Coturnix quail eggs will substitute for one large chicken egg.
As far as actually cooking with those eggs goes, Coturnix quail eggs can be used for all of the same things you’d use a chicken egg for. Omelets, baking, scrambled, pickled… if it needs an egg, quail eggs will do.
(This has me thinking I ought to try making tiny devilled eggs… that’d be a new one for us)
They have a similar shelf life to chicken eggs, and a lot of the same wisdom and lore apply. I don’t store our quail eggs in the fridge, I keep them in the egg bowl on our kitchen counter. A clean cage makes for clean eggs, so no washing is necessary.
For longer-term storage, quail eggs can be frozen, dehydrated, pickled, or water glassed just like chicken eggs. (Read all about 12 different methods of preserving eggs here. You can also find my super simple egg pickling recipe here)
What about quail meat?
Each quail will yield just a few ounces of meat per bird. Plan on having to cook 2 (or 3?) per person. Jumbo Coturnix quail get significantly bigger than “normal” Coturnix quail, and are definitely the variety to raise if you’re going for a bigger carcass.
Keeping Coturnix quail can be a lot of fun and a worthwhile endeavor. The quick turnaround time from chick to egg is a great way to start finding success as a new homesteader/poultry keeper. Their small size and docile nature also make them great options if you’re starting on this homesteading journey with little kids.
For the urban farmer, keeping Coturnix quail is a great way to produce homegrown meat and eggs without raising the suspicions of the neighborhood.
I hope that after reading this overview of how I’m keeping Coturnix quail small-scale that you’ll be inspired to try it yourself.
If you’re ready to take the plunge, Stromberg’s Hatchery sells Coturnix quail chicks and hatching eggs (here). Cackle Hatchery, Hoover’s Hatchery, Purely Poultry, McMurray Hatchery, (and more!) also sell Coturnix quail chicks and hatching eggs.
If you have any more questions about keeping Coturnix quail, or anything homesteading, don’t hesitate to reach out- I’d love to hear from you!
Thanks for reading and happy homesteading,