Introduction to Keeping Quail – Breeds, Incubation, Housing & Rearing Quail

Fawn QuailKeeping quail at home is becoming increasingly popular. These small attractive birds take up far less room than poultry which means the hobby is open to those with just a tiny garden or even a spare room indoors. Unlike hens and ducks that can be noisy, quail are quiet birds with a soothing chirrup of a call.

They make a good pet, being fairly easy to tame, especially if you’ve raised and handled them from the day they hatch. Even so they can be skittish, but patience and slow movements will win them around.

Raising and keeping quail is not an expensive hobby, in fact you can often make some profit by selling the eggs, which they lay in abundance.

Although they’re very small, the eggs fetch a premium price as a gourmet delicacy.

Many small poultry keepers are expanding into this area to sell the eggs and as meat birds.

Quail Breeds

Quail are not actually poultry as such, they’re game birds coming from the same family as pheasants and partridges.

Japanese or Coturnix quail are the most commonly kept breed as they are fast growing and also have quick reproduction cycles. Normal coturnix quail are easily sexed from three weeks of age, the males having a reddish coloured chest which starts to become apparent, making them ideal for backyard rearing on a small scale.

Sex variations in some breeds, like the Bobwhite, are harder to spot until the birds are near fully grown when the larger size and different call of the male is obvious.

Although you can keep any number of females together, the males can end up fighting and even killing each other when mature. It’s not always the case they will fight, but something to watch out for. Quails were actually kept as fighting birds in Elizabethan times!

Although there are many other quail breeds and variations of colour pattern, including Bobwhite and Californian quail, they are more difficult to source and can usually only be obtained through specialist breeders.

Cortunix quail can be purchased easily either as eggs, day old birds or at point of lay from main poultry suppliers and a national list of suppliers in your area can be found on site here: UK Breeders & Suppliers of Quail

Do remember that when buying incubating eggs, you don’t have any control of the sex of the birds. Usually this is half and half, male to female but you can be very unlucky and find yourself with six males from six eggs.

Quail Incubation

In the absence of a broody quail you can use a broody bantam. Bantams may well hatch the eggs for you better than a quail. The average hatching time for quail eggs is 16 days although this varies according to breed, as opposed to 21 days for chickens and 28 days for ducks.

If you’re using a mechanical incubator, you should incubate to give an egg temperature of 37.5°C. Refer to the individual machine’s instructions. The eggs should be turned daily (pointy end down). Make sure you maintain humidity as per your incubators instruction manual. Ideally 45% until they start pipping rising to 75% until hatched. Once the quail start pipping cease turning and reduce the temperature to 37°C.

Once hatched, dried and fluffed up move them to a brooding area with a heat lamp. This need not be anything more sophisticated than a cardboard box with newspaper and wood shavings on the floor. They need to be kept at 35.0°C for their first week and then reduce their temperature by 2.5 to 3 degrees Celsius each week for the until at six weeks they are totally off-heat.

Provide water in shallow dishes, a small pet food bowl is fine, but put some large pebbles or glass marbles in the water. Quail are susceptible to drowning in the water.

Rearing Quail

Quail should be fed on either a game bird starter mix or if you also rear chickens a chick crumb feed for the first two weeks.

After this you should begin to move the quail onto growers feed until 6 weeks of age, at which point the birds will be physically mature. For the male birds destined for the table follow with one week of finishers feed and for the female birds move them onto layers pellets or mash at this point. Using the finishers’ pellets will help to gain a good body weight in the final table bird and also helps to improve flavour.

A personal choice for flavour would be to give 50% corn along with the finishers’ pellets to give a well flavoured and succulent bird.

Housing for Quail

At 6 weeks of age they can be moved into secure warm, dry and draft proof accommodation such as a rabbit hutch with a run, which would provide safety from predators and enclosed warm conditions for the birds. Being small birds, they’re a temptation for local cats (including your own pets!) as well as foxes etc.

Quail are not as hardy as poultry and the ideal temperature range is 16°C to 23°C for them. In cold weather you will probably need to provide heating in the coop or even move them indoors into cages in extreme conditions.

Low level perches will be happily used by the quail. You should remember that quail can fly high and if you wish to restrict their movements you will need to have a covered run or to wing clip. This ability to fly should be kept in mind when cleaning out cages etc. Just one moment’s inattention and your bird can be flying away never to be seen again.

Startled quail have a habit of flying straight up like a rocket. If their run has a weldmesh roof or suchlike, they can bang straight into it, doing themselves damage. A secondary lower roof of soft netting will protect against this problem.

The housing should be cleaned out on a weekly basis with fresh bedding and litter material so that no sores or infections can take hold in the birds.

Further Articles on Keeping Quail

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