We’ve been keeping quail for over a year now on the Rocking Homestead. It was something we thought we had researched pretty well, but no amount of reading really prepared us for it. Not that it’s been exceedingly difficult, but it was different than expected.
Here are some things we’ve learned so far.
1. Quail are not quiet
One thing we read about quail was that they were quiet, discreet little birds that would not bother us or our neighbors. This is not true. They crow from about 4 am until 8 pm, and it was loud enough to bother one of our neighbors (and, to be honest, me). We tried a few things to quiet them down, but in the end we ended up bringing them inside and making a space for them in our basement, and then we moved them again to our garage. Remarkably, the crowing noise was far less annoying in those places.
It’s not as loud as a chicken rooster crows, I’m sure. I imagine they are still quieter than many other common homestead birds, but to describe them as quiet is false. It probably wouldn’t be an issue at all on a bigger property.
2. You want a wire bottom cage
One of the things we tried to quiet the birds was move them from our original wire cage into a wooden hutch. Jeremy built truly beautiful wooden hutches for them, as we were told the quail aren’t as happy with a wire cage and that would cause them to crow more. Well, they didn’t crow any less in the wooden hutch, and it was a pain in the ass to clean. More importantly, in a wire bottom cage the poop falls through the floor and onto whatever catching device you have, so the birds stay cleaner and healthier. When we moved the quail back into our garage we put them into a new wire bottom cage Jeremy designed. We are able to collect their poop and spilled food in trays below the wire bottom and transfer it to our compost.
3. Indoors vs. outdoors
There are things I really loved about keeping the quail inside. I never worried about if they were warm enough, I didn’t have to go outside in the cold to care for them, and if they flew away when I was cleaning cages or feeding them, they were much easier to catch (although it was just a matter of time before one of my cats caught them before I did). But our basement smelled like bird poop and it was unpleasant to be down there. Our garage was a good compromise for their location.
4. You have to wash their eggs
I had read a million times that you don’t really have to wash chicken eggs and that doing so might even be harmful, because there is a natural antibiotic layer on the eggs when they come out. I assumed and still feel confident that this is probably true with all eggs, including quail eggs. However, it is my understanding that chickens go to a nesting box to lay and brood over their eggs, and do all the rest of their business elsewhere. Not so with quail! Quail lay their eggs where ever, then proceed to walk and poop all over any eggs that might be in their way. Quails don’t give a shit about their eggs, so don’t be surprised if there’s shit all over your eggs. Just wash them off, no biggie.
5. You’re going to want to invest in quail egg scissors
Quail eggs are really tough to crack. They are little, which makes it more difficult to begin with, but it also seems the shells are thicker or that membrane is tougher than chicken eggs, likely it’s both. All of this adds up to lots of time cracking eggs by hand, and lots of tiny bits of impossible to remove bits of shell in your eggs. Quail egg scissors makes the task of eating quail eggs a million times easier. Much love and thanks to my urban farm management professor for telling me about them.
Side note: for some reason it’s much easier to remove the shell when they are hard boiled.
6. It takes 4-5 quail eggs to equal 1 chicken egg
This is important to know for recipes, since I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s the best use of quail eggs. Tiny, fried eggs may look adorable on the plate, but it’s not worth the pain in the ass it is to prepare them. It took 50 quail eggs to make a quiche. It took 45 to make Martha Stewart’s Classic Pumpkin Pie. It takes 10 to make chocolate chip banana muffins. And so on.
7. The yolk to white ratio makes for delicious baked goods.
I can not say enough Oh My Gods to describe how amazing our pumpkin pie was last Thanksgiving. Quail eggs make baked goods incredibly rich and flavorful. My best guess as to why is that the yolk to white ratio is higher in quail eggs than in chicken eggs. My quail are not pastured and almost entirely grain fed (I do buy organic feed for them, but it’s hard to pasture indoor birds) so I don’t think it’s the same phenomenon that you get with pastured chicken eggs simply having richer yolks.
8. It’s worth investing in an incubator
Quail won’t brood over their own eggs, which means they won’t even develop into embryos unless a human comes and puts the eggs into an incubator. Somewhere along the lines of domesticating this species, we accidentally (or maybe on purpose, who knows?) bred this trait out of them. So if you want baby quail you have to go to the effort of keeping the eggs in just the right temperature zone (98-102 degrees, 100 being the gold standard) for 3 weeks or so. We tried lots of different home made incubators, but we couldn’t get it to hold the right temperature. Most of the time it was way too hot. Nothing hatched. Once we got an incubator, we did have some successful hatchlings.
9. It’s also worth investing in an automatic egg turner
Eggs need to be turned three times a day to keep the bird fetuses from sticking to the shell and developing all fucked up. You can do this by employing the X method, in which you put an X on one side of the egg to let you know if an egg had been flipped or not, but you still have to remember to go flip them, which I sucked at. And yes, we had some fucked up birds hatch who did not make it.
10. If they can’t make it out of their shell themselves, there’s a reason. Leave them.
I read this before we started incubating, and I was totally going to listen to it, until it happened to me. I learned a hard lesson. It’s heart breaking, but it’s more heart breaking to see the fucked up baby bird and eventually have to put it out of its misery.
11. You cannot over estimate how easily baby quail will drown in their water.
I read to put marbles in their water so they won’t fall in and drown. I didn’t have any marbles so I choose a very shallow dish for their water. It wasn’t even a dish, in fact, it was a Tupperware lid and it could not have had more than 1/4 an inch of water in it. We lost three baby quail to drowning in that dish. Our regular adult waterer worked fine for them, though, because the part that holds the water wasn’t big enough for them to climb into to fall.
12. Correcting splay legs
As far as I can tell this is not possible for quail. They are too tiny for splints. Putting a towel down for them to walk on instead of paper seems to be a promising preventative measure though. (If you know how to do it, though, let me know in the comments! I will pay you back somehow!)
13. Your cat will knock over your incubator and swallow your chicks whole.
That little bastard. Keep your incubator out of your cat’s reach.
14. Culling the flock sucks
We’ve only harvested three quail, and of them, I only did one, and I hated it. We used this handy tutorial (however, there are lots more out there, including videos, if you google it) to teach us how to do it, but it feels just awful to take a life. After I did it, I seriously wondered if I shouldn’t go back to vegetarianism.
Here’s the deal. I want to take responsibility for the meat I eat. I know I’m never going to be to a place where I’m personally slaughtering and butchering all of the meat that I eat, but doing even just a little of it helps me to see all of the meat I eat as the precious thing that it is. To get that food on my table required the taking of a life, which, even if that life was little and too dumb to reproduce without human assistance, is still a big deal. It makes you think about the life that animal lived up until it’s death, the manner of death it had, and the working conditions of those that must kill and process that animal, and all of that is important stuff for meat eaters to consider. If my goal is to have a diet that doesn’t cause harm to myself, others, or the world, I have to take all of this into account. I want to be responsible for the food I eat.
Despite all of this, though, I just can’t bring myself to harvest this bunch. They’re my firsts. I’m going to give them to my uncle, who is a hunter and who I know will dispatch them humanely. He said in return he would give us some sausage he makes from them. Baby steps, right?
14. Lighting the cages
Quail need certain hours of daylight to lay their eggs, so in the winter you’re going to have to give them lights. We use florescent lights on our quail and it works just fine, though we were using old Christmas lights with good success too. I don’t think they’re picky about the kind of light, they just need light.
15. Illness and injury
We had a few quail get randomly sick and never figured out what it was. They all died. We quarantined sick birds immediately, and cleaned out the cages and sanitized everything each time, but whatever it was never seemed too contagious because it was always just one bird at a time. Sometimes we would find dead birds suddenly, from God knows what. We could only assume it was fighting. Now we keep no more than 4 birds per hutch and it seems to work fine, no fighting. Though we do have a hutch we accidentally got two males in, and they’re pretty aggressive while mating. You really want just one male to two to three females in hutches our size.
All in all I’ve been pretty happy with the quail raising experience. They are an excellent choice for a food producing animal for a small, suburban homestead like ours, and I would highly recommend them.
Do you raise quail? What are your thoughts on this list? Anything you would add? Let us know in the comments!
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