Acquired: Bred animal myself
Congleton, Cheshire, United Kingdom
Posted Sep 04, 2012
Quails though classed as a 'game' bird are actually the smallest breed of poultry kept by humans. It was the Japanese who first domesticated the quail for both meat and egg production.
I started off with pullets that were about 30 days old (20 in all) and started my flock from there. What follows is the result of what I learned whilst rearing the common quail. Now I cross with the Japanese quail for a larger and more spectacularly marked bird, but that is another story. This review is all about the common quail.
The common quail is a classic game bird with excellent meat and very tasty diminutive eggs. Their diminutive size and natural instinct to 'play dead' when disturbed means that they are calm birds and excellent for children. But for such a small bird, they are extremely loud and this will be the main surprise for you when you first start rearing them.
The main problems with quails are in rearing very young chicks. As a result, if you are starting out I would suggest you buy pullets up to 30 days old and not more than 20 (this way you do not have too many whilst you are learning to care for them). Your flock will soon grow as quail are very prolific.
Because they are not big birds, quail do not need that much space for housing. Typically housing is made from 1/4 inch wire mesh on a lumber frame with a pitched roof that should be padded to prevent injury if the quail tries to fly straight up. When adult a each quail needs a space of about 1m square to be comfortable. Personally I like keeping them outside in pens similar to those used for pheasants as this provides plenty of space and undergrowth for them to hide in. But it makes egg collection very hard. As a compromise, quail can be kept in pheasant rearing pens which means they have an indoor area for night time and egg laying and they have grass to run around during the day. About 4 to 6 quail can be kept in these pens. Typically pens should be no higher than 6".
Usually, quail begin laying after 45 days from hatching and they will lay for 300 days of the year. Quail need plenty of water and they prefer flowing water, which should be provided for them whenever possible. If you want to maximize your laying you can provide artificial light for your quail up to midnight. It should be noted that quail have a higher protein requirement than chickens. As a result chicken feed is not suitable for quail unless it is supplemented with something like fish meal.
For market, eggs should be stored with the air sack (blunt end uppermost) in a cool and dry place with plenty of air circulating. Once you have egg production underway, you can begin to expand your flock. Quail eggs are typically transferred to a commercial incubator (this should have a humidifier, as it definitely improves hatching rates).
After hatching, leave the chicks in the incubator for 24 hours then the chicks need to be transferred to a brooder which needs to be maintained at 95ºF for 4 days (a 50W bulb with a mesh screen covering is good). During this time scatter the food (Chick Starter Crumbs are excellent) on the floor of the brooder as this encourages the chicks to peck. Also make certain that there is plenty of clean, fresh, water for them to drink. What you do need for safety is a shallow chick water font with a narrow lip. Typically I dip the beak of each bird in the water trough to give them the idea of what they need to do do drink (there is no adult bird to help them). If you have a wider rim drinker, then add pebbles round the base leaving just enough room for the chicks to drink. Quail chicks are tiny and drowning is one of the main causes of early death. After the fifth day reduce the brooder temperature to 90ºF and on the 6th day down to 85ºF. After this the birds will have developed a sufficiently dense covering of feathers to be able to survive at room temperature. However, I like to keep them under a lower wattage lamp until they are at least 10 weeks old. If you are using a brood box rather than a room, ensure that there are enough holes in the box to allow for good air circulation.
At 7 weeks they can be moved to a larger space, but I still like to keep them under a lamp. At 10 weeks I remove the lamp and then they are ready to move into their permanent home... either a shed or indoor management or an outdoor pen if you are rearing as game birds. You have just raised your first generation of birds.
For kids you can bring a few of the quails into the house if you wish. When reared from eggs they are very comfortable with humans and I have often had them nestle down to sleep on my feet if I sit on the floor.
Quail can be a hard meat to sell, because it is not well known outside of traditional game areas. To help your meat sell, I would suggest that you prepare the birds, spatchcock them, secure with skewers and then sell for barbecues.