The first thing I say when asked about raising Coturnix quail is this: I wish I knew about them sooner! Easy to keep in small areas. Sweet temperaments. Come in a variety of colors. Cute as can be.
As far as food production, they are prolific egg layers (providing approximately 300 eggs yearly). Quail eggs are packed with such high levels of minerals, vitamins, and compounds that many prefer quail eggs over chicken eggs. For meat purposes, they fatten up easily and are ready to butcher around 6 weeks after hatching.
By the fall of 2018, our small flock of fourteen quail was laying eggs, mating, and living a happy life… but it wasn’t easy getting to that point. Even though quail normally start laying at around two months of age, it was five months before we saw our first egg.
Our First Six Months Raising Coturnix Quail
Raising Quail in June
If you read my article on raising American Guinea Hogs, you know my husband and I were given a collection of farm animals as a wedding gift. Seven Coturnix Quail (ages unknown) were part of that collection.
As acquiring them was unplanned, we did not have quail-specific housing. We placed them in a huge (8 x 8 on-ground dimensions, 6 feet in height at the apex) arched poultry tractor with waterers and feeders. A tarp protected them from the rain.
I had read they liked grass, so the tractor was moved to an overgrown patch of land close to the house. Within moments of releasing them into the tractor, they put their ground-dwelling and camouflage skills to use and disappeared into the tall grass and weeds.
The first few days they scurried away from me whenever I entered their hut, but after a few days they caught on that I was their food and water source. From that day forward, as soon as they heard/saw me coming, they would make themselves visible. They made a variety of little noises, including a loud “crowing’” Their sheer cuteness and gentle demeanors won me over.
They were fed a blend of 24% protein chick starter, wild bird seed, and mealworms. They also had access to any insects that crawled or flew in their area. Water was always available.
Raising Coturnix Quail in July
This is when I began waiting for quail eggs. Unsure of their sex—and being very confused at how to sex them—I simply waited. I had only seen two of them “crowing” and mounting the others, so I assumed we had two males and five females. All month, every day, I checked the grass for eggs. All month, every day, there were no eggs.
A very dark and rainy month, I spent ample time hanging with them in their hut. I was eager for eggs, but despite the lack thereof, I still enjoyed them.
By the end of the month, all the tall grass and weeds were matted down in their hut, giving them nowhere to hide. We dug up patches of weeds and long grass from other parts of the property and transplanted them into the quail hut. This made the quail very happy.
Raising Coturnix Quail in August
Needing the quail hut/poultry tractor for a heritage-hog maternity pen, we needed to move the quail. Larry built them a smaller, movable tractor. It was perfect. I moved it every few days with the 4-wheeler to allow fresh grass and sunlight. The sunlight was very sparse, however, as New England was still experiencing more than normal rainfall. The movable tractor was covered much up the time.
After researching possible reasons why our quail were not laying, we decided that—due to rain and being covered—they probably were not getting enough light. We learned they needed at least fourteen hours daily. Sometimes up to eighteen hours if fourteen still wasn’t enough! They were not getting even close to that in their current setup.
With so many other pressing projects needing attention on the homestead, I decided to wait until colder weather to move the quail to an above-ground brooder near a power source. Once moved, a light could be placed inside.
Raising Coturnix Quail in September
Even though the lack of quail eggs was on my mind, I was still smitten with them. So smitten, that even though I had not even tasted a quail egg (yet), I wanted more quail. I joined an online buy/sell/trade poultry group in my area. Within a couple of weeks, I had a potential swap set up. A breeding pair of our young Bourbon Red turkeys would be exchanged for a batch of Coturnix quail.
The good news: by mid-September, I was the proud mama of sixteen six-week-old quail! Larry built them their own movable tractor. These newcomers were an assortment of colors and personalities. Many ate right out of my hand. Names were chosen for them. I was even more crazy about quail.
The bad news: an experienced quail breeder informed me why the seven other quail were not laying eggs, and why they would never lay eggs. First off, he believed they were older, most likely nearing the end of their short two-year lives. Second, they were all male. Every single one. Males.
Raising Coturnix Quail in October
We had twenty-three quail, two quail tractors, but still zero quail eggs. The weather was still rainy but now had turned very cold at night. Due to a late turkey hatch, we only had one above-ground brooder I could allot to quail. Larry had no time to build another one. After much thought, I decided to say goodbye to the original seven male quail.
It was emotionally difficult to say goodbye to them, but as far as processing poultry—the easiest we had ever done. They were cooked the next day. They were delicious. We now had three reasons to raise quail: for eggs, for a fun addition to the homestead, and meat.
The weather got even colder as the month progressed (single digits!), so the quail structure was moved into the basement—which maintained an average temperature of fifty degrees. The sixteen remaining quail would now be indoors until spring.
Raising Coturnix Quail in November
Having them indoors was fun. Between the quail, the dog, and our three new kittens, I would have more company this winter during storms and long, cold nights.
The wire floor of their house was lined with empty feed bags and topped with ample bedding straw. Two small chick-waterers and three food bowls were placed inside. Two bowls held food, while the third contained crushed, dried eggshells.
I had read that many people offered them dirt/sand to bathe in, but I decided to wait until I saw what kind of mess they made with the straw and food. We kept the overhead light on in that basement room from approximately 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
After a week, there were still no eggs. Were these all male, too? The person who hatched these quail told me that he believed there to be two to four males and the rest female. I believed him. He had been hatching, breeding, and raising quail for a long time. What was I doing wrong?
We left the light on for twelve hours to see if that helped. I even added a string of holiday lights to their structure. We waited. Still no eggs. Then Larry installed a light fixture inside the roof of their house and screwed in a 60-watt bulb.
Within three days it happened. On November 12, I found the first quail egg! That evening we found another one. The remainder of that month we were blessed with many quail eggs. I cooked with them and hardboiled them. They were the perfect size for lunchboxes. They were delicious!
We collected so many that I began thinking about incubating some eggs. After reading they only took seventeen days to hatch, I was sold on the idea.
Raising Coturnix Quail in December
On December 3, we placed ten quail eggs in the Brinsea Mini II incubator. The correct temperature and humidity levels were programmed on the incubator. As quail eggs are a quarter the size of most chicken eggs, some of the holders held two eggs. Larry did not like this set-up, so he ordered a small egg insert. It arrived four days later. The quail eggs were transferred to it. Then we waited. As the incubator rotated the eggs itself every two hours, our only job was to add water to the external reservoir when needed. Unlike other poultry we have hatched, lockdown came quick. On December 16, the egg rotator was removed.
Four days later we woke up to rocking eggs. Leaving for work that afternoon was difficult but probably a good thing, as I was checking on them hourly all morning.
After work, we expected to see baby quail, but they still hadn’t hatched. However, the eggs rocked even harder when Larry talked to them, encouraging them to come out.
At 2:46 a.m. I awoke to the sound of peeps (the incubator was in the room next to the bedroom). Our first quail had hatched! Three of them. By morning, an additional three hatched. By lunch, three more (dark ones) graced us with their presence. Only one more to go.
The darker-colored lunchtime babies concerned me. Two of them had severe spraddle/splayed legs. The third one had curled toes. After they dried sufficiently in the incubator and were placed in the brooder, they were closely monitored. Since their mobility was erratic, they were brought to food and water every one and a half to two hours. They cried much of the time.
The splayed-leg chicks showed no noticeable improvements by dinner, so bandage leg-hobbles were affixed to both. Attaching hobbles to baby quail is not an easy task; it was a lot harder than larger birds I have experience with. The curled-toe chick was getting around, so no further measure was taken.
For twenty-four hours the splayed-leg quail cried, flailed, and appeared to weaken. I made the decision to cull them the following morning at sunrise. It was a difficult task, but I did it.
The seven baby quail in the brooder were fed 28% wild-game starter-crumble mixed with scrambled quail eggs. An electrolyte/vitamin powder was added to their water. Our new radiant heater worked very well. It was kept at the lowest height. They were energetic and fun to watch—zooming around the brooder—in and out of the radiant heater. Egg Number Ten was still in the incubator.
After six days, Number Ten still did not hatch so we disposed of it. Incubator sanitized and put away, we now focused on the new little flock of seven Coturnix Quail.
The babies were very aware of us and our whereabouts. They had really bonded with Larry. Whenever he began talking (anywhere in the house) they would call out to him. They would quiet when he responded. When he interacted with them in their brooder, they went nuts. Zooming around, hopping on top of the radiant heater to get closer to him, and peeping up a storm. Larry was the official quail daddy.
The dark curled toe chick developed wry neck. We gave it a blend of vitamin e oil, selenium, and electrolyte/vitamin water via an eyedropper. We hoped for the best, but, sadly the poor little critter drowned in a half-inch of water.
Now we were left with six healthy baby quail. By ten days they were growing their adult feathers, flying straight up (almost out of the brooder!), eating and drinking a lot, and outgrowing the box they were in. It was time to move them to their next housing. They would live inside until spring and then move outside with our other fourteen adult quail.
I already have plans in my head for a large, walk-in, screened quail-sanctuary outside. I already have the sunniest spot picked out. I already know which quail I want to breed again. I also know that I want to add jumbo quail to the mix. I just need to wait until winter ends. Then I can really go quail crazy!