Homesteaders looking for a profitable venture should consider raising quail. Quail can be raised in small areas, are low maintenance and are inexpensive to raise with a fast and high return on investment. Quail are also family-friendly, making them the perfect animal for homesteads with small children.
Quail can be raised successfully by urban homesteaders who want to produce their own meat or eggs but do not live in a neighborhood that permits chickens. They require very little space and are too quiet to bother the neighbors. If you wonder whether or not you can raise quail where you live, check the local zoning regulations. Most locations that do not allow poultry find quail to be acceptable – even for backyard homesteaders in a busy neighborhood. As with any animal, be sure to keep their area clean and odor-free.
The two most popular quail breeds are Japanese quail and Bobwhite quail. Japanese quail, Coturnix japonica, is a hardy breed that is fairly disease resistant and thrives in small cages. They are ready to harvest at seven weeks of age. If raising quail for eggs, they begin laying at approximately 50 days old and should lay around 250 eggs a year. Bobwhite quail start laying later in life and you need to separate them into mating pairs for more successful breeding but they are still easy to care for and one of the most popular quail breeds.
Quail are not terribly fussy about their housing. You have two basic options when it comes to the shelter you will provide for your quail. First, quail can be housed in pens on the ground, as this most closely resembles their natural habitat. Provide straw for tunneling, as well as buckets and branches for hiding. Sometimes quail will just drop their eggs on the ground, but some quail will hide their eggs in the bedding material you provide. Collect eggs at least twice a day so they will not get too dirty or cracked.
The most important thing to consider with a ground pen, like a chicken tractor, is how you are going to make it predator-proof. You need to consider four-legged predators as well as hawks, owls, and snakes.
You can build a quail high-rise hotel if you do not want to keep them on the ground. Each cage should measure 6′ long by 1′ wide, and it should be divided into six equal compartments. You can build this complex up to six-stories, keeping 10 cm distance between each story. Each cage will comfortably hold 10-12 birds.
Whether you decide to house your quail on the ground or in cages, provide a space for your quail to fly. Give them at least 6′ from the ground to the top of the aviary. Make sure they have areas of sunlight and adequate shade. Remove and replace bedding and nesting materials seasonally, unless you notice it needs to be changed sooner. The soiled bedding and nesting materials can be added to your compost bin but not directly to the garden.
Quail need fresh water daily. Attach a long, narrow water pot in front of each cage to ensure water stays clean.
In addition to selling meat and eggs, you can sell live quail. To breed quail, keep the temperature around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Collect the eggs twice a day and store at a temperature of 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Store the eggs no longer than one week before incubating. The incubation period for Japanese quail is approximately 17 days. Bobwhite quail hatch in 23 days.
As soon as the birds hatch out, place them in a brooder box. For the first 7-10 days, quail are unable to consistently regulate their body temperature. Check on them often, making sure they are not too cold and that they are not subjected to any draft. The top of the brooder box should be covered with mesh to allow for air flow while preventing mice and other rodents from eating the tiny birds.
Baby quail will also drown in their drinking water. Place pebbles in their drinking tray to alleviate this problem. At 10 days, babies can be moved to the adult pens.
If you want year-round egg production, you need to provide 14 hours of lighting during the winter months. Winter is also a time to provide extra calories for both meat and egg birds.
Quail is ready to harvest at 5-8 weeks of age. Remove all feed the night before you are going to harvest the birds, but make sure they have plenty of water. When you are ready to harvest, place the birds in a holding cage. Cover the cage with a sheet or towel so as not to excite the birds.
Harvesting quail is basically the same as processing any other bird, except you do not pluck the feathers and the birds are much smaller, making them easier and quicker to process.
Hold the bird upside down and cut off the head with a pair of very sharp scissors. Let it bleed out. Clip off the wings and the legs at the joint just below the feathers. Cut a slit at the neck and peel off the feathers. Cut open the bottom area and eviscerate. Remove any extra feathers and wash out the bird with fresh, running water. Place the birds in a clean pan and let them sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours before cooking or packaging.
There is a demand for both quail eggs and meat, so finding customers should not be a problem. You can sell quail eggs, both fresh and pickled, at your local farmers market. Check for local restrictions and regulations, but you can likely sell quail meat directly from your farm to a customer. You can also add the meat to your CSA package, for an additional price. Chefs at high-end restaurants are interested in both the eggs and the meat, especially if they can be assured a consistent supply from a local farmer. Quail, although small, sells for an average of $15.00 per processed bird.
Meat and eggs are not the only quail products you can sell. Quail manure can be packaged and sold to gardeners if you collect it and let it cool before selling. The chest feathers of the female birds are speckled and make terrific feathers for earrings and fishing lures. Make them yourself or sell the feathers to local or online craftpersons. If you are selling live quail, market them not only to hobby farmers but to hunting clubs.
Quail farming can be a profitable venture for on the homestead, even if just used as a complementary source of farm income. They take a minimal investment of resources and pay for themselves in a matter of weeks.
Pickled quail eggs are a high-protein snack that are fancy enough to serve party guests. This recipe dyes the eggs pink, but you can omit the beets if you want white eggs. Pickled quail eggs make an unexpected and much-appreciated holiday and hostess gift.
Combine the cider vinegar, water, grated beet, sugar, salt and pickling spice in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let the mixture cool for 30 minutes.
While the pickling liquid is cooling, place the quail eggs in a medium saucepan. Cover with cool water and cover tightly. Bring eggs to a boil and immediately remove from heat. Let the eggs sit, covered, for 3 minutes.
Prepare an ice-water bath. Transfer the eggs to the ice-water bath with a slotted spoon. Let them sit in the ice-water bath for 5 minutes before carefully cracking and peeling the eggs. Rinse and pat dry peeled eggs and place them in a pint jar.
Strain the pickling liquid into the jar, covering the eggs. Cover tightly and turn the jar upside down to distribute the liquid. Keep in the refrigerator for 24 hours before eating.
Once the food of the poor, quail is now found on the tables of high-end restaurants. You can make it just as easily at home…for a lot less! This recipe is for roasting them in the oven, but it is also a lot of fun to wrap them in buttered grape or fig leaves, skewer them and roast them over hot coals.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place the birds in a baking pan along with the butter. Sprinkle each bird with kosher salt. Bake for 5 minutes.
Lower the temperature of the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake an additional 10-15 minutes.