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Raising quail for meat and eggs

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Thanks for you patience folks!

I just put the finishing touches on my "article" and will be posting it below.

Sorry about the delay in pushing this out, but once I started rolling on it there was just more and more things I wanted to add. After seeing that the word doc was at 17 pages I started to think that there are a lot of people out there who don't want to dive into it that deep, but want a little bit more of a visual as to what the process is. So I turned the information into a Prezi presentation, similar to a PowerPoint but online and free, link below. I also uploaded the article in the original word doc to Google docs so it can be downloaded and added to your personal library should you choose. I would like to apologize for poor spelling, grammar usage, and misused words beforehand. I am pretty dyslexic and writing is a very slow process for me. Please feel free to post any questions or ask for clarification and I'll do my best to help.


Downloadable version on Google docs

Podcast Episode 1071

Flickr Photos

“Raising quail for meat and eggs.”
Protein production on 1/3 of an acre.
By MoonValleyPrepper

Why quail?
I decided to start raising quail for a few reasons. The first being size constraints. Living in the suburbs I am limited in space. I also face more regulations from authorities regarding what I can and cannot raise on my land. I could probably get away with raising some chickens and not having anyone complain, but there is no way that I could raise enough to supply my households needs on a 1/3 acre lot, currently we consume the equivalent of 15 chicken eggs per day. I am simply not willing to put forth the time and effort of raising and caring for livestock that will only have the potential to supplement 25% of my daily needs. If I’m raising something it’s there to replace the need to purchase something else, not to lower the amount I need to purchase. Upon researching the various options I had to add poultry to my system, I stumbled upon that article in the above link. Quail seemed like the perfect option for my situation and have performed better than my expectations.
The following is information that I have gleaned from countless hours of research as well as personal experience. I am by no means an expert on the subject, just someone who has done an obsessive amount of research before jumping in feet first. Please feel free to post any comments or questions, and I will do my best to help you out. Enjoy.


About the breed

Coturnix Quail AKA Japanese quail, Pharaoh quail

During my initial research into poultry and livestock options I came across a book titled: Micro-livestock: Little-known Small Animals with a Promising Economic Future (BOSTID, 1991, 435 p.) available here

In this book I read an article about quail that got this whole thing started. Below is a some excerpts from that article. Full text in link above.

 “Japanese quail have been farmed since ancient times, especially in the Far East. They reproduce rapidly and their rate of egg production is remarkable. They are also robust, disease resistant, and easy to keep, requiring only simple cages and equipment and little space. It is said that about 20 of them are sufficient to keep an average family in eggs year-round.
Commercial production is carried out, as in the chicken industry, in specialized units involving hatcheries, farms, and factories that process eggs and meat. However, quail have outstanding potential for village and "backyard" production as well. It is this aspect that deserves greater attention.

In the United States, the Pharaoh strain is the bird of choice for commercial production. Other available strains tend to be bred more for fancy than for food.

Quail eggs are mottled brown, but some strains have been selected for white shells.  An average egg weighs 10 g - about 8 percent of the female's body weight. (By comparison, a chicken egg weighs about 3 percent of the hen's body weight.) Quail chicks weigh merely 5-6 g when hatched and are normally covered in yellowish down with brown stripes.

Quail are hardy birds that, within reasonable limits, can adapt to many different environments. However, they prefer temperate climates; the northern limit of their winter habitat is around 38°N.

A quail's diet in the wild consists of insects, grain, and various other seeds. To thrive and reproduce efficiently in captivity, it needs feeds that are relatively high in protein.

The females mature at about 5-6 weeks of age and usually come into full egg production by the age of 50 days. With proper care, they will lay 200-300 eggs per year, but at that rate they age quickly. The life span under domestic conditions can be up to 5 years. However, second-year egg production is normally less than half the first year's, and fertility and hatchability fall sharply after birds reach 6 months of age, even though egg and sperm production continue. Thus, the commercial life is only about a year.

In some areas of Japan, quail are widely raised for their eggs and meat. However, Japanese originally valued the quail as a songbird. Tradition has it that about 600 years ago people began to enjoy its rhythmic call. In the feudal age, raising song quail became particularly popular among Samurai warriors. Contests were held to identify the most beautiful quail song and birds with the best voices were interbred in closed colonies. Even photo stimulation was practiced to induce singing in winter.
Around 1910, enthusiastic breeders produced the present domestic Japanese quail from the song quail. It was created as a food source and became a part of Japanese cuisine. During World War II it was almost exterminated, but Japanese quail breeders restored it from the few survivors and from birds imported from China. The original song quail, however, were lost. In the 1960s, commercial quail flocks rapidly recovered and Japan's quail population again reached its prewar level of about 2 million birds.”

Copied and pasted from:

Process overview

Incubation  - 17-18days
Quail need to be hatched in an incubator, as the instinct to brood has all but been breed out of them. They require the same conditions as chickens, with a slightly shorter hatch time. Most eggs will hatch in 17-18 days.

Brooding – 17 – 21 days
A brooder is nothing more than a heated container for the birds to live in. The temperature should be kept in the mid 90’s until the birds start to feather out. The ambient air temperature for your brooder will determine the wattage of bulb you need to achieve this temperature.

Grow out - 21days +
Once the birds have reached 21 days they are feathered out and don’t require supplemental heat anymore. At this stage you can put them into a grow out container of your choice. This can be any container or system from a cage battery to a quail tractor, just something to contain them where they can eat, drink and grow.


Housing requirements   


Any incubator will work as long as you keep everything in the correct range, easier said than done. I have personally used a Little Giant and a Bower Top Hatch, both gave me similar results. In the future I will move up to a larger capacity cabinet style, probably homemade.

You’ll need a few of these. Make sure you calibrate them and are measuring the temperature where the eggs are.

Used to measure the humidity, two is better than one. Make sure it’s calibrated, Google “hygrometer salt water calibration” for instructions on how to make sure it’s calibrated correctly.

They require the same conditions as chickens, with a slightly shorter hatch time. Most eggs will hatch in 17-18 days. The eggs should be kept at 99.5 Degrees F if you’re using a forced air incubator, 101 for a still air. Humidity needs to be between 25%-50% for the first 14-15 days. The last 3 days are called the “lockdown” period and the humidity is raised to 60%-75%. The eggs must be turned at least 3 times a day, egg turner is recommended, cease turning during the lockdown period. Do not open the incubator during lockdown! Chicks can live for up to 24hrs in the incubator so wait until there are a few of them before you open it and quickly get them out. Read and follow the instructions of your incubator for best results.

Additional considerations
Incubation is by far the hardest part. If you have hatched other birds out, you should be fine. If you have never hatched anything before expect failures. Everything must be precisely kept in the aforementioned ranges, close enough works for horseshoes and hand grenades, but not incubation.

Egg storage is an important variable in the hatchability of your eggs. The general internet wisdom is to hatch eggs that are no more than 10days old. However, if kept in the proper conditions this can be expanded out with only a slight decline in hatchability. I personally know a commercial operator who keeps his eggs for 30 days and still achieves an 80% hatch rate using a commercial setup. Hatching eggs should be stored pointed end down, in a cool, temperature stable place. Basements or cellars are ideal for this, anyplace with a stable temp that doesn’t get over 75-80 degrees F should be fine. Also, turning the eggs that are waiting to hatch will help increase the hatch rate, an extra egg turner works very well for this.

Trouble shooting bad hatches is extremely frustrating. When you look up troubleshooting manuals on the internet or with your incubator instructions it’s a bit of a joke. Basically, recheck everything. Calibrate your thermometers, hygrometer, make sure the eggs are stored properly, there is an adequate number of males to females, 1 male for every 2-4 females. Make sure the light cycle is correct for the breeders, min 16hours of light. Make sure the breeders are healthy, ect..  Pretty much recheck everything, then try again.   



A brooder is nothing more than a heated container for the birds to live in. The temperature should be kept in the mid 90’s until the birds start to feather out. The ambient air temperature for your brooder will determine the wattage of bulb you need to achieve this temperature. You can use anything from a 75w flood light up to a 250w heat lamp. Make sure your socket and wire can handle the wattage of the bulb you are using! I use a red flood light 75w most of the time, and add a second one in the winter. I also have mine wired to a dimmer switch for more control, but that really has been unnecessary. As long as the brooder is large enough the birds will self-regulate and get closer / further from the bulb as they see fit.
My brooder is 2’x4’ 13” tall made from scrap plywood, rubber maids and stock tanks also work well.

Any type of chick feeder will work, store bought or homemade. I prefer to get the largest capacity that I can fit in there, just to make sure they never run out of food. If you use a feeder that the birds need to stick their heads into, it will reduce wasted feed as the stuff dropped will stay in the feeder.

You can use a variety of things for this from a bowl with water to an automated system. I personally use a gravity chicken waterer for the first few days in conjunction with my automated system. After the first few days I remove the chicken waterer and let them rely on the automated system. If you use a bowl or chicken waterer, it is recommended that you put marbles or pebbles in the bottoms so the birds don’t drown during the first 2-3 days. I did this at first, then got away from it without any consequences, until one day I checked the brooder and there were 4 little quail lined up in a row dead with their heads underwater. It was a rather awkward sight, with the only thing missing being some white Nikes and Kool-Aid.

It is recommended that you keep some sort of dry bedding for the birds to walk on. Pine shavings, shredded paper, perhaps leaves or straw, use what you can get. For the first couple of days lay down some paper towel, their legs are very fragile and if they slip, it might end in a damaged leg which is game over for that little bird.

Once the birds start to hatch, wait until there are a bunch of them. Remember you do not want to open the incubator during lockdown any more than is absolutely necessary. I have also found that if you introduce birds into the brooder hours apart they do better in groups rather than individuals. If you notice all of the birds are huddled under the light, the brooder is too cold. If all the birds are pressed to the outside edge of the brooder it is too hot. If the birds are evenly spaced the temp is good enough. After the birds feather out supplemental heat can be reduced or eliminated. At this point you can move them to the grow out container, or just use your brooder as the grow out container if you want.

Additional considerations
Make sure the bedding stays dry, either through changing it or adding more. Quail have small feet that can easily get damages if they are kept in wet or mucky conditions. Depending on your stocking density you might need to adjust the bedding frequently.

The birds are golf ball- tennis ball sized when in the brooder. I have kept stocking densities of up to 12 birds / sq foot without problems. These were all birds of the same size, and from the same hatch.

Occasionally you’ll check the brooder and find one or two of them mysteriously gave up the ghost, it happens.  Try to look at it from the perspective that you just saved some feed on birds whose genes you probably didn’t want anyway. This usually doesn’t happen anymore after the first week.

Grow out

After the birds have feathered out and don’t require heat anymore you can move them to the grow out pen. The grow out pen can be any container of your choice. This can range from a cage battery to a quail tractor, just something to contain them where they can eat, drink and grow. Large capacity feeder combined with an automated watering system is suggested to minimize work, but not necessary.

My grow out pens are 2’x2’ 9” tall, made from ½” x ½” hardware cloth.
The feeder is a 4” pipe with a slot cut out mounted on the outside of the cage. The door is made from 1”x2” hardware cloth, which allows the birds to stick their heads through to get to the food.

Each cage has its own water cup hooked up to the automated system.

At 5 weeks from hatch the males will begin to “crow” at that point I graduate the culls to the freezer, I let the females keep growing until I need the space. I only cull the males at 5 weeks because I want to keep it quiet, and they annoy the hell out of me.

The pens are exactly the same as the grow out pens, except they are on an angle. The rear of the pen is 2” higher than the front, or a 1/12 pitch. This allows the eggs to roll to the front of the cage for easy gathering. Not all of the eggs will roll to the front with this pitch, and you might want to increase it to a 3” differential, or a 1/8 pitch.
My laying pens are 2’x2’ 9” tall, made from ½” x ½” hardware cloth.

The feeder is a 4” pipe with a slot cut out mounted on the outside of the cage. The door is made from 1”x2” hardware cloth, which allows the birds to stick their heads through to get to the food.

Each cage has its own water cup hooked up to the automated system.

Additional Thoughts
I have kept laying hens at a stocking density of up to 3-4 birds / sq foot, these birds were all from the same hatch and had been kept together since they hatched.

Gather the eggs before you fill the feeder up. If you do that in reverse all of the birds will be at the front of the cage trying to get the food while you’re trying to get in to get the eggs.

If you get a sudden decline in egg productions check the water supply.  If the water line gets plugged or something malfunctions and the birds don’t get enough water they will stop laying almost immediately.

If you get spotty egg production, like hit or miss or less than you were getting, check the light cycle to make sure they are getting at least 16 hours of light.

Other housing methods

Quail tractor
Just like a chicken tractor but smaller, or the same size. Research chicken tractors, and design according your specifications. Make sure you make it strong enough to keep predators out!

Paddock shift
Possible, yes. Probable, maybe. I’m interested in trying this eventually just for growing out meat birds, no layers or males. Might work, might be a total disaster, might be way more work than it’s worth, might be a really fun experiment.

Build your own system!
Complete with cedar shake roof, running water, granite counter tops, six car garage, and a walk out basement. You’re only limited by your imagination and your willingness to spend money on these little buggers.

If you come up with your own housing design, build it tall or build it small. The quail have powerful legs and can jump up to 3’ straight up. This can lead to broken necks if the housing isn’t tall enough to accommodate or short enough to discourage. 
Also start small and scalable, make sure your plan is going to work before you start construction on your own personal Quailtropolis.


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