Quail – the Perfect Flock for the Suburban Homestead

Dreaming of farm living?  Can’t have chickens in your area?  Why not try quail?

I wish that I had thought of quail as being a real possibility before we had moved out to our farm.  We couldn’t have chickens in our area due to the bylaws, but, well… quails… that we could have had.  Realistically, I can understand why.  They take up little space, can be housed indoors and have relatively quiet calls as the males puff their chests and trill, which means not a whole lot to anger the neighbours with.

A lot of people I meet, especially women, seem to swoon when I tell them we bought an acreage and have our own chickens (I was like this too before we moved, it’s common, don’t worry!).  “The eggs, oh the fresh eggs, they must be amazing!”, I hear all the time, but I also tell them about the quail and duck eggs which is met with – from non-foodies – “You can eat those?”.

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Coturnix or Japanese Quail Eggs (depending on whom you listen to for naming!)- unwashed, tiny and ready for the incubator – and yes, yes you can eat “those”.

Of course with the foodies, they know instantly that they are not only edible, but delicious, and wonderful for all the beautiful and delicate appetizers you can make – usually the quail egg being the focus.

Quail eggs not your thing?  What about the meat?  The extra males that you do have, can always be eaten, or you can keep several to fertilize the eggs produced now and grow up some more quail.  Quail grow extremely quickly – they are ready to eat in 6 weeks and begin laying between 6 and 8 weeks.  Incubation time is only 18 days, and incubation rates, in our experience, are incredibly high.  The only downside is that an incubator is required, as the quail’s mothering ability seems to have long since been bred out of them.

Housing is as easy or as complicated as you want to make it.  We started with our quail in our homemade wooden chicken brooder,  which consists of nothing more then a large wooden base of 8 feet x 3 feet with 10 inch high wooden walls (think a large shoe box lid turned upside down).  We added height to the walls of approximately 2 feet with chicken wire framed it with 2x2s, so it could to give the chicken wire support. We made a lid with more chicken wire and framed with 2x2s as well, and attached hinges.  Wheels on the bottom raised our brooder off the floor and suddenly, it was moveable – handy for rolling out and cleaning behind.

We use wood chips for our bedding, which the quail like – as they like to dig in it and roll in it – and manage to launch shavings into their water dish on a fairly continual basis.  The chips and quail poop is compostable of course, and all that quail poop is great for the garden!

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A Coturnix Quail female hen, checking you out!

Feeding your quail is simple as well.  We feed ours 26% Turkey starter, and as many weeds as they can eat.  Weeds?  Yes, weeds.  We feed ours dandelion greens which they love, and are great for additional vitamins and minerals.  We also put in leafed branches of blackberry, that grow prolifically in our area, which they seem to both play with and eat.

Thinking that the quail would prefer a more natural environment, I built a movable quail pen, that sits on the grass, and can be moved to fresh grass easily.  I thought the quails would love it.  Apparently I was wrong.  Our quails seemed to much prefer the easy barn living under their window, and didn’t know what to do on the grass, or where to go for shelter in the attached quail house.  So perhaps starting your quail outside on the grass in a pen, when they are just feathered out enough is the answer, so they can become accustomed.  That’s if you’d like to raise them outside… meanwhile, our “quail pen” now is home to guinea fowl, and the quail are happily back in the barn.

So with simple housing, basic feeding, and high hatching rates, quails are a great animal to start with, if you want to get your farming on in the suburbs!  Yes, your omelettes might be smaller in the morning, but they’ll be delicious!

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