Coturnix (Japanese) Quail: The Biggest Little Homestead Bird, by Bigdtc in Maryland

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I delved into raising quail by accident. What I mean by that is that a member of a local preparedness forum that I belong to (and administrate) posted some information about them and the idea that they could be a great homestead bird, either with or opposed to the standard chicken flock. My extensive research and admittedly short experience with them has lead me to some very positive conclusions about the Coturnix Quail.
First, these are truly amazing multi purpose birds. Not only can you get an end product of extremely nutrient and protein rich meat, but they can lay an egg nearly every day and amounting to 300 per year, starting at 6 weeks of age in their first year and will continue to lay for up to three or more years, although at a declining rate. Second, they are the rabbit of the bird world regarding breeding and feed conversion. Not that they can set eggs and have a few hatches a year. In fact, you’ll certainly need an incubator because rarely do Coturnix Quail ever set on eggs. They’ve been captive bred for so long now that [brooding behavior has] just been bred out over time. The upside is the egg production. With no eggs for the hens to set and hatch then raise, they will just continue to provide your egg a day unfettered by chick rearing. Third would be demand for eggs, meat and by-product of the birds.
Starting Out, the Incubator…

Raising quail is an easy proposition and requires little of your time if set up properly. First, you’ll need an incubator. These are easily home-made or may be purchased either used or new online. In any case, a decent new incubator is not terribly expensive. I started out looking around for used ones and found them at a few on places like Craigslist and eBay. I ended up finding a nice new model that suited me from GQF Manufacturing. The one I chose is model #2365 for $91.50 + shipping. This is a basic model that runs off of 12 VDC power and also comes with an inverter to plug it into your 120 volt electrical outlet. To a prepper, the benefits of the ability to run off of 12 VDC power is obvious. This model has a built in circulator fan that keeps the temperature in the incubator even. There is an automatic egg turner available that comes with quail egg sized cups, but I chose not to add this because of the additional electrical draw. The egg turner runs 24 hours a day. The incubator will hold over 100 quail eggs without the turner. The built in fan also runs all the time. Even so, drawing less then 3,000 Milliamps at maximum load even when the heating element comes on, a deep cell battery with little recharging should run it for the entire incubation period. Pick a warm spot in your house and it will run less often.

Got Eggs?...
Quail eggs are incredible as much as or maybe even more then chicken eggs. This applies to the health benefits as well as the very short incubation period and high hatch rates. Standard Coturnix Quail eggs only require 16-17 days to hatch. The Jumbo variety only takes 18 days. The incubator temperature should stay between 99.5 and 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Humidity should be kept in the 40-50% range until two days before hatch. Then, the incubator goes on “lock-down”. You should stop rotating the eggs and increase the humidity to 60% during lockdown. Once the chicks hatch and dry off, they can remain in the incubator for up to 12 hours. Then, it’s off to the brooder.

Quail eggs are quite small as compared to a chicken egg. Chicken eggs tend to be around 55 grams. Standard quail eggs are in the 10 – 12 gram range and jumbo varieties can be as much as 14+ grams.  So it takes 4-5 quail eggs to equal a chicken egg. The differences in quail egg nutrition as compared to a chicken egg are many. One 10 gram Coturnix Quail egg has 3 to 4 times the nutrition of a 55 gram chicken egg. It has 13% protein as compared to a chicken egg’s 11%, It has twice the vitamin B2 and vitamin A. Quail eggs also contain three times the amount of vitamin B1 as well.  You can also get 5 times the iron and potassium along with being rich in calcium and phosphorus. Furthermore, quail eggs have a good deal of good cholesterol and none of the bad cholesterol. Thanks to an ovamucoid protein contained in Coturnix Quail eggs, they do not cause allergies or diathesis. That same protein is helpful to those suffering from allergy symptoms and, in fact, there are allergy drugs derived from this same protein. Quail hatching eggs can be found on E-Bay and there are some great breeders out there as well. A quick internet search will be very productive in locating these breeders. Quail eggs taste slightly different then chicken eggs. One reason is that the quail eggs have a slightly higher yolk to white ratio. The quail eggs are “richer” and taste better in my opinion. A great tasting way to preserve them is pickling.  They can be used in place of chicken eggs in any recipe.

Raising Quail Chicks…
Once they leave the incubator, quail chicks should be placed in a brooder. A brooder is simply a warmed container large enough to hold your chicks until they can be put in permanent breeder cages or community pens. The brooder should be kept warm, starting out at 95-100 degrees, with decreasing temperatures as the chicks grow and feather out. I, and most others, use an infra-red heat lamp suspended over the brooder. You can tell if the temperatures are too cool for the chicks as they will bunch together and try to keep warm. If the chicks are too warm they will get as far from under the lamp as they can. Brooders can be made up of any container that is high enough for the chicks to not jump out. I use plastic storage  containers for brooders and they work very well and are easy to clean. For the first 3 days I use a shelf liner material for the chicks to walk on. Using something solid but disposable helps prevent leg development problems that might occur from using a looser material. After 3 days I use hardwood pellets of the type typically used for horse stalls. The pellets break down very slowly and are highly absorbent, making them long lasting. Avoid using softwood shavings like cedar or pine. The dusts from these are dangerous for the developing chicks. Also avoid shredded newspaper. If they try to consume it, and they usually will, it can become a choking hazard or impact their bowels. Watering the chicks must be done carefully as well. The waterer must not be deep enough for the chicks to drown in. It takes very little water for this to happen. I use small bottle caps for the first three days that has some marbles in it. You’ll need to dip a couple of the chick’s beaks into the water so they know what and where it is. The others will follow along. Quail should be feathered out by 5 -6 weeks and ready to go to breeder cages or pens.

On To Adulthood…
Quail reach sexual maturity in 6 weeks. This means the males will be mounting the hens and the hens will begin laying eggs. That’s right, 6 weeks! At this time they should be in their permanent surroundings. Some breeders use large breeder pens and some use small cages. Either will work but I find the breeder pens work best. These can be old rabbit cages or purpose built cages. I actually made mine from inexpensive plastic 55 gallon barrels that I laid on their sides and built wire floors into. They are very easy to clean, never rot and are waterproof. Coturnix Quail only require 1 square foot of floor space per bird. They are very cold hardy and heat tolerant. Cage them according to your local conditions. They should be protected from wind and rain and extreme (sub freezing) cold, otherwise they’ll be fine. Coturnix Quail very much enjoy sand baths. They will jump into the sandbox and lie on their sides and happily chirp. It’s a big deal to them. Use a small plastic shoe box sized container with children’s play sand. Breeder pens should contain 3-6 hens and one male. All of my excess males are culled at 6-8 weeks. They are at their best size for the table at that time.

Feeding…
Coturnix Quail require a very high protein diet. The feed should have a minimum of 22% protein or the quail will suffer. Some signs of lack of protein are feather picking and fighting. Most growers use a non-medicated game bird starter typically available at Southern States or Tractor Supply Company type feed stores. Check your local feed store and if they do not carry it then see if they can order or make it for you, most will. Quail can be fed this throughout their lives and will require no supplement with this type of feed. Although they do like occasional treats of leafy greens (mine love spinach more then I do) and insects like mealworms or black fly larvae. Your quail chicks can be fed the starter feed but it should be crushed lightly for their little digestive systems. In a “grid-down” situation, alternative feeds may be used. Mealworm raising is something I’ll be trying out soon. The mealworms or other insects, such as black fly larvae, in combination with thistle seed, garden and table scraps can keep your quail fed without commercial feed while maintaining their strict protein requirements.  Thistle is easily grown so I keep some viable seed on hand for harder times and I stockpile a few buckets as well.

Watering…
Quail should always have access to fresh, clean water. I use 32 oz. rabbit water bottles for my quail cages. These can keep as many as 5 quail in water for at least 24 hours a fill on the hottest of days. A self watering system would also work as well. Any of the nipple or cup type waters, typically used in chicken operations, will work fine. Be sure that your system is kept clean and ice free.

Got Quail?
Once your Coturnix Quail are laying eggs and you’re collecting and eating or hatching them, you’re ready to start culling birds. I hatch birds every 3 weeks. On this time table, I can keep us in quail meat and eggs as well as keeping fresh hens around to replace hens that are not laying or have produced through their maximum laying period. Quail can be culled any time after 6 weeks of age. That means that you can keep fresh meat around without refrigeration or freezers just by culling when needed. Quail are very easy to process. After some practice I can now butcher a quail in around 3 minutes each using only a pair of kitchen shears. I first hold the quail over my utility sink upside down. They will naturally extend their necks and I quickly remove it with one quick snip of the scissors. This is the most humane way I’ve found to perform this. After the bird settles, I remove the legs by cutting just below the knee joint. I then cut the wings at the joint where they meet the body. I then turn it in my hand and cut across the tail where it meets the body. I turn it around again and slide the scissors down its back between the skin and backbone. Peeling the skin off at that point is very easy. Once the skin is removed I cut along each side of the spine from that tail end. The entrails will come out with the removal of the spine. The bird can then be rinsed and is ready to store or eat. Quail meat is quite delicious and can be consumed any way that chicken can be prepared. It is moist and palatable with no “gamey” taste to them at all. Nutritionally, one Coturnix Quail has 20g protein and is very low in cholesterols and fats and is high in nutrients.

What Kind of Quail is that?
Standard Coturnix Quail are native to Asia and Europe and have been domesticated since ancient times. From this domestication, the Japanese Quail come in three main varieties. The choices are standard Coturnix Quail (Coturnix Coturnix Japonica), Jumbo Coturnix Quail and Texas A&M Coturnix Quail.  The standard Coturnix Quail do everything fast. They hatch fast at 16 to 17 days; they mature fast, are laying eggs and reach an ideal eating size at 6 weeks. These are the standard type from which the others varieties are derived. The Jumbo Coturnix variety is simply selectively bred Standard Coturnix Quail. The Jumbo variety will hatch in 18 – 19 days, and mature in around 8 weeks. They mature to a slightly larger weight then the standard sized Coturnix to nearly one pound. The Texas A&M Quail were selectively bred by Texas A&M University and are white in color, they typically sport a black or brown spot on their head. They hatch and mature like the Jumbo variety. Texas A&M differ from the other quail varieties in that they have a lighter colored meat. They are otherwise like the Jumbo Cotunix Quail. All of the quail varieties are very hardy and very rarely have health problems. They should be raised away from chickens, however, because they can transmit disease to each other.

Boy Quail Habits…
Male Coturnix Quail show much the same habits as other game birds. They are somewhat territorial and require access to 3-6 hens to be happy. Male Coturnix do crow but it’s nothing like a chicken. Their crow does not carry far and sounds much like any native wild bird you might hear close by. This means that Coturnix Quail are great for urban and suburban areas. They are very low-profile. Their mating habits appear a little rough and the hens will occasionally lose head feathers from courting activities. Any male that causes a hen to bleed badly or abuses a hen, and that does happen sometimes, should be culled. A good male takes good care of his girls. When you add treats to the pen, he will hover over the treat and emit a low grunting sound to invite them to what he found for them. He will also alert them to perceived danger with a quick series of grunts. Males can be identified by rust colored chest feathers, usually showing by around 5 weeks of age.

The Girls…
Female quail are generally referred to as hens like any other fowl. Females make no loud noises but can be quite vocal. They make a cricket chirping sound when they’re happy and “keep in touch” with their harem mates with low whistles. They will “bow” to you when you add treats to their cage and they will also puff and quiver their feathers. It’s very cute. Hens will occasionally fight. I’ve only seen this once but it can be brutal. I had one hen lose an eye to another hen. Hens displaying this behavior should be culled. Hens will usually ignore their eggs once they’ve laid them. Only about one in one thousand will set and hatch eggs. I have read of folks successfully setting quail eggs under bantam-sized chickens. Hens will only lay consistently year-round if given 14 hours of light. I have achieved this with a simple solar light set up over my opaque plastic barrel cages. A hen can be identified by her white chest feathers with small, black dots.

By-Products…
By-products from quail raising are many. Top of the list is their droppings. Very high in nutrients, composted quail manure is excellent for gardens and they’ll make a lot more of it then you think. Used quail egg shells go into compost as well. Feathers can be separated and used for stuffing for pillows, dyed for fly tying, crafts, etc. Cured quail skins can be sold and used for bird dog training and crafts.  Entrails and leftovers can be used for high quality pet food. I have sold them in pairs as pets as well. They make great pets requiring minimal care or space.

Summary:
Coturnix Quail are a nearly perfect pre and post SHTF food source. Eggs hatch in 16-17 days. They grow to eating size in only 6 weeks. Their feed conversion ratio is extremely high. The eggs and meat are very healthy and the eggs are considered somewhat medicinal (Coturnix Quail eggs have been used in Asian medicine for centuries). Eggs can be used in any way that a chicken egg can. They are great for pickling and may be sold to local drinking establishments or at flea markets. I sell my excess eggs to Asian restaurants, particularly sushi establishments. They fetch $5.00 for a 10 pack in my area… That’s $0.50 per egg!! I do discount for larger orders, though. Coturnix Quail eggs are quite “under the radar “as well, making them easy to sell to establishments and at farmer’s markets. Most state health agencies do not regulate sale of Coturnix Quail eggs because they are considered game birds and not “fowl” and are generally not regulated by state game officials because they are a non-native species(just don’t release them, they will not last very long in the wild anyway). Check your state regulations if you do decide to sell them for human consumption because all state laws vary. They require only 1 square foot for each bird of living space. They are very quiet making them great for OPSEC. Pens can be indoor, outdoor, breeder pens, colonies or even re-purposed outbuildings. They make a great trade item… Quail are delicious!

Some helpful quail links…
http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=1831&page=147
Raising Mealworms
BackYardChickens Forum has an informative quail section

My foray into quail raising , including do it yourself details and pictures on building my 55 gallon drum breeder cages, brooders, finishing pens, incubator details and other experiences can be seen at MdPreparedness.com in the Gardening section of the forum. Regards, Bigdtc in Md.

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