For many individuals, raising their own source of meat is not an easy option due to their housing circumstances. For some, chickens are not allowed due to HOA's, city ordinances, lack of space, etc. For others, raising rabbits is not possible due to lack of space, cool enough environment, family acceptance, etc. But this doesn't rule out all meat sources. There is an option that allows an individual to raise meat in small, limited spaces with very little noise and effort. Coturnix quail is that option!
Coturnix quail (Japanese Quail, Pharaoh Quail, Bible Quail) or "Coturnix japonica" are a great choice for both meat and eggs. These are the same quail that the Children of Israel ate after getting sick of eating manna while being led in the wilderness by Moses in the Old Testament. They have been a great source of meat for thousands of years and their eggs are still a delicacy in many restaurants around the world.
In the right conditions, each hen can lay 300+ per year. They begin laying eggs in 6 to 8 weeks and the eggs only take 17 days to incubate. Because Coturnix quail mature extremely quickly, the waiting period to enjoy the fruits of your labors are very quick. And with very limited space, you can produce both meat and eggs.
There are essentially two different breeding systems for quail. One is using an aviary system, the other is using breeding pens like the ones shown on the left and right. I use breeding pens and not the aviary system, so that is the method in this article.
Breeding pens allow you to maximize your egg fertility and breed with exactness. You can track the number of eggs laid by the hens in each hole (cage unit). This allows you to weed out unproductive hens and replace them with new hens that will maximize egg production. It also allows you to keep the males separated so they don't fight and hurt or kill each other.
Each section of these specific breeding cages measures 10" wide x 24" deep x 10" high. They are generally not very tall to keep the birds from hurting themselves. The short height keeps the birds from gaining speed when flying up when startled or excited. Some even pad the tops with cardboard, foam or other "buffers" to protect the quail's heads if the pens are too tall. Quail are very flighty and it's a constant concern.
When breeding Coturnix quail, the ratio is 1 male to 3 females. The females will lay about an egg a day, particularly when the lighting and temperature are appropriate. When using controlled lighting, 17 hours are optimal. And when the temperatures are too high, low fertility results. I keep the lighting on 17 hours a day and keep the temperatures at about 70 degrees throughout the summer (quail are raised in the rabbitry with the rabbits). This has resulted in extremely high fertility and hatch rates, reaching around 100% much of the time!
Baby Chick Needs
The baby chicks will need heat lamps if the temperatures are below the 80's. You can usually follow the chicken heat rules for the first few weeks (95 degrees for the first week, 90 for the second, 85 for the third, 80 for the fourth). My chicks tend to like it a little cooler than that and during the summer, I usually only use heat lamps in the evening. Location has everything to do with what you will need. Use wisdom and common sense.
The quail are going to need 2 different feeds throughout their lives. Before they start laying eggs, they'll eat the Game Bird Starter crumble. Once they get to around 6 weeks of age, switch to the Game Bird Layer crumble. And always have plenty of cold water for them.
An important part of raising quail is knowing what is male and what is female. The easiest way to distinguish the two is by their chest feathers (after they have come in). The primary difference can be seen on their chests. The female will have spotted feathers on her chest while the male will have a rusty brown colored chest. As they mature further, you will notice their faces are slightly different colors, with the male having a rusty brown and sometimes darker brown overall look while the female has more contrast between the brown and white markings. On the attached image, the female is on the left and the male is on the right.
After you get some practice sexing them, it does become much easier. Be patient and allow yourself to notice the subtle differences and you'll soon become a pro at it.
An incubator will be needed if you plan on hatching fertile eggs yourself. Coturnix quail do not go broody so you will need to offer the necessary conditions to hatch the eggs. A hen will begin laying eggs between 6 to 8 weeks of age. They lay approximately an egg a day, depending on external conditions and the lines themselves. The total incubation time for the eggs is 17 days. To incubate, you must have an incubator set at approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit. For the first 14 days, either use an automatic egg turner or turn the eggs by hand twice daily. During that time it is recommended you keep the humidity between 45-55%. During the "lockdown" period (last 3 days), stop turning the eggs and raise the humidity to 55-65%. During this time, do not open the incubator until after the 3rd day. Doing so may result in drying out the membrane inside the egg and causing a "shrink wrap" effect inside the egg, making hatching difficult to impossible. Resist the urge!
Once they have hatched and you have completed the incubation process, put them under a heat lamp, give them feed and water and keep a close eye on them. And be careful... incubating quail eggs is very addictive! ;)
Finally, make sure you are getting your stock from a reliable source. You don't want to get birds that have inbreeding for generations. You'll want stock that has new lines brought in consistently to ensure they maintain the health and vigor that is necessary for optimal production.
Give it a try! Have fun and good luck!!
Enjoy the journey!
Note: If you are in the Phoenix, AZ area you can purchase Coturnix Quail at: AZ Rabbits (US Quail) at http://www.AZRabbits.com.