Raising Quail Outdoors
By Carole West, Garden Up Green
Living on small acreage seems to welcome a lot of challenges when you have a lot of goals to accomplish. Since moving to the country this lifestyle opened the door to learning new skills and opportunities. The idea of raising quail outdoors was exciting because they don’t require a lot of space.
I’m often asked, “Why do you raise quail?” With a clear pause I always respond with, “For the purpose of eggs, meat, enjoyment and release.”
If you’ve ever worked on a farm you know that daily chores are a way of life. There are no days off and sometimes when you’re splashing through the rain or wiping away the sweat from a hot summer day it’s possible to ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”
I found myself one afternoon asking this question; it led me to rethink some goals and the direction we were heading. It was time to bring back the joy of farming and to do this I realized we needed new ideas, something outside the normal routine. This is when I decided to raise quail.
I already had experience with raising different chicken breeds and ducks, so how difficult could it be to implement a smaller bird? It really wasn’t that difficult; confusion began when I started reading about the different breeds. This is when I realized it was best to start with the Coturnix quail; they are the hardiest of all quail, making them perfect for beginners.
The Coturnix, also known as Japanese quail, was imported to North America in the early 1800s from Europe and Asia. There are several varieties available and they differ in size and color pattern. My favorite in the beginning was the British Range; this was based on color pattern and temperament.
Intrigued by the variety I raised several types; watching them live on the ground was fascinating. Even though Coturnix quail have been domesticated over the years, they adapted to outdoor living perfectly. They were allowed to be birds with an opportunity to hunt for bugs and establish their own nest space.
RAISING FROM CHICKS
If you think getting started with quail could be a new avenue for your backyard or farm, then I recommend beginning with quail chicks. When you start a flock from chicks the learning opportunity increases; you’re also able to provide a strong immune system within your flock.
Little quail chicks are raised in a brooder similar to chickens. If you’re not familiar with a brooder, it’s like a nursery. It’s a safe place for the birds to grow up before heading outdoors. A set-up would include a plastic tub, a wire framed lid, bedding, heat light, food and a water dish.
I use hay for their bedding because it prepares them for an outdoor lifestyle. Containers should not be over crowed and cleaned on a regular basis. Little quail will live in a brooder until they’re fully feathered—this is around three weeks.
A clean water and food supply is also necessary. Add pebbles or marbles to their water dish to keep them from drowning. Quail are territorial birds, make sure to use a tinted heat bulb—this will decrease the chance of any pecking at one another.
MOVING QUAIL OUTDOORS
Before moving your quail outdoors, provide them with the proper housing. Most of this will depend on the size of your flock and the space you have available. Each full-grown quail requires one square foot of space.
I’ve used two types of housing for my quail, stationary and mobile, both of which have interaction with the ground. These housing setups are completely enclosed by fencing. Coturnix quail cannot be openly free ranged; they will fly away in an unprotected environment and become bait for sky predators.
The more space you provide for your quail the more exciting your experience will become. The Coturnix quail enjoy flying and they absolutely love to hunt for bugs and nest in tall grass.
In the mornings during feeding, I’m greeted at the entrance with chatter as they wait for their morning meal.
PURPOSE OF EGGS AND MEAT
What most folks don’t know about the Coturnix quail is they mature between six and eight weeks. This means you’ll begin enjoying fresh healthy quail eggs at that time. A Coturnix quail can produce up to 200 eggs their first year.
They are seasonal layers, to continue egg production during the cool seasons from late fall to winter you would add a heat light inside a sheltered space.
It takes about two quail eggs to equal one chicken egg and they taste great. I’ve prepared quail eggs many ways; my favorite would be hard-cooked because they provide a healthy snack and can be added to just about any meal. Baking is another option, as they offer amazing results.
Quail have a short life span so raising them for the purpose of meat makes perfect sense. You can harvest for meat beginning at eight weeks. I prefer waiting until the Coturnix are at least 11 weeks.
Native breeds reach maturity at a slower pace and meat-processing age can vary. The meat is tender and flavorful. Native breeds have more of a wild game flavor and offer more meat per bird.
Serving a couple grilled quail with a few side dishes offers a nutritional meal that some only dream about.
HOURS OF ENJOYMENT
What I didn’t expect was the hours of enjoyment discovered by sitting in the quail sanctuary watching these birds. This luxury increased when I started raising a native breed, the Bobwhite. This quiet time became moments filled with learning and relaxation.
I have several quail housing options on our farm. My favorite would be the quail sanctuary; this is a 60-feet by 12-feet by 6-feet space. This environment allows the birds to live on the ground, hunting for food, nest according to their instincts, and they can even take the opportunity to test their flying skills.
Quail watching up close is very interesting; it allows the viewer to experience how resourceful these birds can be. It helped me understand why quail are a great alternative to other types of poultry.
Their movement is quick and sometimes very still as they camouflage into their environment. When they nest in the tall grass it can be difficult to see them. This means you should always be careful to watch were you’re walking.
Once they become familiar with your presence the Coturnix will tend to crowd around your feet. You won’t run into this with native breeds, their flock instincts are stronger and they like to stick together.
WHICH BREEDS TO RELEASE
The idea of raising quail to release happened by accident when a couple of my Coturnix escaped. It was windy and the lid to my mobile coop at that time slipped through my hands while I was in the middle of feeding. I’m going to guess the life of those birds after their escape was short lived.
Watching a couple fly away was incredible. I had no idea how far they could fly. There was a sense of freedom that filled the air and I was inspired. This is when I knew I wanted to try raising native breeds. This led me to the Bobwhite quail where the purpose is focused on release and meat.
Understand native breeds are not as hardy; you may experience a high volume of death during the brooder stage.
If raising quail to release sounds interesting to you, then begin by researching the native breeds in your area. I live in Texas where the Bobwhite quail population has been decreasing. It was a natural choice to start with Bobwhites; they were easy to acquire locally and through online hatcheries.
I’ve released one flock of Bobwhites, I learned a lot from that first batch. Watching them live naturally was very different than watching the Coturnix. Native breeds are more active and their flocking instincts are stronger. They simply do more with the space you provide.
Their release was at our farm where we’re surrounded by open country fields. They stayed around afterwards for a few months and then finally moved on. I can still hear them at night when the sun goes down calling each other and sometimes they even come back for a little visit. This experience has been the highlight of raising quail outdoors.
It’s my hope to have sparked your interest to think about the idea of raising quail outdoors. Bringing home a little more self-reliance is a wonderful thing.
Before beginning it’s important to research any rules or regulations about raising quail where you live. Information will vary across the country; contact your local agriculture extension department.
When opportunities allow for self-reliance and giving back to nature at the same time, you can’t go wrong. My quail experience continues to energize the effort I put forward; helping repopulate is simply an added bonus I really didn’t expect. Are you ready to raise quail outdoors?