Raising quail for meat and eggs is becoming increasingly popular. The following tips are specific to raising quail of the domesticated Coturnix quail species, but most of the tips can be adapted to raising quail of other species.
Why raise quail?
Unlike chickens, which require a considerable amount of space to keep, two dozen quail can be kept in three stacked cages that together take up no more space than a closet; even apartment dwellers can manage to produce their own fresh food or set up a small business.
In addition, quail are far more prolific egg-layers than chickens and reach butchering size in only a couple of months. A dozen laying hens will produce the equivalent of 3 chicken eggs every single day.
Tip 1: start with hatching eggs
Although live chicks can be purchased, it is far more economical when raising quail to purchase viable fertilized eggs and hatch them out. Once you have set up a quail colony, if you keep a few males you can produce your own fertilized eggs and hatch them out for raising quail in the future.
However, it is an excellent idea to introduce a new batch of purchased fertilized eggs now and again to avoid inbreeding in your colony. Inbred quail tend to be very unhealthy. They have low hatch rates and high morbidity rates.
It is very easy to hatch quail eggs out. Purchase a good, commercial incubator with an automatic turner equipped with quail egg rails. Start the incubator going at least two days before your eggs arrive so you can be sure you have it adjusted to the proper, stable temperature (100 degrees) and humidity (44%).
Some people mess around with home-built incubators and hand-turning eggs, but these approaches never work as well as a commercial incubator and hand-turning eggs is a lot of time-consuming work.
Tip 2: let your eggs sit for a few hours
When your eggs arrive, most people are tempted to pop them into the incubator right away. We have found you get far better hatching rates if you carefully place the eggs large end upwards and let them sit quietly for a few hours at room temperature to recover from the jostling and temperature changes that occur during transport.
Tip 3: set a reminder
With an automatic incubator, it is very easy to forget your quail are growing in there until you hear peeping. Suddenly, you realize they all hatched last night, and you haven’t set up the brooder yet; panic and haste should never be part of raising quail.
You’ll need to set a reminder for 15 days so you can put the incubator on hatch mode and get your brooder set up and stabilized. You’ll need to set another reminder for day 18 so you can watch them hatch out and then move them to the brooder.
Tip 4: buy some gravel paper
One of the common reasons for culling quail chicks while raising quail is they slip shortly after hatching and dislocate a hip (splayed legs). We have reduced our incidence of splayed legs to zero by lining the brooder and the incubator during hatching with gravel paper.
Gravel paper is sold in many pet supply stores; if you can’t find any, head over to the hardware store and buy some coarse sandpaper. Some people use grippy shelf-liner instead and report it works almost as well as gravel paper in preventing splayed legs.
Tip 5: don’t bother with candling
Although trying to candle quail eggs to see how they are doing is kind of fun, due to the coloration of the eggs it can be quite difficult to see what is going on inside. Also, every time you open and close the incubator and take eggs out for candling it disrupts the proper temperature and humidity in the incubator.
We recommend just checking the incubator once a day to see if it’s running properly and only to open it if you have to add some more water to maintain the proper humidity of 44%. If you really want to candle, do so on day 15 while locking down your incubator.
Tip 6: take your time when locking down the incubator
On day 15, you need to lock down the incubator for hatching and adjust its settings slightly. Take your time and do it slowly; as previously mentioned, haste plays no part in raising quail. First, adjust the humidity of the incubator up to 65%. Don’t just add a lot of water at once; add small amounts of warm water until you achieve the correct humidity.
Once it has stabilized, turn the temperature down to around 98 degrees. After everything is stable, carefully remove the eggs from the egg turner and remove the egg turner from the incubator. Line the incubator with gravel paper and place the eggs on their sides on the gravel paper.
Tip 7: buy a reptile heating pad
On day 15, after locking down your incubator, it’s time to set up the brooder. Newly hatched quail need a heat source in their brooder. While it is traditional to use a heat lamp while raising quail, we have found that placing some reptile heating pads set at 100 degrees in one corner of the brooder works very well for raising quail.
We put the pads in the brooder and then cover them and the bottom of the brooder with gravel paper. We use a heat lamp for the first week in another part of the brooder, so there are two warm spots for the chicks.
The reptile mat spot will be at 100 degrees, and we set the center of the heat lamp spot at 105 degrees, which creates a cone of decreasing temperature moving away from the hot center.
The rest of the brooder is unheated, so the chicks can freely move around to whatever temperature they need to feel comfortable. We remove the heat lamp after the first week of brooding and turn the heat mats off around three weeks.
Tip 8: it is ok to give assistance during hatching
Most quail hatch very rapidly. They will make a cut around the top of the egg and then rest for a few minutes, then burst out and go running around. If you notice an egg has been cut or only partially cut, and the chick hasn’t popped out after a few hours, go in and rescue it.
Take a pair of tweezers and very carefully peel the shell and membranes off of the chick. Before we started assisting, we had a 10% survival rate of slow-hatching chicks; after assisting, we hit a 90% survival rate. Sometimes they get trapped in there.
Tip 9: remember, baby quail are tiny
While setting up your brooder, remember that new-hatched quail chicks are incredibly tiny. If you have any openings or cracks in your brooder, they will somehow manage to find them and get out. If they go running around in your cold garage after escaping, they will quickly develop hypothermia and die.
Study your brooder construction carefully before raising quail in it. Some people have successfully raising quail with a brooder made out of a large cardboard box or a plastic storage bin.
It’s also important to remember that while new-hatched quail are incredibly tiny, they also grow at an incredible rate. What looked like a huge brooder on day one may end up being over-crowded by day 10 of brooding. Your brooder needs at least 6 square inches per chick, preferably more.
Tip 10: get a coffee grinder
Baby quail need to eat a high-protein game bird food, preferably around 28 to 30% protein. If you can’t find any locally for raising quail, you can order it. However, these foods usually come in what are called “crumbles” that are too large for baby quail to eat.
Buy a cheap coffee grinder and grind it up into a powder for the first two weeks of brooding. After that, the quail are large enough to eat the crumbles.
Raising quail is easy, and they make an economical poultry addition to any household to provide home-raised eggs and meat or to support a small business. Here are the important numbers to remember while raising quail:
- For days 1 to 15 of incubation, use 100 degrees F and 45% humidity while turning the eggs
- For days 15 to 18 of incubation, use 98 degrees F and 65% humidity while not turning the eggs
- The eggs should hatch on day 18, but sometimes you’ll get one or two hatching on day 17 and a few hatching on day 19
- Provide a warm area of around 100 degrees F in the brooder for the first three weeks
- Feed the chicks a high-protein gamebird food
- By age four weeks, the chicks can be transferred to their adult quarters
- Hens will start laying eggs around eight to nine weeks of age and continue doing so until around age two or three years
- Roosters will reach butcher weight at 14 to 16 weeks of age