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Raising quail for meat & eggs (condensed)

Protein production on 1/3 of an acre.

Brad Davies

on 1 November 2013

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Transcript of Raising quail for meat & eggs (condensed)

Raising quail for meat and eggs
By Brad Davies
Why quail?
I wanted to add poultry to my food production system and after a fair amount of research quail seemed like a great way to go. They produce a large supply of protein with a very small footprint. This seemed like the perfect fit for my 1/3 acre homestead.
About the breed
It only takes 20 of them to keep an average family in eggs year-round.
Can lay 250-300 eggs per year
Full grown at 8 weeks old.
Originally kept as song birds by samurai in Japan.
Reaches sexual maturity by 10 weeks.
Very quiet disposition.
Small space requirements
Grow out pen
Process Overview
Quail need to be hatched in an incubator, as the instinct to brood has all but been breed out of them.
They require the same conditions as chickens, with a slightly shorter hatch time.
Most eggs will hatch in 17-18 days.
A brooder is nothing more than a heated container for the birds to live in.
The temperature should be kept in the mid 90’s until the birds start to feather out.
The ambient air temperature for your brooder will determine the wattage of bulb you need to achieve this temperature.
17-21 days
21 days +
Bacon wrapped deliciousness
Additional thoughts
The birds are considered ready to eat in as little as 35 days. They will continue to grow steadily until they are 10 weeks old
Temporary brooder
Additional thoughts
Grow out pens
Laying pens
Additional thoughts
Alternative housing
Selective Breeding
Suburban issues
Quail tractor
Just like a chicken tractor but smaller, or the same size. Research chicken tractors, and design according your specifications. Make sure you make it strong enough to keep predators out!
Paddock shift
Possible, yes. Probable, maybe. I’m interested in trying this eventually just for growing out meat birds, no layers or males. Might work, might be a total disaster, might be way more work than it’s worth, might be a really fun experiment.
Build your own system!
Complete with cedar shake roof, running water, granite counter tops, six car garage, and a walk out basement. You’re only limited by your imagination and your willingness to spend money on these little buggers.
If you come up with your own housing design, build it tall or build it small. The quail have powerful legs and can jump up to 3’ straight up. This can lead to broken necks if the housing isn’t tall enough to accommodate or short enough to discourage.
Also start small and scalable, make sure your plan is going to work before you start construction on your own personal Quailtropolis.
Store bought feed
Alternative feed
Water system
Organ meat
Dust baths
I do all of my processing with a sharp pair of kitchen shears.
First I hold the bird by its legs upside down facing away from me. I then take the scissors to the back of its neck and clip its head off into the compost bucket. I prefer to clip from the back of the neck as the bird doesn’t see it coming, it also insures an instant kill with the first clip, severs the spinal cord.
After that I pretty much do it exactly how “Fat Daddy” does it in this video.
Quail are a great option for people looking to raise meat and eggs in urban, and suburban environments. They take up little space, do well with high stocky densities, and are also very quiet. They are also easier to claim as pets if need be, and have fewer specific ordinances directed at them.
My basic philosophy is what people don’t see, smell, or hear they don’t bitch about.
If you want to keep the smell down you need to stay on top of the manure, not literally, but don’t let it build up. Keep it dry and covered and turn it into compost as soon as you accumulate enough to make a pile.
For noise issues I make sure that at night and in the early morning the garage stays buttoned up, windows and doors closed. This way if one of the males starts with some midnight crowing it will not be disturbing to the neighbors. If a male is loud, or crows a lot I get rid of him. I would rather keep my egg layers and not get harassed than to give up the whole lot due to trying to keep a couple of males.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Be a good neighbor!
Having a good relationship with your neighbors goes a long way towards flying under the radar.
Bribing your neighbor with compost, eggs, and labor can also be a good strategy.
How old before they start to lay eggs?

hey will start laying sporadically at 8 weeks of age and get i
to heavy production by 10 weeks.

How long do they lay eggs for?

the first 6 months to 1 year they will lay very heavily. After one year the production will start to decline. A 2 year old egg layer is an old bird, but will still lay just not as much.
How do I tell the difference between males and females?
The males have a rust colored breast, whereas the females have a speckled breast.
What are the nutritional benefits of quail eggs?

Quail eggs are absolutely packed with nutritional benefits. They are considered by many to be a super food. In Japan they were once considered more of a medicine than a food. According to most internet sources one tiny little quail eggs has 4x the nutritional value as 1 chicken egg. There is a bit of information on this on the internet and in books, I don’t know for sure what claims are true, but most are similar to each other.

I can say from my own experience that my seasonal allergies are almost completely gone from eating about a dozen for breakfast every morning. I have also seen this same effect on my roommate’s dog that eats them exclusively. Her dog, an 8 year old pug, would lose 80%-90% of its hair in the early spring and be bald, ugly, itchy, and miserable all summer until the first frost. Numerous vet visits, and even a suggestion to put it down from a now former vet, creams, baths lotions, steroids, nothing helped. Last summer we switched her to quail eggs as an exclusive diet and for the first time in her life she kept all of her hair. Her energy level has gone through the roof; she will even play fetch with the big bulldogs now. She also had chronic ear infections which have almost completely disappeared. I don’t know what internet claims are true, but I can tell you there is definitely something there.
How much does it cost to produce a dozen eggs?

About $0.50/ dozen

How much does it cost to produce a full grown bird?

Buying 100% of their feed at $0.50/pound comes out to be about $2-$2.50 per bird.

How much does a dressed out bird weigh?

Depends on a lot of variables, but usually 1/4 - 1/3 lb.

What do you do with all those eggs?

Eat them, feed them to the dogs, pickle them, gifts, blown egg decorations, anything you can do with a chicken egg.

How do you preserve the meat?

Use it fresh, freeze it, or can it. 3 quail fit perfectly in a 1 quart mason jar, also usually equals about a pound for easy record keeping.
Why old world quail, Japanese, and not new world quail Bobwhites?

Bobwhites will get bigger than that Japanese quail. They also take about twice as long to do so, ~16 weeks. So more time for a larger bird. The bobwhites are also a little more wild and prefer to have a fly pen once they have developed.
The bobwhite also don’t lay nearly as many eggs per year as the Japanese, about 50% – 60% less around 150/year compared to 300+/year.
Now if you wanted to seed some birds at a BOL, and just keep some feeders and water to help keep them around bobwhites, Tennessee reds or any other new world variety might be what you’re looking for. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses, just depends on what your situation is.
My quail stopped laying, what’s going on?

If you get a sudden decline in egg productions check the water supply. If the water line gets plugged or something malfunctions and the birds don’t get enough water they will stop laying almost immediately.

If you get spotty egg production, like hit or miss or less than you were getting, check the light cycle to make sure they are getting at least 16 hours of light.
Quail eggs are considered by many to be a super food. One quail eggs has 4x the nutritional value of 1 chicken egg.
Quail eggs are considered medicinal in eastern medicine, and have strong anti-allergy properties.
Any incubator will work as long as you keep everything in the correct range, easier said than done. I have personally used a Little Giant and a Bower Top Hatch, both gave me similar results.
You’ll need a few of these. Make sure you calibrate them and are measuring the temperature where the eggs are.
Used to measure the humidity, two is better than one. Make sure it’s calibrated, Google “hygrometer salt water calibration” for instructions on how to make sure it’s calibrated correctly.
Quail eggs require the same conditions as chickens, with a slightly shorter hatch time. Most eggs will hatch in 17-18 days. The eggs should be kept at 99.5 Degrees F if you’re using a forced air incubator.
Humidity needs to be between 25%-50% for the first 14-15 days. The last 3 days are called the “lockdown” period and the humidity is raised to 60%-75%.
The eggs must be turned at least 3 times a day, egg turner is recommended, cease turning during the lockdown period.
Do not open the incubator during lockdown!
Chicks can live for up to 24hrs in the incubator so wait until there are a few of them before you open it and quickly get them out.
Incubation is by far the hardest part. If you have hatched other birds out, you should be fine. If you have never hatched anything before expect failures. Everything must be precisely kept in the aforementioned ranges, close enough works for horseshoes and hand grenades, but not incubation.
Egg storage is an important variable in the hatchability of your eggs. The general internet wisdom is to hatch eggs that are no more than 10days old. However, if kept in the proper conditions this can be expanded out with only a slight decline in hatchability.
Hatching eggs should be stored pointed end down, in a cool, temperature stable place. Basements or cellars are ideal for this, anyplace with a stable temp that doesn’t get over 75-80 degrees F should be fine. Also, turning the eggs that are waiting to hatch will help increase the hatch rate, an extra egg turner works very well for this.
Trouble shooting bad hatches is extremely frustrating.Basically, recheck everything. Calibrate your thermometers, hygrometer, make sure the eggs are stored properly, there is an adequate number of males to females, 1 male for every 2-4 females. Make sure the light cycle is correct for the breeders, min 16hours of light. Make sure the breeders are healthy, ect.. Pretty much recheck everything, then try again.
Trouble shooting
A brooder is nothing more than a heated container for the birds to live in. The temperature should be kept in the mid 90’s until the birds start to feather out. The ambient air temperature for your brooder will determine the wattage of bulb you need to achieve this temperature.
Make sure your socket and wire can handle the wattage of the bulb you are using!
As long as the brooder is large enough the birds will self-regulate and get closer / further from the bulb as they see fit.
My brooder is 2’x4’ 13” tall made from scrap plywood, rubber maids and stock tanks also work well.
Any type of chick feeder will work, store bought or homemade. I prefer to get the largest capacity that I can fit in there, just to make sure they never run out of food. If you use a feeder that the birds need to stick their heads into, it will reduce wasted feed as the stuff dropped will stay in the feeder

It is recommended that you keep some sort of dry bedding for the birds to walk on. Pine shavings, shredded paper, perhaps leaves or straw, use what you can get. For the first couple of days lay down some paper towel, their legs are very fragile and if they slip, it might end in a damaged leg which is game over for that little bird.

You can use a variety of things for this from a bowl with water to an automated system. I use a gravity chicken waterer for the first few days with my automated system. After the first few days I remove the chicken waterer and let them rely on the automated system. If you use a bowl or chicken waterer, it is recommended that you put marbles or pebbles in the bottoms so the birds don’t drown during the first 2-3 days.
Once the birds start to hatch, wait until there are a bunch of them. Remember you do not want to open the incubator during lockdown any more than is absolutely necessary. I have also found that if you introduce birds into the brooder hours apart they do better in groups rather than individuals.
If you notice all of the birds are huddled under the light, the brooder is too cold. If all the birds are pressed to the outside edge of the brooder it is too hot. If the birds are evenly spaced the temp is good enough.
After the birds feather out supplemental heat can be reduced or eliminated. At this point you can move them to the grow out container, or just use your brooder as the grow out container if you want.
Make sure the bedding stays dry, either through changing it or adding more. Quail have small feet that can easily get damages if they are kept in wet or mucky conditions. Depending on your stocking density you might need to adjust the bedding frequently.
The birds are golf ball- tennis ball sized when in the brooder. I have kept stocking densities of up to 12 birds / sq foot without problems. These were all birds of the same size, and from the same hatch.
Occasionally you’ll check the brooder and find one or two of them mysteriously gave up the ghost, it happens. Try to look at it from the perspective that you just saved some feed on birds whose genes you probably didn’t want anyway. This usually doesn’t happen anymore after the first week.
After the birds have feathered out and don’t require heat anymore you can move them to the grow out pen. The grow out pen can be any container of your choice. This can range from a cage battery to a quail tractor, just something to contain them where they can eat, drink and grow. Large capacity feeder combined with an automated watering system is suggested to minimize work, but not necessary.
My grow out pens are 2’x2’ 9” tall, made from ½” x ½” hardware cloth.
The feeder is a 4” pipe with a slot cut out mounted on the outside of the cage. The door is made from 1”x2” hardware cloth, which allows the birds to stick their heads through to get to the food.
Each cage has its own water cup hooked up to the automated system.
At 5 weeks from hatch the males will begin to “crow” at that point I graduate the culls to the freezer, I let the females keep growing until I need the space. I only cull the males at 5 weeks because I want to keep it quiet, and they annoy the hell out of me.
Laying pens
Grow out pens
They spent 3 weeks in the brooder, then move up to the grow out pens
Crowing males and females that don't make the cut go to the freezer.
The pens are exactly the same as the grow out pens, except they are on an angle. The rear of the pen is 2” higher than the front, or a 1/12 pitch. This allows the eggs to roll to the front of the cage for easy gathering. Not all of the eggs will roll to the front with this pitch, and you might want to increase it to a 3” differential, or a 1/8 pitch.
My laying pens are 2’x2’ 9” tall, made from ½” x ½” hardware cloth.
The feeder is a 4” pipe with a slot cut out mounted on the outside of the cage. The door is made from 1”x2” hardware cloth, which allows the birds to stick their heads through to get to the food.
Each cage has its own water cup hooked up to the automated system.
I have kept laying hens at a stocking density of up to 3-4 birds / sq foot, these birds were all from the same hatch and had been kept together since they hatched.
If you get a sudden decline in egg productions check the water supply. If the water line gets plugged or something malfunctions and the birds don’t get enough water they will stop laying almost immediately.
If you get spotty egg production, like hit or miss or less than you were getting, check the light cycle to make sure they are getting at least 16 hours of light.
Gather the eggs before you fill the feeder up. If you do that in reverse all of the birds will be at the front of the cage trying to get the food while you’re trying to get in to get the eggs.
Quail absolutely love dust baths! They will chirp and peep and take turns diving into it. Any sort of small container that they fit in can be used. Dollar store dishpans make great containers. Getting a container with slightly higher walls will help keep the mess in the container, but not too high that they can’t get in. You can use a lot of different things for the mix: play sand, dirt, ash, etc.. I also like to add a small amount of Diatomaceous Earth (DE) to keep them mite free.
The males crow. It’s nothing like a rooster, but it is a rather distinctive sound. Not all males are created equal, some have a high pitched shriek of a crow. While others have a lower pitch almost growl.
The distance that this will be audible will vary. With direct line of sight and the garage door, and windows open, I can pick up the sound at 50’ away. Further out from that it drops off significantly. With the garage door shut and the windows shut I can barely hear it at 20’ away. This all completely depends on the males also. The higher pitch call seems to travel significantly further than the lower pitch one.
Some males will crow incessantly, while others rarely crow. I have found that the ones that are the most annoying are also the ones that taste the best. I’m not really sure why, maybe it’s in my head.
Quail are omnivores and will enjoy as varied of a diet as they can get. They will eat most things that a chicken will eat, as long as it’s small enough for them to get in their beaks. I am currently feeding mine 100% store bought food with the intent to lower that as much as I can through alternative feeds.
Store bought feed is available for raising quail. It is similar to dry dog food in consistency, and not all grain or vegetarian based. When choosing a feed you need to get at least 24% protein for good egg production. They will survive and still lay with lower protein %, but you will get smaller eggs and less often. The higher the protein % you can give them the larger the eggs and meat birds will be.

I use Purina game bird starter 27%-30% protein and have had no problems with it as a stand-alone feed.

Store bought feed is compact, readily available, stores well and is affordable at ~$0.50/pound. A laying hen will eat ~1pound / month.
Black Soldier Fly larva
This looks to be a very promising feed. They turn food scrapes into protein at a very efficient rate. Good for zone 7+, but I am going to try it anyway in zone 6.
Meal worms
This might be my alternative to B.S.F.. Meal worms are somewhere in the 40% protein range, and are very low input. I will be experimenting with this soon.
Freshly sprouted grain, 2-4 days old, before it really turns into a plant. This is something I would like to try, and will be trying in the early summer.
Apparently quail love to eat ticks. I am not going to propagate ticks, but if you have a surplus of them in your yard, tractoring quail might be the solution.
Any tiny seed might have the chance at becoming quail food. Lambsquarter, millet, lettuce, anything with a small seed might be worth trying, especially if it’s abundant and can be grown with little to no inputs.
Other insects
Maggots, larva, beetles, ants and all types of creepy crawlies have the potential to be converted into delicious quail meat.
I went with these watering cups. They do a good job at keeping things dry and the animals with a constant supply of fresh water. They can be disassembled and the O-rings can be replaced if needed. One word of caution, if you have hard water put a sediment filter in line with your system to prevent the cups from becoming clogged, happened to me once.
Also, these cups aren’t supposed to “fill up” and the birds will never “learn” to hit the yellow doohickey to add more water to the cup. Instead the bird will try to get the last bit of water out of the cup, and accidentally hit the doohickey, causing more water to enter the cup. At first I thought the birds were too stupid to figure it out and I didn’t think they would work. Turns out they work, just not in the way I had thought.
There are many different options for providing your birds with water. Each one has its own set of pros and cons. From bowls and crocks to automated systems pretty much any method that you can use for chickens can be adapted for quail.
I personally don’t have time to be cleaning and refilling 10+ bowls a day, and since I already had a gravity watering system setup for my rabbits it was really a no brainer to just tap into it.
Bucket for gravity fed water system. I use the hose and a float valve to fill it up.
Eggs – Lots of eggs! 250+ per bird per year. Small in size, ¼ the volume of a chicken egg, but packed with nutrients. Some sites claim each quail egg has 4x the nutritional value as 1 chicken egg! Google it, you’ll be amazed!
Meat – Quail meat is delicious and extremely low in fat. It has a great natural taste and really doesn’t taste gamey or bland. Cook it similar to venison, or other low fat content foods. It dries out easily if over cooked.
Heat – Quail are warm blooded and will give off body heat. If you have enough of them in a contained space this could be an asset or a problem depending on your situation.
Organs – Dog food or people food depending on your preferences. My dogs have learned to recognize when it’s slaughter time, and always gather around for the spoils.
Feathers – Crafts, fishing flies, high nitrogen compost.
Skin – Compost, can be tanned for dog training / dog toy or so I have read.
Blood – Compost pile, or watered down and added to garden.
Poop – Brown gold, compost it!
TSP podcast 1071
TSP thread
My pics on flickr
Book on micro livestock
Nice site with a great overview
<link to be inserted later>
Full transcript