Male Coturnix Quail on the left; female on the right.
If you are wanting a bird that doesn't crow like roosters (making it possible to raise them in the city limits), produces 300+ eggs year round, takes up very little space and provides plenty of meat in a short amount of time then look no further than quail.
Jumbo Coturnix Quail has been bred to produce fertile eggs by the time they are 6-8 weeks old. At the same age the birds are ready to butcher at around a pound of live weight. They dress out at 70-75% their weight and their tiny feathers can be used in a wide array of crafts.
Once the hen begins laying it isn't uncommon for her to lay an egg a day for the first year of her life. Because of this, a flock of 30 quail (20 females and 10 males) can easily provide 120 eggs a week - the number of eggs a standard incubator can hold. With 30 quail and three incubators you can butcher 100 lbs of live quail every week for the freezer, or, with one incubator and 30 quail, 100 lbs of live quail and 200 eggs every three weeks.
Five Jumbo Quail eggs is equivalent to one large chicken egg and taste almost identical. They are more cost effective to produce than chicken eggs, requiring two pounds of feed to produce a pound of eggs compared to three pounds of feed for a pound of eggs when dealing with chickens.
Quail meat is a delicacy with good reason. It is delicious, with a stronger flavor than chicken meat, and healthier for you. The meat is tender and can be cooked using practically any chicken recipe you prefer in addition to recipes that specifically call for quail meat. Since hens begin laying at such a young age, there is never a real concern about what to do with older birds - you can replace all of your stock every 12 weeks if you want.
Important: There are a thousand different names for each of the patterns and colors. In an effort to standardize these colors, I use the same "Standard of Perfection" that many other breeders are now using. Any discrepancies are noted. I have included common names for the color when possible, and will be updating this section as new information becomes available. Photographers are credited for any images that are not owned by Omniskies.
A&M Texas Whites (A&M Whites, A&M Texans)
These are snow white quail with dark spots on the head that were developed at A&M Texas University from the smaller English Whites to be a jumbo-sized bird with a light colored flesh. This is not a white meat bird and tastes the same as the other Varieties. They have become extremely popular and are nearly as common as the regular brown Coturnix. True A&M Whites should be a minimum of 8oz in size and tend to be somewhat smaller than the Jumbo Browns overall, but still larger than a standard sized quail.
At times there are spots on the back and wings, which are undesireable (the color can leave spots on the skin that some people don't like). There have been a few reports of "pied" quail, or quail that are white with brown patches, these are more than likely A&M Whites with excessive spotting or an A&M White crossed with another variety of Coturnix.
Gender cannot be determined by color with these quail and vent sexing is the best way to know what you have. Females are generally a little larger than males, but going by size runs the risk of keeping a runt female as a male.
A&M White chicks are pure yellow with one or two dark spots on them. These dark spots will stay with them into adulthood.
Brown (Standard, Wild, Pharoah)
The most common color of Coturnix is called Brown, Standard, or Wild depending on with whom you are speaking. All other colors of Coturnix are a mutation of this brown coloring by lightening or darkening the existing pattern. Browns come in a standard size and as Jumbos. Of all of the varieties, Jumbo Browns are the largest, having been worked with the most to create larger, heavier quail. A&M Whites - the white Jumbo - comes in second. If you are raising for meat and don't care about color - both on the bird and when plucked - then Jumbo Browns will probably be your preference. They lay larger eggs than other Varieties, but tend to not lay as well as their smaller counterparts (averaging 5-6 eggs per week compared to 6-7 eggs per week).
Brown chicks are dark in color with two golden stripes running down their back and face, looking a lot like guinea keets or pheasant chicks. There shouldn't be any yellow blotches (which would turn white as the chick feathered in).
British Range (Rosetta, sometimes mistakenly lumped in with Dark Range/Tibetans)
This is a darker, reddish, chestnut colored version of the Brown, and is lighter than a Tibetan. An easy way to determine Tibetans from Rosettas is to look for the reddish color and more distinct pattern. Tibetans should be a darker chocolate color overall. Rosettas come in the Tuxedo pattern, as well as solid.
A Rosetta's gender cannot be determined by its color, so vent sexing is recommended when selecting your breeders.
Chicks are a rust color. There should not be any yellow patches around the throat or chest area.
Dark British Range (Tibetan, sometimes mistakenly lumped in with Range/Rosettas)
Tibetans are a dark mutation of the Brown and are a "double dilute" of the Rosetta that are almost black in color. This color can be found in the Tuxedo pattern.
A Tibetan's gender cannot be determined by its color, so vent sexing is recommended when selecting your breeders.
As seen in the picture to the side, Tibetan chicks are a near-black color. There should not be any yellow patches around the throat or chest area. While they will have some rust-colored markings in their fluff, if the overall color is black then it is a Tibetan and not a Rosetta.
Manchurian (Gold, Italian)
Gold is a lighter mutation of the brown coloring, causing the quail to be a milky fawn color where the brown would have been. The black spots remain, and the color can still be sexed by the breast feathers (all orange are males, creamy with black speckles are females).
The chicks are a pale fawn color with thin dark stripes. They will not have any blotches on them like the A&M Whites and should be more buff than yellow.
These quail are almost identical to the Tibetans, with their only difference being a white patch around the face, throat and chest area. A nicely marked Tuxedo will have an even line of white down the throat that connects with a symmetrical white bib on the chest. As with the Tibetans, Tuxedos can be single or double diluted, affecting how dark the quail ends up being.
Tuxedo chicks are dark in color with yellow markings around the face, throat and chest. These markings will stay with the quail when it is mature, allowing you to select the best markings in the brooder to choose breeders from at a later time.
Housing and Care
Feed and Supplements
Quail grow fast and immediately jump into heavy production, which will take a lot out of them. They need a high-protein diet to keep up with their active lifestyle. To get the most out of your quail, spend the extra few dollars for a bag of gamebird breeder feed. While quail can live on chicken layer crumble, they will produce fewer eggs and grow slower. These little birds don't eat a lot; a 50lb bag will last you quite a while, even with a flock that produces 100 eggs a week.
Unfortunately, quail are extremely messy eaters. Make sure you provide feed in a container they can't get into, or they will get inside and scratch everything out. Chick feeders that have small holes for the head are great for quail. You can further lessen wasted feed by sticking the feed bowl in another dish, so any kicked out feed can be located and eaten without getting lost.
We keep our feeders on the outside of the cage, forcing them to poke their heads through 1x2" rabbit wire in order to eat. The feeder sides keep the food in place while they are flicking it around with their beaks, and it guarantees that they can't climb on top of it to make a mess.
For breeders, make sure you are providing additional calcium (usually oyster shell) to keep up with egg production. It takes a lot out of a hen to lay an egg as large as her head six times a week. 11% of each egg is its shell, and each egg weighs in at around 8% of the hen's body weight: a lot of calcium goes into its production.
Meat birds can be given a variety of feeds intended to fatten them up. As long as they are gaining weight to your liking and they taste fine, the diet you provide is completely up to you. You can get a gamebird grower, meant for rapid growth, a broiler feed meant for meat chickens and turkeys, or combine one of those with corn, rabbit pellets, sunflower seeds, insects, or whatever else works. Just remember that meat birds still need a high protein diet (at least 24%) to keep up with their rapid development. By providing cracked or powdered corn on the side the quail will manage their own diet and put on more fat than they otherwise would.
Because of their small size, quail don't need much room. As a general rule, it's two adults per square foot. For example, 30 breeders can be kept in a 3x5' pen (3x5=15 square feet, multiplied by two). They can fly, so regardless of what you keep them in a lid is needed once they are two weeks old. The small pens also mean you can become more creative with where they live, making up doll house like constructions with miniature chairs to perch on, small "beds" to lay their eggs in, and a tub to take sand/dirt baths. If this is a family operation then encourage your kids to get involved with ideas.
Some cage designs are built or hanged at a slope, causing the eggs to all slide into a single corner or into an adjoining tray, making collecting them easier and reducing the number of eggs that are kicked around and stepped on by a dozen scampering feet.
Regardless of the type of pen chosen, make sure you use half inch or smaller wire for the sides to keep younger quail from escaping. A wire floor also makes clean up easier, allowing you to dump the nitrogen-rich droppings into a compost heap for your garden. For quail chicks, hardware wire that is a quarter inch in diameter will allow the droppings to fall through without getting any legs caught. For adult quail, half inch wire for the floor is fine.
Since quail are ground birds, perches won't be used often by them. If you would like to provide them with something to play in, pile up a few dead branches in a corner of the cage. Make sure the branches are far enough apart to see inside. Some hens may try to lay eggs inside a concealed area like this.
To keep from being plagued by parasites, Milk jugs are the perfect size for quail to get into for dust baths and for laying eggs. A mixture of two parts wood/fireplace ash, one part regular sand, and one part diatimacious earth will wipe out any parasite problems and keep your quail clean. Make sure you put the mixture in a closed container of some sort, or one with high walls. To get the dust under their feathers, they will lay on their sides and kick everything up and over them while burrowing down. High sides will help the mixture last longer.
Hatching, Raising and Breeding
The broody nature of Coturnix quail has been completely bred out of them. Most hens will lay an egg where she is at the moment, regardless of the time of day, without giving it a second thought. If you want to hatch out your own eggs you will need an incubator or an extremely tiny bantam chicken hen.
Being smaller, quail eggs are more prone to cracking than a chicken's. By collecting the eggs a few times a day you can minimize the number of broken and dirty eggs found in the cage. This will also keep the eggs from overheating in the summer or getting too cold in the winter, both of which can ruin your hatch rate.
After you have gathered your eggs, keep them in a cool place with high humidity: anywhere from 55-65 F and around 70% humidity is ideal. Turn them once a day to keep the yolk from settling at the bottom and sticking to the shell. Once you have gathered enough eggs (no more than a week's worth: after the first seven days of holding the hatch rate suffers), place them all in the incubator together with the tips pointing downward and the air bubble (which can be seen if you shine a light through the shell), pointing to the sky. Any dirty eggs should be washed in water warmer than the egg and can be hatched, but are probably better to just put in the fridge for eating.
Jumbo quail hatch at around 16-17 days, but may go as long as 19 days. Marking chicks that hatch out later will give you a better idea as to who should be culled later. Unless the late-hatching chicks grow faster or lay better, then they may as well be butchered. With that being said, no one knows exactly why it takes longer for some chicks to hatch that others, so culling the late hatchers may not noticably reduce the occurance. There's no harm in mixing the chicks together if they are only a few days apart in age.
In a still air incubator the temperature should be kept at 101 F with a 60% humidity. Forced air incubators (those with fans installed) should be set for 99.5 F with 60% humidity. Eggs need to be turned at least four times a day. If you plan on hatching a full incubator's worth (usually 120 eggs) then I strongly recommend an egg turner to save time.
On the 15th day stop turning the eggs. At this point the chicks should be getting into position to hatch, which is easier to do if they aren't constantly sliding around. Once they start pipping you can expect them to pop out of their shells like popcorn for the next couple of days. During that time try not to open the incubator up often, since that will reduce the humidity in the incubator and make it harder for the unhatched chicks to break through the shell.
After your new chicks hatch out, move them to a brooder that has been set at 95 F using a heat lamp with a 100-250 watt bulb. Brooder temperatures can fluxuate, so spare the few dollars it costs to get a thermometer or two set up inside.
In addition to the thermometers, you can see how hot or cold your chicks are by looking at them. If they are all huddled under the heat lamp then they are too cold. If they are as far away from the light as possible, or they are panting with their mouth's open, they are too warm. You want your chicks to be bouncing around inside the brooder all over the place.
Chicks should be fed a 28-30% gamebird crumble. If you can find feed in a powder form use that over the crumble: the powder is easier for the chicks to digest. Make sure the feed is in a container low enough to the ground for them to find the food, and that it is either covered or set up so they cannot get inside.
You can make your own quail feeders out of plastic bottles or milk jugs by cutting out holes large enough for the head. Leave the tops on these feeders or make some sort of lid, otherwise the quail will fly up inside and become trapped.
The water dish MUST have something inside to minimize their contact with the surface, otherwise they will somehow manage to drown themselves (even in a quarter inch of water with plenty of room to crawl back out). The easiest way to keep the chicks from drowning is by putting marbles or rocks inside the dish so they can only drink through the cracks. Drowning is the number one reason chicks die during the first week
Each week the temperature inside the brooder can be reduced by 5 F. Usually by the third or fourth week a heat lamp is no longer necessary so long as the temperature is at least 70 F.
By eight weeks old your quail should begin laying eggs. For maximum egg production, keep 16 hours of light on the quail each day. Timers are the easiest way to provide a steady source of light. Don't worry about bugs being drawn to the lights at night - the quail will happily eat any insects they can catch, making it a good idea to keep the lighting low to the cage.
For the best fertility, one male for every three to four females that are between the ages of 2-8 months is the most efficient. After eight months both fertility and egg production tapers off rapidly. At eight months of age, quail are still tender enough to eat.
If you are raising your quail in a colony with multiple males and females together then adding a few extra females shouldn't be an issue. In the end you want to achieve an 85-95%+ fertility rate. If you find you're not hitting that mark then try adding or removing some of the males. Too many males will stress out the hens and lower fertility, as will a low-protein diet or overcrowding.
Male on the left; female on the right.
To feather sex the Brown and Manchurian Varieties, wait until the chicks are around three weeks old. By that time the males will develop a reddish colored breast; the females will have a speckled breast and are usually somewhat larger. Females will also have a lighter colored face with more distinct stripes than the male, who will have a darker face with less defined markings. All of the chicks will have a speckled breast until the red feathers come in, so if you don't find any males in your batch, wait another week before trying again. In all Varieties the males call to one another while the females remain quiet, making small, cricket-sounding chirps.
Once the quail are 6-8 weeks old you should be able to vent sex them. In order to vent sex, hold the quail upside down with its vent facing away from you. Gently squeeze and massage the lower stomach, working your way closer to the tail. Males "foam up" while female vents remain clean. This method of sexing is extremely simple and can be mastered after only one or two tries.