There are several types of quail such as Mearns, Rain, Harlequin, Californian, Button and Bobwhite but these are primarily aviary birds. The best breed for meat and eggs are Japanese or Coturnix Quail rather confusingly sometimes known colloquially as Italian or Texan quail. Confused? Don’t be quail are easy to keep, take up little room, eat little and lay lots of eggs which fetch a premium price! The expected lifespan of a quail is 2-10 years given their quick reproductive cycle and the speed at which they mature it is unfortunate that they have historically been keenly sought after by the animal testing companies.
Quail are not hardy birds n or are they completely domesticated so require housing where they are kept contained and can shelter from the wind, an indoor and outdoor set up is ideal. this can be anything from a rabbit hutch to (as in my case ) a purposely adapted dog kennel and run whatever you used allow a square foot of space per bird and have available a hospital cage.
Quail are very cheap to feed; I feed mine on a 50:50 mix of finch seed and chick crumb. Commercial pellets are available but not locally and cost a lot more, quail need a higher protein ration than hens so i supplement this feed with a few mealworms a day too. Grit is needed as with hens but buy the small ‘bird’ or pigeon grit, quail also love greens and their sharp beaks make short work of them. A sack of each feed costs about £35 and last my 25 birds a couple of months.
Eggs come thick and fast , onset of lay is at 5-6 weeks as long as they get 14 hours of light a day (this can be a mix of daylight and artificial ) and are laid at the rate of 8 a week! Usually in the evening and not in the same place or in a nest box they are just dropped and left, eggs weigh about 10g and are about a fifth of the size of a hens egg. There are no specific selling rules for eggs, but they do count toward poultry head count for DEFRA registration. I find it best to label as per hens eggs with name and address etc and include a 2 week use by date. I charge £2 per dozen and order special sized egg boxes come from EBay.
Domesticated birds seem to have lost the ability to brood their eggs , none of mine have shown any inclination to become mothers and I incubate artificially.
I use a Brinsea mini incubator with a special insert for 12 quail eggs , the temperature needed is slightly higher than for hens at 37.5 degrees centigrade Eggs pip at day 15 and it’s all over by day 18 , quail chicks are tiny compared to hens chicks.
Brooding is done using a simple plastic box with fireglow bulb, the box has a lid as the birds can fly within a week and escape the box, ask me how I know! In the first few days gravel is needed in the water to prevent drowning, a layer of kitchen roll is also laid over the shavings to provide extra grip just for the first few days to prevent leg splaying .
Sexing is really tricky, some colours can be sexed at 3 weeks but with the others usually its best to wait their behaviour gives them away. The birds can be weaned off heat after the first full week and join existing birds at about four , a spell in a cage in the run with older birds whilst they get to know each other is advised to keep fighting to a minimum. Unfortunately they do fight a lot, during the breeding season I keep the males in individual pens and allow the females the run of the coop. Mating is quite traumatic (and frequent) for the females and can result in injury, if you want fertile eggs best to put the male and the females you want to breed from in a smaller pen/cage as this way the hen is less likely to injure herself.There are many colours of Japanese quail , some normal brown ones are pictured below. The gold gene is dominant but be aware a double dose is lethal and causes a failure to hatch . All in all quail are lovely to keep and if you’re interested in further research I can highly recommend the book by Katie Thear.
female on the left , male on the right .