Chickens, ducks and geese aren’t the only birds well suited for acreages. Other species of poultry do very well under similar conditions and like the mentioned birds, can provide you with meat and eggs. Coturnix quail, pronounced “kuh-tur-niks”, are an excellent bird for acreage owners who might be limited on space and desire a small bird that provides both eggs and meat in a fraction of the time a chicken takes to provide you with eggs.
Why coturnix quail?
Coturnix quail are an excellent alternative to traditional poultry because they are small and easy to care for. The average weight for these quail is about 5 ounces or a third of a pound. They obtain this weight at about seven to nine weeks of age. At this point, they can either be retained for egg production or harvested for meat. All of this can be accomplished using minimal space, housing and feed. Like a good laying hen chicken, female coturnix quail are capable of laying 250-300 eggs annually.
Common varieties of coturnix quail
Coturnix quail are labeled as game birds but many state governments do not have regulations regarding the keeping, breeding and selling of these birds. Rules are in place to sell eggs and meat commercially.
There are a number of varieties of coturnix quail to choose from. Many are excellent at both laying eggs and being used for meat production. Some of the most common types of coturnix include: Pharoah coturnix quail, Texas A&M, and Jumbo Brown.
Caring for coturnix quail
Coturnix quail are easy to care for and only require simple housing and management. For adults, a simple rabbit hutch would suffice; allowing for the manure to drop through the floor to eliminate fecal contamination with eggs or cause disease. Provide your quail with a resting area, which also serves as shelter from the wind, rain and sun.
Commercial-type or colony housing is also available, which allows the keeping of larger quantities of quail in a relatively small area. This type of housing is handy when needing to raise larger populations of quail for meat or egg purposes. A barn, shed or garage is ideal for this type of housing. Birds can raised in pens or on the floor.
For every housing style, birds should not be overcrowded as this may lead to cannibalism and other health problems. Providing 1 sq. foot per three birds is adequate. Having plenty of feeder space is also necessary to ensure all quail eat properly, further avoiding nutritional deficiencies or other health problems.
Feeding coturnix quail
Coturnix quail are classified as game birds and thus require a higher protein feed than that needed by chickens or ducks. Quail require feed containing 24 to 30 percent protein from hatch to six weeks of age. From there, they may be fed lower protein diets with protein levels between 18 and 20 percent. For meat producing birds, it is best to keep them on higher protein feed until slaughter. Quail destined for egg production must be fed a diet lower in protein but higher in calcium. A requirement of 2.5-3 percent dietary calcium is desired to maintain shell integrity.
Feeding for meat production is quite simple and the conversion of feed to muscle gain is roughly 2 to 1, which is extremely efficient. Please be advised though that quail have small beaks and especially newly hatched quail will not be able to consume even crumbled feeds very well. Feed must be ground to a cornmeal-type state. Larger quail will readily consume crumbled feeds. Pelleted feed may also be consumed if the pellet is small enough.
Meat or eggs?
Coturnix quail are great alternatives to chickens or other domestic fowl in that they are a smaller-bodied bird, not needing as much space as other fowl and thus, more can be raised in a confined area than that of other poultry. The time it takes for the hens to start laying eggs is only six weeks of age, whereas laying hen chicks take from 4.5 to 6 months to begin laying. Coturnix quail females are laying machines, capable of producing 250-300 eggs per year.
Even though these quail are small-bodied, they’re all muscle. Like broiler chickens, coturnix quail are ready for harvesting at around 7-9 weeks of age. Some varieties like the Texas A&M and Jumbo are better suited for meat production as they’re a larger-bodied bird, obtaining a final weight of 13-15 oz. The dressing percentage on these quail is quite high at around 70- 75 percent, allowing most of the carcass to be used.
Sources for quail
Fortunately, obtaining coturnix quail is fairly easy to do. Hatcheries will often sell baby quail through the mail or websites such as Ebay will have quail eggs available to buy, which you can hatch yourself. Ebay does not sell live birds. Live bird auctions may also be a source for adult quail, chicks or eggs. Check with breeders throughout the county. Often, they’ll sell eggs which you can incubate. This method may be the easiest and cheapest way to get started in quail.