How and Why to Raise Coturnix Quail for Meat

Why and How to Raise Quail for Meat

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For many years, I've wanted to raise meat on our homestead. I had many reasons, but here are just a few:

* I feel factory farming (which produces the meat found in grocery stores) is immoral because it's cruel and doesn't allow animals to live anything like God intended them to. (Many Americans are blissfully unaware of how bad factory farming is. If you haven't already, it's time to read up on this subject. Christians might start with Joel Salatin's The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs.)

* Factory farming produces meat that is less healthy than it should be, compared with more natural methods of raising meat. (Examples: it contains too much unhealthy omega 6, too little healthy omega 3, less vitamin E and beta-carotene, higher risk of salmonella and E. coli, antibiotics, etc.).

* It's difficult to afford healthy and ethically raised meat. You can't buy it in any grocery store. We have bought local grass fed beef (click here for tips on how you can do this), but other meats are just way out of our price range. (For example, I can't afford truly pasture raised chickens, which cost about $60 a bird in my area.)

* I find the more meat I eat, the better I feel and the more my health issues disappear. (I don't eat carnivore, but if you read up on why that diet works for so many people, you may be shocked!)

For this reason or that, however, we just never got around to raising meat - beyond the periodic butchering of old laying hens. For one thing, we don't have appropriate pastures or expensive fencing for the animals we really wanted to raise, like cattle and pigs. This lead to much pondering and disagreement on what animals we could realistically raise without spending a small fortune on infrastructure.

Then COVID happened. The meat departments in our local grocery stores were pretty dang bare and the stores were limiting how much a family (not even a person...a family!) could buy. They said, "Buy like you normally would - what you will eat for the week." Yeah, right. What they allowed me to buy would only feed my family for a couple of days.

So my husband and I got firm in our resolve. One way or another, we were going to raise meat on our homestead. One way we decided to do that was to begin raising quail.

coturnix quail
Photo courtesy of Purple Moon Designs

But Quail are Tiny!

When I first heard about raising quail for meat, my instant reaction was that it was impractical. I mean, quail are pretty small birds. Why raise them when you could raise bigger chickens or ducks or geese? The answer is actually quite practical: The time from hatching to butchering is darn fast.

Here's what I mean:

Let's say you get yourself some fertilized coturnix quail eggs. (Coturnix - sometimes also called "Japanese quail" -  are the variety most typically raised for meat.) In just 18 days, those eggs will hatch. Just six weeks later, those chicks are mature and laying eggs. By eight to ten weeks of age, they are ready to butcher.

And coturnix quail math is way better than chicken math. Let's say you start with five females (hens) and one male (cock) quail who give you about 35 eggs per week. Of those, let's say you keep some eggs to eat and incubate only 25 eggs. Then let's say you get a really conservative hatch rate of 60%. That's 15 chicks born. Because I want to stay conservative with the numbers, we'll assume three of those chicks don't survive; that leaves 12 chicks. In about nine weeks, you can butcher them and get three meals from their meat.

This means that in about 12 weeks you get 12 mature quail which give you one meal a month for three months. That's quite a bit of meat achieved quite quickly from a really small number of animals.

Raising Quail for Meat:
The Positives
quail brooder
Our brooder set up.

In addition to their quick hatch-to-freezer time, quail require little space. There are plenty of people living in the suburbs who are raising quail for meat. You could even raise them in the city if you have access to a rooftop.

Most people raise their quail in rabbit cages, which can be stacked one on top of the other (with poop trays in between, of course). This is a tiny footprint! (Some people raise quail in an aviary - basically an entirely fenced and topped chicken-style run. These also tend to have a small footprint, since quail are aren't large birds.)

In addition to safe housing, all quail need is fresh water and some feed (game bird or flock feed that is 21% to 25% protein). It is kind (and smart) to also give them a small, shallow Tupperware type tub with sand so they can take dust baths - and of course they love weeds and other treats, just like chickens do.

And let's talk butchering. Quail are probably the easiest animal to butcher. Many people cut off their heads with sharp poultry scissors (which is instant and painless for the bird) and then skin the birds, so there's no plucking involved.


coturnix quail chicks
Quail chicks inside the brooder.

Raising Quail for Meat: The Negatives

The big down side to raising quail for meat is that they aren't self-sustaining. For example, I could raise heritage breed chickens and not give them any feed as long as I let them free range and forage for food. They will lay fewer eggs and they will take longer to come to butchering weight, but it's still do-able. Not so with coturnix quail, who are generally poor foragers. (I know some people who've tried to feed their quail bugs or worms and the quail won't touch them.) So buying feed is necessary.

In addition, you really do need an incubator. Coturnix quail, by and large, don't go broody (i.e., they won't sit on their eggs). And when they do go broody, they don't usually sit on their eggs long enough to actually hatch them. There are exceptions (and if you get a good broody quail hen, you'll definitely want to hang on to her), but you should not plan to hatch quail naturally.

How to Set Up for Meat Quail

In addition to an aviary or stacked cages, you will need a brooder box. Just like baby chickens, baby quail require warmth during their early days, and they won't get that from the other mature quail in your flock.

The set up is basically the same for quail as it is for chickens. For example, you can use a Rubbermaid style plastic bin (see through is best) with hardware cloth inserted into the lid for air circulation. You'll also need a heat lamp or brooder hen (I recommend this one) to provide warmth for the chicks.
coturnix quail hatching
Quail hatching in the incubator.

One thing that is different about quail, however, is their tiny size. For this reason, their waterer should either be a special quail chick waterer or just a shallow bowl or lid with marbles or rocks placed it in. (Quail chicks can and do drown even in shallow water. The marbles or rocks prevent this.) For the first week or so, it's not a bad idea to grind up their feed in a coffee grinder or food processor; otherwise, the food pieces may be too large for them to consume. (I met a lady online who literally starved her quail chicks to death by giving them feed that was too big for them to consume.)

Once the quail are about three to four weeks old, they won't need supplemental heat and will do fine in a grow out cage. At week six, they are fully mature and will begin laying eggs. Most people butcher between the ages of six to ten weeks.

And Eggs!
Of course, quail lay eggs, too. They are tiny compared to chicken eggs, but still delicious. Some people who can't eat chicken eggs report success eating quail eggs instead. Do note, however, that coturnix are more sensitive to light than chickens are. Without supplemental light in the winter, your quail flock may not lay any eggs.

Title photo courtesy of Mike Verch.