Quail vs. Chickens: Which is Better? (with Video)

Quail vs. Chickens: Which is better?
In case you haven't noticed, quail are the hot "new" animal on homesteads, both rural and urban. There are a lot of good reasons for that, as I pointed out here, but one thing many people are wondering is: Which is better? Should I choose just one? Or should I raise both? This post is designed to help you answer those questions.

Quail & Chickens: What are They Good For?

First, let's take a brief look at why someone would want either of these animals on their homestead. Let's start with the more familiar chicken. They are good for:

* Eggs.

* Meat.

* Suburban or rural yards.

* Neighborhoods where relative quiet is expected. (As long as you only keep hens.)


Quail (by which I really mean Coturnix quail, a.k.a. Japanese quail) are good for:

* Eggs.

* Meat.

* Urban, suburban, or rural yards.

I personally have found quail are quite noisy - even the hens, but most people claim theirs are considerably quieter than chickens - and important consideration when you have neighbors nearby.

Chickens vs. Quail

Coturnix quail. Image courtesy of Guérin Nicolas.

You might prefer quail if:

* You aren't a big fan of chicken meat.

* You like meat with a bit more flavor than chicken.

* You want animals that reproduce more quickly than chickens. Quail hatch in just 18 days and are mature at 6 to 8 weeks. Chickens take about 21 days to hatch and are mature at 16 to 24 weeks, depending upon breed.

* You want an animal that is easy to butcher. (Quail are MUCH easier than chickens!)

* You want eggs sooner. (Coturnix hens begin laying at 6 to 8 weeks. Chickens start at 18 to 26 weeks.) 

* You want eggs every single day. Most chicken breeds don't give an egg a day (though Australorps mostly will!) Coturnix quail, however, absolutely do.

* You want more eggs. The average chicken lays 150 eggs per year. The average Coturnix lays 300.

* You prefer the taste of quail eggs. I am intolerant of all eggs, but my husband says quail eggs are by far his favorite. He says they are "buttery."

* You want an animal that can truly be butchered at any age and remain edible. (Chickens tend to get very tough with age.)

Young or old coturnix are quite edible.

* You want an animal with a better egg-to-feed ratio. Coturnix need 2.5 lbs of feed to produce 1 pound of eggs, while chickens need 2.8 - 3.2 to produce 1 pound of eggs. (Source.) HOWEVER, this doesn't offer a complete picture, since quail are horribly messy eaters. A lot of their feed will end up on the ground (if raised in an aviary) or the poop tray (if raised in cages). You can mitigate this to a certain extent by making a "zero waste" (they should be called "low waste") feeder and/or by putting a pie tin in the poop tray just under the feeder to save and reuse feed that falls through.

* You have less space. Quail need a minimum of one square foot per bird, while chickens require a minimum of 12 square feet per bird. (More space is better.)

Mixed chicken flock. Courtesy of Photo by Zosia Korcz on Unsplash
You might prefer chickens if: 

* You love chicken meat.

* You want animals that can often hatch and raise their own young. (Coturnix don't usually sit on their eggs, so you'll need an incubator if you want more birds. Meat chickens tend to not sit on eggs, either, however, and it can be a crap shoot as to whether or not you end up with a broody hen even if you only have egg-laying breeds. Nevertheless, it's far more likely you'll have a good mother if you're raising chickens.)

* You want an animal that can forage for part of its food. Coturnix are poor foragers. (So are  Cornish Cross, the most-often-raised meat chicken.)

* You don't want an animal that is as sensitive to light changes are Coturnix. (Both chickens and quail will stop laying if natural light levels are low - as in winter - but in my experience, quail are far more sensitive than chickens and if you want continuous egg laying, you'll almost certainly have to supplement with light.)

* You hate the smell of manure. Honestly, quail have the stinkiest manure I've ever been around, and they poop A LOT.

* You hate cleaning poop trays. If you raise quail in cages, you'll need to clean the poop trays at least once a week. Chickens, on the other hand, generally only need their house cleaned a few times a year, at most. 

* You need to keep dander down. Even when raised outside, quail dander will coat everything near by.

* You want to raise fewer animals and get more meat and eggs. Let's face it, quail are small compared to chickens, and so are their eggs. While quail are very prolific, it does take more of them to get equal pounds of food. HOWEVER, quail meat is higher in protein and is therefore more filling. Most adults cannot eat more than one or two quail at a meal.

Size comparison of a typical chicken and quail egg.

* You want an animal that's easier to protect from predators. Even in a rural area, it's relatively easy to keep chickens safe as long as you have a good hen house and run. I can't imagine raising quail in a colony setting where there are lots of predators, though it's easy to do so if you raise the quail in cages.

* You want animals that work harder for the homestead. Chickens are great for turning kitchen scraps and certain gardening clippings into compost/eggs/meat. They are also a good way to clean up a garden bed at the end of the season, scratching up weeds and eating insects and plant remains. While they do so, their manure will lightly fertilize the garden beds. Quail are really not suitable for any of these things.



Quail vs. Chickens - Eggs

Winner: Quail

Quail vs. Chickens - Meat

Winner: Quail

Quail vs. Chickens - Space

Winner: Quail

Quail vs. Chickens - Quietness

Winner: Chickens (sans roosters)

Quail vs. Chickens - Overall Efficiency

Winner: Tossup 

Let's be real. There's no one answer to the question of which bird is better, or whether you should raise one or both. It all depends upon YOU and your wants and needs. Right now on our homestead, both chickens and quail are working well for us. We hate butchering chickens and aren't big fans of chicken meat, so quail are a better choice for us meat-wise. My husband also far prefers quail eggs, but I use chicken eggs for baking and general cooking. I find quail (which we raise in cages, because we live in an area with tons of predators) more time consuming to care for.

Some day, if we have more meat sources on our homestead, I will probably stop raising quail and stick with chickens - but my husband sure will miss those quail eggs!

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Cover image of hen by Ben Mansfield on Unsplash.

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