The Biggest Mistake I Made Raising Quail

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Quail are the latest, greatest homestead critters - especially among those who don't have a lot of land or no decent pasture. All in all, I've found coturnix quail a useful addition to our homestead. As I've written before, it's hard to beat an animal that starts producing eggs at only 6 weeks of life and is ready to harvest for meat in just 8 to 10 weeks from hatching.

There are - of course - down sides to raising coturnix quail for eggs and/or meat. For instance, most quail-keepers will tell you quail can be really brutal with each other, even when raised in the best possible environment. But this year, I discovered the biggest downside to raising quail: They don't age well.

Back When Raising Quail was Good...

When I first started raising quail, I began with fertilized eggs from a local homesteader. (You can also purchase fertilized eggs online. I do not recommend buying chicks, since coturnix chicks are much more fragile than chicken chicks. They rarely survive shipment and may even die between a local seller's brooder and your own.) We hatched these eggs in our incubator, grew the chicks in a brooder with heat plates, and then put them outside in cages once they were fully feathered.

The brooders I use.

When I knew the quail were sexually mature (hens were laying eggs, roosters were crowing, and I witnessed a rooster mating with hens), I began saving eggs to incubate. Once that second batch of eggs hatched and the resulting birds were mature, I butchered the original flock and replaced them with the new, young quail. (I had excess young quail, and I butchered those, too.)

Coturnix quail chick.

But I noticed that in some coturnix quail groups I belong to, many people kept their older quail as breeders for a year or more. On a whim, I decided to do the same: I butchered only my young birds and kept my older birds for breeders. And that's when all my problems began.

The Problem with Quail

Within perhaps six months, my older birds started having issues. They weren't laying well (even with supplemental light) and once in a while, one would die unexpectedly. When I started incubating eggs, we found a great many were not fertile. Our hatch rates dropped...a lot. Then the breeding quail started to develop curled toes. (I believe this is a sign of a B vitamin deficiency and have just started supplementing our quail with Rooster Booster.)

We also had some problems that weren't related to the age of our breeders. For example, I lost an entire hatch of chicks because their waterer spurted all its water out in the middle of the night. I have no idea how this happened, but it resulted in all the chicks dying from cold. (And of course, it happened just as I was trying another thing folks in my quail group suggested: Using paper towels on the bottom of the brooder, instead of the then-hard-to-find shavings I normally use. Shavings might have wicked up enough moisture for the chicks to survive until I found them in the morning. Paper towels definitely did not.) I also lost another batch of chicks - one by one - due (I think) to a bacterial issue. Both situations were heart-breaking.

Quail chicks in their brooder.

To say it's been an awful year for raising quail on our homestead puts it mildly.

Lesson Learned

But getting back to our main issues, which only occurred among our older quail, I learned my lesson: I will never keep older birds again. 

I currently have a small flock of young quail that are almost at butchering age. As soon as they are ready, I will butcher my older birds and choose the best of the young bunch to become my new breeders. We also plan on ordering some fertilized eggs, to bring fresh blood into our flock.


Here's the thing about homesteading: I don't care how long you've been at it, there is always something new to learn. I hope this is a lesson I can help you avoid learning the hard way!

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1 comment

  1. Thank you for the sound advice. I just recieved 5 laying hens and 30 one week old quail from a friend. I was wondering how to deal with which to butcher and which ones to keep since they don't live very long. Your plan seems like a good idea to me.