Farm, Garden and The Land > Live Stock, Critters and Aquaculture

Raising quail for meat and eggs

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Moonvalleyprepper:
Inputs

Feed
Quail are omnivores and will enjoy as varied of a diet as they can get. They will eat most things that a chicken will eat, as long as it’s small enough for them to get in their beaks. I am currently feeding mine 100% store bought food with the intent to lower that as much as I can through alternative feeds.
Store bought feed
 
Store bought feed is available for raising quail. It is similar to dry dog food in consistency, and not all grain or vegetarian based. When choosing a feed you need to get at least 24% protein for good egg production. They will survive and still lay with lower protein %, but you will get smaller eggs and less often. The higher the protein % you can give them the larger the eggs and meat birds will be.



I use Purina game bird starter 27%-30% protein and have had no problems with it as a stand-alone feed.
Store bought feed is compact, readily available, stores well and is affordable at ~$0.50/pound. A laying hen will eat ~1pound / month.

I have been informed that the shelf life of this dry food is 2 months, second hand from a Purina rep. While I don’t doubt that it loses some nutritional value over time, I have never experienced any consequences to using “old” feed. I keep a minimum of 2 month supply on hand, knowing it probably has an additional 2-3 months of distribution time already on it before I buy it. I have never had a quail turn their beak up at it.

Alternative feed / supplemental nutrition

Black Soldier Fly larva
This looks to be a very promising feed. They turn food scrapes into protein at a very efficient rate. Good for zone 7+, but I am going to try it anyway in zone 6.

Meal worms
This might be my alternative to B.S.F.. Meal worms are somewhere in the 40% protein range, and are very low input. I will be experimenting with this soon.

Sprouts
Freshly sprouted grain, 2-4 days old, before it really turns into a plant. This is something I would like to try, and will be trying in the early summer.

Ticks
Apparently quail love to eat ticks. I am not going to propagate ticks, but if you have a surplus of them in your yard, tractoring quail might be the solution.

Seeds
Any tiny seed might have the chance at becoming quail food. Lambsquarter, millet, lettuce, anything with a small seed might be worth trying, especially if it’s abundant and can be grown with little to no inputs.

Other insects
Maggots, larva, beetles, ants and all types of creepy crawlies have the potential to be converted into delicious quail meat.

Water system
   
There are many different options for providing your birds with water. Each one has its own set of pros and cons. From bowls and crocks to automated systems pretty much any method that you can use for chickens can be adapted for quail.
I personally don’t have time to be cleaning and refilling 10+ bowls a day, and since I already had a gravity watering system setup for my rabbits it was really a no brainer to just tap into it.

I went with these watering cups.



They do a good job at keeping things dry and the animals with a constant supply of fresh water. They can be disassembled and the O-rings can be replaced if needed. One word of caution, if you have hard water put a sediment filter in line with your system to prevent the cups from becoming clogged, happened to me once.

Also, these cups aren't supposed to “fill up” and the birds will never “learn” to hit the yellow doohickey to add more water to the cup. Instead the bird will try to get the last bit of water out of the cup, and accidentally hit the doohickey, causing more water to enter the cup. At first I thought the birds were too stupid to figure it out and I didn’t think they would work. Turns out they work, just not in the way I had thought.

Outputs

Eggs – Lots of eggs! 250+ per bird per year. Small in size, ¼ the volume of a chicken egg, but packed with nutrients. Some sites claim each quail egg has 4x the nutritional value as 1 chicken egg! Google it, you’ll be amazed!

Meat – Quail meat is delicious and extremely low in fat. It has a great natural taste and really doesn’t taste gamey or bland. Cook it similar to venison, or other low fat content foods. It dries out easily if over cooked.

Heat – Quail are warm blooded and will give off body heat. If you have enough of them in a contained space this could be an asset or a problem depending on your situation.

Organs – Dog food or people food depending on your preferences. My dogs have learned to recognize when it’s slaughter time, and always gather around for the spoils.

Feathers – Crafts, fishing flies, high nitrogen compost.

Skin – Compost, can be tanned for dog training / dog toy or so I have read.

Blood – Compost pile, or watered down and added to garden.

Poop – Brown gold, compost it!

Behaviors

Dust baths
Quail absolutely love dust baths! They will chirp and peep and take turns diving into it. Any sort of small container that they fit in can be used. Dollar store dishpans make great containers. Getting a container with slightly higher walls will help keep the mess in the container, but not too high that they can’t get in. You can use a lot of different things for the mix: play sand, dirt, ash, etc.. I also like to add a small amount of Diatomaceous Earth (DE) to keep them mite free.

Singing and bobbing
If your quail are happy and they know it they will sing, chirp chirp. No seriously, the birds will start to recognize you and get excited when you get near them. For the most part they just peep quietly, but occasionally one will break into a song, I like to think they are singing my praises. It’s pretty funny when one starts singing, because the rest of them will pause and listen.

Crowing
The males crow. It’s nothing like a rooster, but it is a rather distinctive sound. Not all males are created equal, some have a high pitched shriek of a crow. While others have a lower pitch almost growl.

The distance that this will be audible will vary. With direct line of sight and the garage door, and windows open, I can pick up the sound at 50’ away. Further out from that it drops off significantly. With the garage door shut and the windows shut I can barely hear it at 20’ away. This all completely depends on the males also. The higher pitch call seems to travel significantly further than the lower pitch one.

Some males will crow incessantly, while others rarely crow.  I have found that the ones that are the most annoying are also the ones that taste the best. I’m not really sure why, maybe it’s in my head.

Moonvalleyprepper:
Slaughtering

I do all of my processing with a sharp pair of kitchen shears.

First I hold the bird by its legs upside down facing away from me. I then take the scissors to the back of its neck and clip its head off into the compost bucket. I prefer to clip from the back of the neck as the bird doesn’t see it coming, it also insures an instant kill with the first clip, severs the spinal cord.

After that I pretty much do it exactly how “Fat Daddy” does it in this video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=AEjAtvIfAOM

The only thing that I do differently is clip the rear vent before I pull the skin off, he pulls the skin off then clips the vent. Six of one, half dozen the other.

I’m also not as picky about the feathers, I drop the bird into a bucket off cool water after butterflying and found that a lot of the feathers will come right off the meat during this soak.

Moonvalleyprepper:
Selective breeding

One really cool thing about quail is how fast they reach reproductive age. They mature to eating age in about the same amount of time as a rabbit, but reach sexual maturity in as little as 10 weeks. This means you could get through 4 generations in a single year. This makes it so you can morph and change your breed line very quickly, and adapt them to your climate / housing situation in a short period of time.

Here is a good primer on selective breeding. It refers to rats as the animal, but the information is relevant to any selective breeding. It’s a long read, but packed with information.

http://ratguide.com/breeding/breeding/breeding_methods.php

The breeding guideline that I have been following are from “The Tatanka Breeders Club” from backyard chickens. Basically it’s a community of people that have all set the same standards for selecting birds, and every once in a while they mail each other eggs to keep the blood lines fresh.

Their breeding goals copy and pasted from Backyard chickens:

"Tatanka" raising the Standard...Jumbo Coturnix (Japanese Quail)

BEAK:  slightly curved not flat.
EYES:  expressive, green.
HEAD:  large, wide. square when viewed from top.
NECK: thick, slight arch.
WINGS:  fairly small
BREAST:  prominent, full, well defined.
BODY: similar to other poultry meat birds, "like a brick" a fuller and longer fowl to increase egg-laying capacity and to produce a frame with more meat for commercial purposes.
BACK: breadth across the back is a desirable trait.
LEGS: well muscled thigh. strong to support weight.
FEET AND TOES: (4) evenly spaced, long toes
FEATHERING: rough feathering is common in larger specimens.

EGGS: greater than > 14 grams.

WEIGHTS: All birds male and female must weigh 280 grams by 42 days.

looks like these are the numbers we are shooting for:

Daddy, Digger & Moby Standards of Quailism

14 days ~80g
21 days ~130g
28 days ~200g
42 days = 280g+

Fat Daddy Clause
56 days ~350+

Link to the thread:

http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/629414/tatanka-breeders-club-meat-quail-project-with-history-discussion-pictures-and-videos

I think it might be cool to do the same thing and see if we can’t make our own TSP Jumbo quail. Seems like there are a quite few people getting started, maybe we can set something up if there is interest.

Moonvalleyprepper:
Suburban issues

Quail are a great option for people looking to raise meat and eggs in urban, and suburban environments. They take up little space, do well with high stocky densities, and are also very quiet. They are also easier to claim as pets if need be, and have fewer specific ordinances directed at them.

My basic philosophy is what people don’t see, smell, or hear they don’t bitch about. Every day when I check them I give the garage a quick sniff test around the outside before I go inside. If you want to keep the smell down you need to stay on top of the manure, not literally, but don’t let it build up. Keep it dry and covered and turn it into compost as soon as you accumulate enough to make a pile. The winter cold really did well to keep the smell down, which was good because carbon to make a compost pile is hard to come by during the winter here.

For noise issues I make sure that at night and in the early morning the garage stays buttoned up, windows and doors closed. This way if one of the males starts with some midnight crowing it will not be disturbing to the neighbors. If a male is loud, or crows a lot I get rid of him. I would rather keep my egg layers and not get harassed than to give up the whole lot due to trying to keep a couple of males. Eventually after hatching out enough eggs you find some males with a quiet disposition that you can keep around for fertilization.
 
Be a good neighbor!
Having a good relationship with your neighbors goes a long way towards flying under the radar. Both my neighbors are gardeners so giving them compost is a great way to keep them happy, this works especially well when they see you outside turning it every other day and know that you put a bit of work into making it. Giving away eggs is also a great bribe to keep in their good graces. Give them a helping hand when they are doing some work around the house or loading unloading stuff. All of these tactics seem to work very well with my neighbors.



Tip: When offering compost, eggs, a helping hand or whatever use a little reverse psychology. Phrase it so they are helping you out by you helping them.

When they show up with a truck load of whatever.

“Let me give you a hand with that!” Works most of the time.
“Do you need a hand with that?” Usually ends in a polite, “Thanks, but I think I got it.”

Giving them compost.

“I have a ton of compost right now and am running out of places to put it, do you have anywhere that could use some?”    Works pretty well.
“Do you want any compost?” Doesn’t work that well.

Giving away eggs.

“Here take some quail eggs, my birds are laying like crazy right now and I’m running out of recipes for all of these.” Almost always works.
“Let me know if you ever want some quail eggs, I got a bunch!” Doesn’t work that well, they won’t ask.

Moonvalleyprepper:
FAQ

How do I tell the difference between males and females?

The males have a rust colored breast, whereas the females have a speckled breast.


Female


Male


How old before they start to lay eggs?

They will start laying sporadically at 8 weeks of age and get into heavy production by 10 weeks.

How long do they lay eggs for?

For the first 6 months to 1 year they will lay very heavily. After one year the production will start to decline. A 2 year old egg layer is an old bird, but will still lay just not as much.

What are the nutritional benefits of quail eggs?

Quail eggs are absolutely packed with nutritional benefits. They are considered by many to be a super food. In Japan they were once considered more of a medicine than a food. According to most internet sources one tiny little quail eggs has 4x the nutritional value as 1 chicken egg. There is a bit of information on this on the internet and in books, I don’t know for sure what claims are true, but most are similar to each other.

I can say from my own experience that my seasonal allergies are almost completely gone from eating about a dozen for breakfast every morning. I have also seen this same effect on my roommate’s dog that eats them exclusively. Her dog, an 8 year old pug, would lose 80%-90% of its hair in the early spring and be bald, ugly, itchy, and miserable all summer until the first frost. Numerous vet visits, and even a suggestion to put it down from a now former vet, creams, baths lotions, steroids, nothing helped. Last summer we switched her to quail eggs as an exclusive diet and for the first time in her life she kept all of her hair. Her energy level has gone through the roof; she will even play fetch with the big bulldogs now. She also had chronic ear infections which have almost completely disappeared. I don’t know what internet claims are true, but I can tell you there is definitely something there.

How much does it cost to produce a dozen eggs?

About $0.50/ dozen

How much does it cost to produce a full grown bird?

Buying 100% of their feed at $0.50/pound comes out to be about $2-$2.50 per bird.

How much does a dressed out bird weigh?

Depends on a lot of variables, but usually 1/4 - 1/3 lb.

What do you do with all those eggs?

Eat them, feed them to the dogs, pickle them, gifts, blown egg decorations, anything you can do with a chicken egg.

How do you preserve the meat?

Use it fresh, freeze it, or can it. 3 quail fit perfectly in a 1 quart mason jar, also usually equals about a pound for easy record keeping.

Why old world quail, Japanese, and not new world quail Bobwhites?

Bobwhites will get bigger than that Japanese quail. They also take about twice as long to do so, ~16 weeks. So more time for a larger bird. The bobwhites are also a little more wild and prefer to have a fly pen once they have developed.

The bobwhite also don’t lay nearly as many eggs per year as the Japanese, about 50% – 60% less around 150/year compared to 300+/year.

Now if you wanted to seed some birds at a BOL, and just keep some feeders and water to help keep them around bobwhites, Tennessee reds or any other new world variety might be what you’re looking for. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses, just depends on what your situation is. Different tools for different fools.
 
My quail stopped laying, what’s going on?

If you get a sudden decline in egg productions check the water supply.  If the water line gets plugged or something malfunctions and the birds don’t get enough water they will stop laying almost immediately.

If you get spotty egg production, like hit or miss or less than you were getting, check the light cycle to make sure they are getting at least 16 hours of light.

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