Raising Coturnix quail for quail eggs and/or quail meat is a viable option for small homesteads and urban situations.
You might be interested in the idea of raising pigeons for meat, too.
How to raise quail indoors or as backyard quail
I raise chickens for eggs, but I run across so many people who lament that they can’t. Homeowner Association regulations, city ordinances, or quite simply a lack of space confounds many who would like to gather fresh eggs daily.
When I started poking around for alternative ideas for my urban friends, I found a couple of sites dedicated to (or at least tackling) the idea of raising quail indoors.
Jessi from Epic Quailblog and Marcy from High Lonesome Homestead were both kind enough to answer some questions for me about raising Coturnix quail for eggs. Marcy is a busy homeschooler and homesteader and offered very brief answers; Jessi went into some serious detail.
There is a ton of information included here! Use the links below to jump to the answer to your specific question about raising quail.
- Keeping quail indoors
- Considerations for situating the quail
- Keeping Coturnix quail housing clean
- Dealing with quail poop
- Housing requirements for indoor quail
- Sizing your flock of quail
- Why use a wire floor for cages?
- Raising quail for eggs
- Coturnix quail laying habits
- Keeping backyard quail
- Temperature requirements
- Keeping backyard quail safe
- Varieties of Coturnix quail
- Jumbo quail
- Coturnix quail eggs
Keeping quail indoors
Note: for the purposes of this interview, “quail” will refer to Jumbo Japanese or Coturnix quail (Coturnix coturnix japonica). Other species of quail have different requirements.
AS: Is raising quail really feasible in an indoor setting? What about odor? Are there other issues to consider?
EQ: Quail can certainly be kept indoors in small numbers. They do inevitably have some degree of odor, however.
A spare room, basement, porch, or garage is an ideal space for small quail setups. Ventilation is a key factor for all indoor setups. A ventilation fan that sucks air out of the room, like a ceiling bathroom fan, will remove most of the odor. Somewhere in the room should be a vent or window that opens to the outside for fresh air to come in and replace the stale air being removed.
It is important for the birds to have fresh air. Poor ventilation can lead to respiratory disorders. Note, however, that very young quail up to three weeks of age must be in a draft-free environment to prevent chills and illness as they cannot regulate their own body temperature until they are fully feathered.
Where to situate your Coturnix quail
Other factors to consider when raising quail include noise, pests, predators, and the mess factor. Male Coturnix quail do have a raucous call that they use to claim territory and attract females. It is nowhere near as loud as the crow of a rooster, but as soon as the sun comes up they will begin to “sing.”
Having your quail setup right under your master bedroom might not be the best idea. Females can also chirp loudly, and when active, quail running around on a wire floor can sound like a miniature stampede.
Overall, though, they are quiet birds compared to most poultry and game birds. This is one of the reasons they are well suited for suburban living. When I was in university I kept Coturnix quail in my 9’x12’ dorm room on the second floor, and nobody knew about it!
Having feed around has the potential to attract pests like rodents and insects. Keeping your feed in tight containers and keeping cages clean will help keep pests at bay. Also, make sure any windows open to the outside have metal screen or hardware cloth over them.
Most cats and dogs and even ferrets will readily go after quail if they have the chance. If you share your house with pets, keep [the quail] in an area that is pet-proof. Even if a cat or dog cannot get into the cage, their presence may frighten the birds to the point where they quit laying, cause themselves injury or death, or suffer from stress-induced ailments like diarrhea or malnutrition.
Coturnix quail housing: Keeping it clean
Anyone who has ever had a budgie or two as a pet knows that birds can make a mess. Quail are no different. Their feathers create a fair amount of dander and dust that can cause allergies and sensitivity over time.
Keeping the quail room well dusted and vacuumed and well-ventilated will cut down on allergens. Quail like to sand-bathe and can be messy eaters, so you are inevitably going to have some mess to clean up some of the time. Carpeting in the quail room is not the easiest to clean. Linoleum or a treated concrete floor is best because it can be easily swept and washed.
Manure that is left to pile up for a long time can grow mold, which can cause a condition in humans called histoplasmosis.
With a basic regime of vacuuming and dusting, though, they are kept clean quite easily.
Dealing with quail manure
AS: How do you handle the quail poop situation? And how frequently?
EQ: When quail are kept on a wire floor, the droppings fall through onto a paper lining. I change the lining every 24 hours to reduce smell and keep things clean. Poop will stick to the wire sometimes and when I change birds out, I scrape the wire floor with a wire brush to get most of it off.
If you have you’re raising backyard quail outdoors, you can rake up the droppings and compost them to make excellent fertilizer – but be sure to age it well as quail poop is very high in nitrogen.
In an indoor setting, changing the linings and feeding the birds takes me about 20 minutes each night.
HLH reiterates: Keep it clean – no rats, no mice, no flies, no odor.
Housing for Coturnix quail
AS: Let’s talk about space requirements and cages. One of the pictures I saw on the Epic Quailblog looks like a two-tier system that fits into the space of a closet! How many birds would that house?
EQ: The short answer I give to this question is usually one square foot per bird, minimum – but more is better. Most quail enthusiasts will agree that Coturnix quail require anywhere from 0.5 to 1.0 square foot of space in a wire-floored environment. For mature birds I like them to have at least one square foot per bird. Younger birds can be housed in tighter quarters as they grow for a couple of reasons – they are smaller, of course, and they are not sexually mature.
The amount of space required also depends on your male-female ratio. Males can be territorial at times and the fewer hens they have to share, the more aggressive they become.
For breeding purposes, it is usually recommended that one keeps no more than five hens for every rooster, otherwise egg fertility will fall. At ratios of two or three hens per rooster, however, more fighting will occur and the hens will become more raggedy and more space is needed to reduce conflict.
The cages I have recently set up are 24 inches wide by 74 inches long, which is roughly 12 square feet.
Ideally I could keep ten hens and two roosters in each one at maturity. I could probably double that number if the birds were between 3-5 weeks of age, but as soon as the roosters start to crow, I separate them into their own cage because I do not want them to beat up the hens.
Males become sexually active about a week or so before the females, and when they are young and full of hormones they can be quite rough on the hens and on each other. The roosters in their own cage usually have to be butchered by six or seven weeks of age because they become sexually frustrated and aggressive with one another. Hens live in peace together much more easily.
Best sizes for flocks of quail
For people interested in breeding and more intensive selection of their stock, it is not uncommon to keep quail in trios or quads – that is, one male for every two or three females, but in their own separate cage. This ensures that the males have nobody to compete with and do not fight, and the parentage of the chicks is more easily controlled.
If keeping with the one square foot per bird model, a trio of birds can be kept in an 18”x24” cage. I have seen birds kept this way in 12”x18” cages as well without a problem, but I have my own standard.
One of those reasons I like raising quail myself is to provide them with as comfortable a life as I can. I prefer to keep my birds in small groups of half a dozen or more with more room to run and move around.
Keeping quail on wire-bottomed floors
Six quail in a six square foot space can create a fair amount of waste in 24 hours. I have kept small numbers of quail on solid floors with shavings as litter, but they require more space and the cleaning is a bit more intense.
Cotrunix quail left to stand in their manure will begin to eat it, which contributes to the spread of disease and parasites. Another thing is the fact that quail are not the best at using a nest box, and you might find yourself doing an Easter egg hunt every day trying to find your eggs.
One of the benefits to keeping quail on shavings is that although it is more work to clean, the shavings absorb and redistribute moisture and so the manure dries and loses its smell quickly.
I would not recommend keeping a number of Coturnix quail on litter in the house, but if you have a garden shed or an old greenhouse, it might be something you want to try. Quail in small numbers are great for keeping insects down in a greenhouse and add some fertilizer here and there too.
HLH: The minimum for growing out [meat birds] is one square foot per bird. The layers can be more concentrated in a smaller cage.
Raising quail for eggs
AS: What kind of setup would you recommend for a household that wanted the equivalent of a dozen chicken eggs each week? How many quail, and what size cage would that require?
EQ: If the average size of a medium to large chicken egg is about 60g and the average size of a typical jumbo variety of quail is 12-13g, it would take 5 or 6 quail eggs to make the equivalent of one chicken egg.
Quail are very regular and prolific layers, often laying well over 300 eggs in 365 days. This outdoes most heritage breed chickens in egg production and right up there with your high-producing white leghorn. A dozen quail hens under the right conditions could be relied upon to give you about 9-12 eggs per day which would be the approximate equivalent of a dozen chicken eggs [per week].
Quail are like chickens in that they slow egg production during their molt, but they don’t seem to slow down as dramatically as chickens.
They will typically lay almost as well in their second year as their first, so if egg production is what you’re aiming for, it is worthwhile to keep your layers for 2 years.
Because they reproduce and mature so quickly, though, it is not unreasonable to replace layers with younger stock every year.
Best practices for keeping egg layers
If a person wanted to keep a dozen hens with two roosters for egg fertility, your ideal model for a cage would be 14 square feet. It can be any dimension, but they tend to prefer long cages for more running room.
A 2’ x 7’ cage would provide them with plenty of space. If your availability of space is very limited, you can pack them a little tighter, but you may find that your birds will be a little testier with one another, especially the roosters. It is certainly easier to pack birds into a smaller space when they are all hens that have been raised together.
Coturnix quail do not utilize vertical space much and they do not perch. It is usually recommended that the height of their cage not exceed 12 inches because of their tendency to explode upwards when startled or feeling frisky.
By doing this they can break their necks on plywood or stiff wire if given enough space to wind up. I like to use corrugated plastic on the ceilings as it has a little bit of bend to it and is less likely to cut their heads than wire.
HLH: To get the equivalent of a dozen eggs, you need about 60 quail eggs a week. Nine or ten birds would be sufficient to meet that.
Keeping backyard quail
AS: What about keeping quail outside on an urban lot or apartment patio? Obviously they’d need protection from predators, but are there different considerations for keeping quail outdoors? Do they need supplemental heat during the cold months?
EQ: You might be able to keep a small handful of quail, say 6 or less, on an apartment patio, but your neighbors would have to be okay with it.
I don’t think they create enough noise and mess to cause a disturbance. But many people have pre-conceived ideas about poultry and will not hesitate to file a complaint just because the mere idea of the neighbor having birds disturbs them.
A budgie or cockatiel hanging it its cage outside on a summer day creates a lot more noise than half a dozen quail, but seems more acceptable in some people’s eyes. The closer your neighbors are, the more crucial it is for you to keep them spotlessly clean and tidy and well taken care of. This means keeping your setup presentable as well.
Appease the neighbors
Quail don’t care if your pen is made from upcycled old pallets and scrap lumber sitting under a tarp, but to your neighbors it might look like an unsightly pile of junk and cause them more reason to make a complaint.
If you have a small lot, it is best to keep your quail setup out of direct sight of your neighbors – you shouldn’t feel the need to hide them and keep them a secret (unless you know you have very testy neighbors!) but sometimes people who do not have poultry may not understand what they are seeing.
Some people might see birds in a wire cage and think it abusive because they don’t know the reason for it. Also, if you have to cull or butcher your birds, it’s best not to have an audience as someone might not want to see that outside their kitchen window. Keeping a barrier between your setup and your neighbors in the form of a hedge or solid fence also acts as a sound buffer.
Temperature requirements for keeping quail
Quail are very hardy in low temperatures. They can handle temperatures down to -20 F in the winter as long as they are well protected from wind, rain, and snow and have plenty of bedding.
Larger numbers fare better in colder temperatures because they pile up together and share body heat to stay warm. A 100w bulb or heat lamp can be used to provide extra heat, but it should be placed in an enclosed area so that the heat does not go to waste.
When I lived in colder temperatures I had a 24×24 inch plywood house attached to my quail run that had two 40 or 60w bulbs in it. Some of the birds would huddle in here on cold nights, but even with this available a lot of the birds chose to sleep in hay filled boxes outside.
Covering your cage with corrugated plastic during the winter will help keep the wind off.
Better yet, move the cage to a garden shed or greenhouse during the winter if it is small enough.
Moisture and wind will do more damage to your birds than the cold itself. I actually found that keeping the water thawed was the biggest challenge of keeping quail in sub-zero temperatures. Little Giant now puts out a heated poultry waterer that I have used with success.
Related: Raising Pigeons for Meat
Predation is another consideration when raising outdoors.
All wire must be ½ inch hardware cloth and no larger.
- Raccoons are notorious for reaching through chicken wire and pulling the heads off of quail at night. Weasels can also fit through 1 inch mesh and will decimate a flock of quail overnight.
- Foxes and coyotes can rip through chicken wire easily. I even had a fox go beneath the cage and grab the toes of the birds standing on the wire and pull their legs right off.
- Roaming dogs can do damage to pens and scare birds literally to death.
- Ravens and crows can also reach into cages with larger wire and harass birds.
I would recommend having a solid wood coop attached to the cage. You can herd your quail into it at night and lock them up for their own safety.
Disease and parasite infections are not usually a problem if the birds are kept on wire. If you choose to keep your quail in ground pens, a movable pen is best. This allows you to move the pen to a clean area every day. Do not encourage wild birds to come near your quail pen.
Best breeds when raising quail for eggs
AS: Now that we’ve established the kind of environment Coturnix quail require, let’s talk about the quail themselves.
Is there one breed in particular that you’d recommend for egg laying?
EQ: Two species of quail come to mind when speaking of good egg production. One is the Japanese Quail or Coturnix Quail and the other is the Northern Bobwhite. Bobwhites are native to the eastern USA and under the right conditions can be very prolific layers. They lay solid white eggs. The females usually begin to lay the spring following their hatch, often at five months. They do tend to be more of a seasonal layer, though, and need more space and a different environment than that which I have described for Coturnix quail. Many people love bobwhites for their white eggs, funny antics, wide vocabulary, tasty white meat, and their beauty.
For quail egg production, though, there are few birds that can beat Coturnix quail.
Coturnix quail are right up there in the league of the commercial leghorn-type layers in the chicken egg industry. A single hen is easily capable of laying 300-350 eggs in a single 365 day period.
Their eggs are brown speckled and have a pale butter-yellow yolk. Coturnix quail are a species (Coturnix coturnix japonica), not a breed. The “breeds” within the species are referred to as “varieties.”
Several different varieties of Coturnix exist, most of them corresponding to plumage color. Wild types or browns have the traditional look of the quail as it evolved in the wild – brown with speckles and a buff belly. Other colors include Texas A&M White, range, tuxedo, golden, silver, and fawn.
Some variations on the varieties also occur – Tibetans, Rosettas, cinnamons Italians, Manchurians, etc. Crossbred varieties may be combinations of colors – such as golden pieds, slate tuxedos, etc. Regardless of color, all Coturnix have the ability to lay eggs extremely well.
Variety changes things a little when size comes into play. Jumbos are much bigger birds than standards, and are usually of the white or brown color type. How much bigger? I have yet to find an official standard anywhere. Most breeders of what they consider “true” jumbo quail are birds that are at least 300g at maturity. For eggs to be considered Jumbos, they usually have to be 14g or better.
Several people I know are setting standards of their own lines which include the following: All breeders must be 280g or heavier by the age of 42 days, and all eggs that go into the incubator must be 14g or better. By doing this, they keep the jumbo quail truly jumbo. Anyone who is interested in purchasing Jumbo Coturnix from a breeder should ask the breeder what their standards are and what the finished weight on the birds and eggs are.
Jumbo quail lay just as many eggs as standards, but the eggs are bigger and the birds yield more meat.
HLH: We raise Japanese Coturnix – they lay larger eggs than, say, button quail or bobwhite.
Quail eggs – what to expect
AS: Coturnix quail eggs are small – how many quail eggs would you need for the equivalent of a large chicken egg? How many eggs does a single quail typically lay per year? And at what age do they begin laying?
EQ: I usually say one chicken egg is equal to 5 or 6 quail eggs.
A Coturnix quail hen will usually begin laying somewhere between 5 and 8 weeks of age. She will lay one egg almost every day. She will probably lay at least 300 eggs per year or more. After a brief molt will continue to lay almost as well for her second year. They require 14-15 hours of daylight every day to be stimulated to lay year-round. For peak production, feed them a turkey or game bird diet that is 24-30% protein.
Extra calcium in the form of crushed eggshells, powdered calcium carbonate, and dark leafy greens like kale and broccoli should be added to the diet as well. Quail are usually too small to eat oyster shell unless it is crushed in a food processor first.
HLH: If you have them on supplemental lighting of 16 hours a day, quail will lay almost every day.
Jessi Lynn Bell is 27 years old and currently lives in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada. She has been raising quail for thirteen years. She is an advocate of humane agriculture, sustainable living, and outdoor stewardship, and a Registered Animal Health Technologist out of Thompson Rivers University. Epic Quailblog was created 2 years ago when she built an incubator and hatched some quail for her university class.
This post was originally published in January 2014; it has been updated.