A Tale of Quail, by KD1

Always trying to learn and become better prepared I thought our family needed to start pursuing livestock and learning the ins and outs to raising them.  Since I deplore powdered eggs I thought we’d start with poultry.  After reading how easy quail were to raise I decided to give them a try this spring.  After all, it met many of the requirements I needed for raising poultry.  The chicks are easy to raise and inexpensive.  They take very little space.  I live in a subdivision so had only a small area to house them in as well as city regulations to follow.  Quail only need about 1 square foot each so my rabbit hutch was perfect for the eight babies I acquired.  Quail are quiet, social and friendly.  Great, they won’t bug the neighbors or waken them at 5:00 in the morning crowing.  They are quick to mature in just eight weeks with females laying an egg six out of seven days.  The eggs, though small, are said to be healthier than a chicken egg, less bad cholesterol and more good cholesterol.  The perfect project I thought for me and our family to prepare and have in case the Schumer Hits the Fan (SHTF).  Also, our retreat is three hours away so the quail would be relatively easy to transport, if necessary.
I started with 8 tiny babies only a couple of days old.  They are so tiny you must be extra careful they don’t drown in their drinking water.  I used a small waterer but many people place marbles in a small lid with water to prevent this tragedy from happening.  They need to be kept warm and it is important to use a heat lamp with a red or blue bulb.  If you use a white bulb they will peck at each other.  For the first week the temperature in their cage needs to be 100 degrees and then you can lower the temp 5 degrees each week.  When you hit 75 degrees they are ready to with stand the elements.  I did protect my quail though by bringing them into the garage at night or if we had wind and rain for a few extra months.  Quail need a higher protein feed than chickens.  Their feed should be 25% to 30% protein or higher if you can find it.  This is usually found in a game bird starter feed.  Our local feed store did not carry any feed higher than 22% so I had to travel an hour to get the feed I needed.  It is important they get clean water every day as they are messy little birds and the water is always dirty.  Bacteria in their food or water containers can kill your quail.  Some owners use a bunny bottle that hangs on the outside of the pen keeping the water clean and easy to change.  Mine have not figured out how to drink from this bottle so I keep the waterer inside.  Also, it is important the first couple of weeks to not have a smooth flooring as they can get straddle leg and will die.  Baby quail have extremely fragile legs for a couple of weeks after hatching and must have good footing.  I used good quality paper towels that had a bumpy texture.  Other people use an old towel or animal bedding.  I found the paper towels were easy to remove when cleaning the cage and replacing it. 
When I first got the babies I was up every two hours checking on them.  It was hard to keep the temperature even.  When the night was cold I had to move the heat lamp closer.  During the day when it was warmer I had to move the heat lamp away.  I was always worried they were being cooked or freezing.  You can tell if the babies are hot or cold by watching how they act.  If they are cold they huddle together close to the heat lamp.  If hot, they get as far away from the lamp as they can.  I also watched their water dish.  If baby quail get wet they will almost always die even if you dry them out.  So it’s important to keep them warm and dry.
For housing we started with a small bird cage.  The quail go through a “boink” stage.  They jump when startled or just for fun, hitting their heads on the top of their cage.  This can kill them by breaking their necks or causing head damage.  We left the top of the cage unattached so when they jumped and hit the top it was flexible and moved too.  At about 3 weeks we moved them to a larger wire cage.  This cage did not have a removable top so we put bubble wrap on the ceiling.  This seemed to work rather well and did not hurt the birds when they jumped and “boinked” their heads.  At 5 weeks we moved them to the rabbit hutch.   With this new home we glued foam on the ceiling.  This has worked very good as well.  We also put ½ inch hardware material on the floor making it much easier for the birds to walk and keeping them safe from predators.  It also makes cleaning the cage very easy.  Do not use ¼ inch hardware material as the feces does not fall through and is then very hard to clean.  Our hutch has a tray that slides out that makes emptying and cleaning a breeze.  The birds like to perch so I put a branch inside their cage to sit on and hide behind.  This helps them feel very secure and happy.
As the weeks went by I became more confident.  All eight were still alive and growing.  They would sing beautiful songs and were fun to watch.  At 4-5 weeks I started to feed them a boiled egg each morning.  Great protein and they loved eating it.  Then we moved on to fruits and vegetables.  A perfect place to send your food scraps as they are great little garbage disposals.  My quail love honeydew and apples but will eat anything I place in front of them including pasta and bread.  They love dust baths and are a riot to watch when bathing.  I fill their small plastic box twice a week and they dive right in and have dust flying everywhere.  They can fly rather well at just a few weeks so beware.  I’ve had them fly out when feeding or watering them.  They are tough to catch.  One afternoon when one flew out I opened one side of the hutch, closing the inside door to keep the others in.  An hour later the escapee had found his way back inside the hutch.  I peeked several times to see what was happening and found him calling and the others returning his call to help him find his way home.  It seems the grass wasn’t greener on the other side and this little fellow wanted to be back with his family.  Later when one would escape my husband made a butterfly net or rather a quail net.  It was very easy to catch one on the run or fly with this inventive net.
I wanted to raise quail just for the eggs.  I’m not interested at this time in their meat.  So how can you tell the difference between a hen and a rooster?  It is actually very hard to sex these birds.  The best way is by color and that takes a few months.  The type of quail I have show stronger markings in the males.  The males have a white eye band and neck.  The females coloring is more muted with these bands a beige color.  It is still difficult to distinguish the coloring between the two.  Some watch for the males to crow (which is nothing like a chicken) but who wants to get up at 4:00 am to watch the little birds?  When you finally figure it out it is best to keep one male for every two or three females.  I’ve read that if you keep all females one of the females will become the boss and rule the roost.  Out of my 8 hatchlings I have 6 males and only 2 females.  What are the odds?  There went my [planned] eggs!  Also, domesticated quail seldom set their eggs and lay them wherever they are standing.  I was very disappointed when I learned this.  To have babies you must incubate the eggs.  When SHTF it will be rather difficult without electricity to run an incubator.  The females need 12-14 hours of sun so this will also be hard during a grid down situation in the winter.  Also, the females usually only live a couple of years with males living three years. 
I enjoyed this little adventure.  There is a lot of information on the internet about raising quail that helped me.  The babies were fun to raise and something I was able to do easily in a subdivision.  My family loved the bowls of little hard boiled quail eggs in Brazil and so we were excited to have our own tiny eggs.  They sing a beautiful song and are fun to watch.  But sadly I think I will move on to bantam chickens.  I know they will set and raise chicks which will be far more beneficial than the quail in a TEOTWAWKI situation.  I have thought about using a bantam to raise quail chicks and may try this next spring.  This is why it is important to not only plan for the future but to put into action your plans.  Your plan may not be as simple or as profitable as you thought.  I learned a valuable lesson this summer.  These are fun little birds to raise but in my opinion will not be useful during a SHTF scenario.