Covey = group of quail. You can also call them a flock or a bevy.
For a little background, I’ve been dreaming of chickens for years. I love animals, and I love the idea of homesteading. I’m a very curious, DIY kinda gal, and if I use it or like it or eat it, I probably want to at least know how it is made if not try to make it myself.
So the idea of having some birds in my backyard that I basically just water and occasionally feed and in return I get super fresh, healthy, delicious eggs for almost free? Too good to be true! You can actually do this in real life?! Why doesn’t everyone??
Not that many years ago, this actually was quite common. Just like most families during and after WWII had a Victory Garden, most families also had a laying hen or a few for their family food source. But as people became more and more enamored of convenience and concentrated into cities, and less interested in the husbandry and killing and processing of their own food, backyard flocks declined.
Until today, where very few people keep any type of animals other than a cat or dog, or the occasional weirdo with a gecko or snake, and almost never as a food source. But, enough of that soapbox. I don’t really care what y’all do with your backyards. All I knew was I wanted a chicken or seven in mine.
Well, the thing is, I still live in city limits. And there are rules.
The coop must be 50 yards from any property line.
Must be a shade, heat, and water source.
Must drain properly.
Large minimum square footage per bird.
Must send certified letter to each adjoining property line neighbor informing them of your intent to keep birds and get positive response.
City inspector to inspect before building the coop.
No more than 6 hens.
City inspector to inspect after coop is built.
Need a license ($).
Whew, and this is all before you even get to daydream about the cute little chicks. The boy was also concerned about noise (legit) and smell (also legit) and pissing off the neighbors and attracting predators and what if they escape and bird flu and…
Basically, it seemed like my dream would never come true.
But I didn’t give up. I kept reading, and asking what other options there were. And turns out, quail kept popping up.
Turns out, quail are just like chickens… but better!
They are smaller = need less space & less food
They are quiet
They still lay eggs, even sooner and more often than chickens
And so it was decided!
It took some time, but I
wouldn’t shut up about it and begged and nagged him to death until he gave in asked the boy nicely, and he agreed to let me keep quail! And so that was how, the week after Thanksgiving, that a boxful of birds came to live with us on our micro-homestead in Durham NC.
Specifically, Japanese Cotournix quail.
And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for! All your quail questions, answered. From food to poo, here’s the whole story. If you have more questions that aren’t on the list, please feel free to pop it down in the comments, and I’ll add it!
What do quail eggs taste like?
This is inevitably the first question that anyone asks when I tell them I have quail.
They taste like eggs.
Yup, just like chicken eggs.
How big are quail eggs compared to chicken eggs?
They are about 2-4 times smaller. Even with just 3 girls laying so far I’ve seen quite a bit of variation in the egg size, from maybe the size of my thumb to nearly a full Grade A Medium chicken egg. But the yolk is a larger percentage of the total volume than a chicken egg, meaning much less egg white per egg.
Can you bake with quail eggs?
Sure can. You will have to adjust for volume of course, but quail eggs can do whatever chicken eggs can do. I’ve baked them into hash brown nests, fried them on sandwiches, and scrambled them.
I have not tried baking anything with them yet, because I am over sweets for now, since the holidays.
But next on my list: quail egg mayo!
What does quail meat taste like?
Is this getting repetitive yet?
It tastes like chicken.
Seriously, roasted quail tastes like chicken. Not even a hint of gaminess, at least the two times I’ve tried it so far. I had to convince the boy that these were worth keeping until the end of their usefulness, so I bought quail meat to try before we committed to the flock. It was super tasty.
There is not much meat though. So I would say you probably need at least 2 birds per person, or to have it with something else quite filling or as a side/part of a larger dish.
Did you name them?
Well, that’s a lie.
I named one.
Are you going to eat them?
How do you tell the boys from the girls?
Mostly from the feather colors. The boys will have an all solid color, rusty to brown chest. The girls will have a brown or white chest spotted with darker brown or black feathers. If that isn’t a clear enough indicator, you can flip them over to look at the ‘vent’ (where the poo and eggs come out). The boys have a pointy thing there, the girls do not. (all guys are the same…)
Do you need a boy for the girls to lay eggs?
The girls will lay an egg a day regardless of males being present. But they will not be fertilized unless there’s a boy around. Which is not important unless you care whether you eat fertilized or unfertilized eggs, or if you want to hatch chicks from the eggs.
We want to expand and hatch our own chicks eventually, so we want to keep some boys around.
How soon do quail lay eggs? How many eggs do quail lay?
Quail start laying as soon as 4-6 weeks old! That’s a lot sooner than the typical chicken 4-6 months old. And they generally lay an egg a day, approximately 300 per year.
What is the expected laying time and lifespan of quail?
They will lay about 2 years. Their full life expectancy is also only about 2 to 2 1/2 years. They are small, so they mature fast, but they also die fast. So I will need to refresh my flock in at least 2 years.
Do quail make noise?
They do, but it is very quiet. If you are not within 100 feet or so of the coop you wouldn’t know they are there. They make soft clucking and cooing noises, and little chirps. And I swear on my 50 pound bag of popcorn that sometimes they ribbit, like a frog.
Do quail smell?
The birds themselves do not smell. Not that I stuck my nose in one, but from holding them several times, there is no noticeable smell.
Their poop though, of course that ain’t roses! But it is not super strong, like I’ve experienced with chickens or ducks. You have to be right up in the coop to smell it. And once I shovel it onto the compost piles, I haven’t smelled it at all.
What do you do with the quail poop?
I have compost piles! This manure addition will make the compost super-charged, such that I probably won’t have to add any additional fertilizers to my garden from now on.
Where do you keep the quail? How much space do they need?
The quail live in a hardwood coop that a friend gave to me. I was exceedingly lucky in that regard, as we did not have to purchase or build a new coop.
The coop is about 6 feet by 2 feet, and they generally need 1/2-1 square foot of floor space per bird. That means up to a dozen could live here, right now we have 11 and they seem pretty happy.
The sides are solid wood, with the front being chicken wire and hardware cloth. The holes are small enough that animals can’t get in to hurt or kill the birds. The base is 1/2 cm hardware cloth that is small enough the birds can walk on it ok, but big enough the poop can fall through. It is elevated off the ground with bricks so that I can get underneath it with a shovel.
Can the quail free range?
Ummm no. Unlike chickens, quail can fly, like for real fly. And in fact are often used to train hunting dogs, or hunters… so, no, if I let them free-range, they would fly away forever.
Someday, in an ideal world, I would have the space and money and time and build them a nice, big, safe aviary. That way they could almost free range. But until then, a coop is home. This spring and summer I have plans to build a second, larger coop, and possibly a quail tractor. We will see if that happens.
Do you clip the quail’s wings?
Yes, I did. This is in case they do get away from me and outside the coop somehow, they won’t fly away. They are apparently really fast and great at camouflaging though, so catching it would be a challenge regardless. It does not hurt the quail at all, it is similar to clipping your finger or toe nails.
What do quail eat? Is it similar diet to chicken?
Quail need slightly higher protein than chicken. They can get by on chicken feed, but they do better on turkey or “game bird” feed, which has 20+ % protein. You can get a big ol 50 pound bag for like $12-25 at a Tractor Supply or other hardware store.
They also will eat many types of fruits and vegetables, and particularly love greens. They didn’t seem interested in lettuce when I put it in a bowl. But then I tied a twist tie to the ends and wrapped the other end on the cage, so it hangs. The LOVE to nibble and peck at the hanging lettuces.
They are also particularly fond of sprouts. They love broccoli and alfalfa sprouts, those disappear fastest of all the treats I’ve given. They also enjoyed the apple slices. Whenever we have bits of produce that we won’t eat, I put it in there to see how they like it.
Eventually I also want to get some bug treats, like mealworms, because they love insects. Extra protein and fat, which will help in spring when they are all laying regularly.
How much time does it take to care for quail? How often do you have to feed or water the quail?
With 11 of them, they go through about one quart mason jar of feed and water every day. I check on them every morning, to see how much food and water they have, and check if there are any eggs. If the water or food is low, I refill it. I check again at night when I get home from work.
This whole process only takes about 10 minutes a day total. I’ve now taken to bringing a new full jar of feed and water out with me. That way if they need one or both, I just unscrew the empty one and pop the new one in, without having to go back to the house to fill it up.
How much does it cost to buy quail?
Prices will vary based on whether you want to buy fertilized eggs to hatch yourself, baby chicks to raise, or older or full grown quail. The most common way to get into it is to buy baby chicks for about $1 each (but you take a 50/50 chance on boy or girl) or to buy a “mating pair” i.e. one boy and one girl, for about $25-$35.
I scooped up a great deal on mine. When I decided quail were happening, I put an alert on Craigslist. Sooner than expected, a post came in where someone was looking to sell 10 fully adult quail for only $25! Of course I dibs-ed it right away. Though one sadly died in transit to my house. Then, I accidentally ended up with 2 more for free, hence our current flock of 11.
How much does it cost to get started raising quail?
Well, you need the quail, which as mentioned will cost you a few bucks to $40 or so. The coop can have a huge range of prices based on materials and size you want. I’d advise checking Craigslist, Freecycle, and Facebook first. But you can even just put 2-3 in a rabbit cage, and that will run you $20-$40 from a pet store.
Then you will need feed, chick or adult depending on how old they were when you bought them. A tiny bag would cost just a few bucks, but your best cost per pound would be to get the big 50 pounders, which are about $12-$30 depending on brand. Let’s average and say $15, and your three quail will only go through maybe one bag/yr.
The cost of water will be negligible, just use tap. If you get babies, you need to worry about them maybe drowning in it. And you want a type of container not large enough to become a toilet… These can be done for free, or you can pick up a $3 one online or in pet stores.
That’s really the only requirements, so you’re looking at about $60 or so, to start with 3 adults (1 boy and 2 girls for more chicks, or 2-3 girls just for eggs). From there of course you can expand and spend as much or as little as you want, on coops, laying boxes, toys, treats, sand baths, bedding, and what-have-you.
Is it worth it?
At our grocery store, you can get 18 quail eggs for $5.99, which is about 33 cents per egg. Sometimes they go on sale. Chicken eggs can be had as low as 0.50 a dozen at ALDI, but more often to the tune of $1.50 – $2.50 / dozen at the store.
The thing is, I don’t know how those birds were raised. I don’t know if they ever saw the sun, got to walk around, or lived in a box that’s smaller than my pillow. I don’t know what they were fed. If they were given medications. If they were exposed to any diseases.
For my standards of food, I can obtain local, pastured, omnivore fed chickens (the way they should live) for $5 per dozen. I had no local source of quail eggs.
So to me, yeah, even if it doesn’t break down cost-wise, it is worth it.
But also, let’s run some numbers.
We use, on average, about 4 – 8 chicken eggs per week (sometimes more, sometimes none). For the equivalent of that we need about 8 – 30 quail eggs per week. I want to totally supply our egg needs. This is totally do-able with 9 girls. I should get 45 – 63 eggs per week, in the spring, if they all lay well.
It cost us a total so far of about: $25 + $18 + $6 + $12 = $61
Assuming I get the average 300 eggs/year, times 9 girls, that is 2700 eggs, y’all! That’s 150 containers from the store that I am not buying the packaging for, and a total savings of $900, at $6 per pack.
Not bad, I’d say.
Can quail live in extreme temperatures/climate?
Oh yes. One of the wonderful things about quail is that they are descended recently from wild birds. Therefore they are extremely hardy. They rarely get sick, and tolerate heat and cold very well, better or worse depending on breed. I have Japanese Cotournix, and they laughed at the snow and cold snaps we have had so far.
How do quail do with winter and summer?
Well, they have handled winter with flying colors so far. We have a heat lamp for them, which I turn on when overnight temps will be below 30, to keep their water from freezing. But often when I go to check on them, they aren’t even near the lamp, like they’re trying to get away from the heat.
We will see how well they handle the humid summers here soon.
Do you need to give quail any supplements or medicines?
Not absolutely necessary. As long as you’re giving them a quail or game bird feed, they should be fine. I supplement with some random greens, other veggies, and fruits now and then, about 1-2 times per week. I also add crushed shells back into the feed, which helps keep their calcium up so they lay more eggs. I just wash and let dry the eggs they already have laid. Then smush them up well.
I also got a supplement online called Rooster Booster, which is a poultry multivitamin basically. I add a tsp of this about 2-3 times per week into their mason jar of feed. And 1-2 times per week I add a tbsp of raw apple cider vinegar into their water. Apparently it is supposed to help keep them healthy and keep mites away.
What do you do with quail when you go on vacation?
I am lucky to have 2 friends now who own farms/microhomesteads near me. One currently has her own small flock of quail, the other has raised quail for years but stopped because chickens were more profitable (the farm is his livelihood). They are willing to take the flock if we are gone for long periods of time.
However, I would be perfectly comfortable leaving them with just a double supply of food and water for a 2-3 day trip. I would also ensure that they had plenty of treat options, and at least 2 different sources of feed/water, in case one got knocked over or pooped in.
How do you transport quail?
Well, they came to me packed in a cardboard box. I felt bad for the little guys, but they didn’t seem to mind it too much. But now, I have a better way: dog carriers.
These we got when our pups were younger and smaller and could fit under the airplane seat in front of you. They no longer fit in there so they have been re-purposed as bird carriers. They have mesh on the sides and top so that air can get in, zip tops for easy in and out access, and handles and a long strap to carry. Super light, totally perfect.