How to Raise Quail
Incubating Coturnix Eggs:
- Turn on your incubator (if you haven’t done so already) and allow the temperature and humidity to stabilize at 99.5 °F and 40-50% humidity. If you have trouble stabilizing the temperature or humidity, make adjustments slowly, and wait an hour or so to see how much they change. Temperatures too high can cause the chicks to hatch underdeveloped. Humidity too high can prevent the air sac from developing and prevent the chicks from being able to break through the membrane in the shell. We highly recommend placing an additional thermometer and hygrometer in the incubator because the sensors that come with incubators are often poorly calibrated.
- Inspect eggs for breaks or cracks. Do not set any damaged or cracked eggs, as they will not hatch and could introduce bacteria to the remaining eggs in the incubator.*
- Allow eggs to rest pointed side down for 12-24 hours at room temperature before incubating.
- Set the eggs into your preheated incubator, turning at least 4 times per day.
- Incubate for 14 days, checking temperature and humidity often.
- Move eggs into lockdown after 14 days by removing eggs from the turner tray and placing them into hatching trays with a rough surface so that chicks do not develop straddle-leg. Increase the humidity to 50-60% at this time. If you have trouble stabilizing the humidity, it is best to have a lower humidity for quail. If you see any condensation or water droplets on the inside walls of your incubator, your humidity is too high!
- Do not open the incubator until at least 24 hours after the first chick has hatched. Coturnix normally hatch in 17 days, but a low temperature in the incubator or jostling during shipping may cause the hatch to be delayed by 2-3 days.
- Prepare your brooder 1-2 days before chicks are expected, and allow the temperature to stabilize at 95°F, or 100-105°F directly under the heat source and no less than 85°F in the coldest section of the brooder.
- Provide a shallow and drown-proof water source, and allow water to warm to the temperature in your brooder before placing chicks into the brooder.
- Start chicks on a game bird/turkey starter feed consisting of 28-30% protein. If feed particles are large, grind them for the first several days as needed. Coffee grinders, blenders, and mortars/pestles work well for this.
- Offer grit if feed is not a blended crumble or if chicks are exposed to hay or grass.
- Lower the brooder temperature an average of 5°F per week.
- Remove heat after 4 weeks or when chicks are fully feathered.
- Change to an 18-22% protein game bird/turkey layer ration after 7-8 weeks.
Caring for Adult Coturnix:
- Your quail should be housed in a large pen with tall ceilings (4 ft or taller) or cages 8-10 inches tall. Cages with ceilings between these two ranges (such as rabbit hutches) can be very dangerous for quail because quail are able to jump/fly with enough momentum to cause serious head injuries if they hit the top of the cage.
- Quail need a high-protein game bird feed. Quail should be fed a game bird/turkey starter feed with 28-30% protein and ~1% calcium until they are 7-8 weeks old.
- At 7-8 weeks, quail should be transitioned to a game bird or turkey layer/breeder/all-purpose feed with 20-22% protein and 2-3% calcium. “Adult” quail we ship are ~6 weeks old, so they can be transitioned to lower protein feed after you’ve had them for 1-2 weeks. This will give them a nice boost while they recover from the potential stress of shipping.
- Offer grit if your quail are exposed to hay or grass.
Lastly, enjoy your quail. Feel free to give them a container full of sand to dust bathe in, as well as mealworms or other treats in moderation.
Whether you want to raise quail for meat, eggs, or just for fun, they are a calm and content bird that is rewarding to raise. They are often allowed in neighborhoods with HOAs that do not allow poultry, and many people opt to keep quail over other fowl due to their low space requirements and quiet disposition. Most people could easily keep hundreds of quail hens on a small patio or shed without ever bothering their neighbors! They are a covey bird that requires very little space, converts feed to eggs efficiently, and begins to lay eggs as early as 6 weeks of age. As if that weren’t enough, quail eggs are considered to be a healthy and less allergenic alternative to traditional eggs.
If you’re interested in starting your own covey, there is a steep learning curve for raising quail, namely in the brooding stage. We recommend starting with adult birds if possible, but understand that it often isn’t a realistic option. No matter how you choose to start your covey, the following guide can help serve as an overview for what is required to care for Coturnix.
Quail eggs require an incubation period of 17 days at 99.5° F. For all but the last 3 days, the eggs should be turned at least four times daily to ensure the yolk does not fuse to the albumin membrane. The last three days of the incubation cycle is called “lockdown,” and for this period of time the humidity should be raised from around 40% to 55%. We find that our eggs begin to hatch at around 16 days 8 hours, but we don’t remove them from the hatcher until 24 hours after the hatch begins, in order to allow ample time for all the chicks to hatch.
The chicks will be very delicate for the first week, and require a temperature-controlled environment for 3-4 weeks. There is a bit of a learning curve here, so don’t be discouraged if not all of your chicks survive the first few times you brood them. Even very experienced quail farmers often experience a first week mortality of 10-15%.
Quail do best at 95° F after hatch. For the first week, give them a brooder environment with a temperature range of 90-100° F from the front to the back of the brooder, so they can learn to regulate their body temperature in a relatively safe environment. After one week, gradually lower the temperature 5° F per week until the birds are fully feathered at 4 weeks of age. If you are just getting started, see our detailed blog about how to construct a simple tote brooder here.
From hatch to sexual maturity (6-8 weeks of age), Coturnix need a high quality game bird starter feed. We recommend a feed with 26-30% protein with no byproducts in the first three ingredients.
Once quail are fully feathered (4 weeks old), they are very hardy and can be kept in almost any environment between -20° to 120° F, although they are most productive at 65° F.
Birds can be kept either on the ground or on wire while they grow. We have used both methods but find that it is easier to manage the birds on the ground if you have space and a covered structure. Quail do not do well as free range birds, so unfortunately they must be contained either by a cage or pen at all times or they will run away.
If you decide to keep quail on the ground, make sure that you are vigilant about egg collection. Quail are ground birds and domesticated Coturnix have lost most of their mothering instincts. As a result they will lay eggs almost anywhere and will often destroy them afterward. Laying hens are normally kept in slanted wire cages with a roll-out gap at the front for the eggs. 14-16 gauge 1/2 x 1″ wire for the floor with a .75″/12″ slope for eggs to roll out works well.
Quail become sexually mature by 6-8 weeks of age. By this age, it is important to remove most of the males. Depending on the line, you will want 3-10 females for every male. Most jumbo lines do well with 3-4 females per male. Pharaoh or Brown males are easy to identify by their solid copper breast feathering, while the females remain speckled white and black. They can be accurately feather sexed as early as 3 weeks. Other common varieties such as Jumbo Whites must be vent sexed, and cannot be reliably sexed until 8 weeks. Of course if you hear a bird stand tall and crow, you can also identify males by sound.
Adult Coturnix should be fed a game bird ration, which is slightly higher in protein and certain essential nutrients than most chicken rations. We recommend 20-22% protein so that they can free-feed without becoming overweight. A common myth is that feeding the birds meal worms will make them healthier and make their eggs larger. While their eggs will become larger due to the high nutrient value of meal worms, it is not sustainable or healthy for the birds. Mealworms are approximately 50% protein, so Coturnix fed such a diet gain weight quickly, lose their ability to regulate their body temperature, prolapse at an extremely high rate, and have higher mortality rates due to heart and liver failure. For these reasons, we recommend only feeding meal worms or other treats in moderation, and never to an overweight bird.
Above all, quail need constant access to fresh food, clean water, shade or some form of shelter, and a stress free environment free from predators. Kept in such conditions they will remain productive for 1-2 years, and often live 4 years or more.