Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Raising Quail: Protein from Small Spaces

Japanese Quail or Coturnix japonica. In today’s grow your own food urban agriculture movement, the lack of space in urban areas can be a big challenge. As an alternative to backyard chickens, you might consider quail which are smaller, inexpensive to keep, and are proportionately better egg layers than chickens. In sum, you can get more protein from a smaller space.

The Coturnix is a migratory bird from Eastern Asia which lives in grasslands and farm fields. Domestication abroad was begun in the 12th century and they were brought to the U.S. in 1870. There are many varieties and these varieties and their eggs are what we find in today’s restaurants.

The Coturnix hen starts laying eggs at about 35-50 days of age, and lays approximately 200-300 eggs in the first year. Eggs weigh about ten grams, or 8% of the quail hens body weight. The egg taste is the same as chicken eggs, as is the nutritional value. Whereas chickens require three pounds of feed to produce one pound of eggs, these quail require two pounds of feed for one pound of eggs. Five of these quail eggs are equivalent to one chicken egg in size.

The requirements for keeping these birds is simple. One can use a backyard rabbit hutch or aviary, allowing about one square foot of space per bird. Food would include seed, millet spray, meal worms, salad and other greens. Adults eat 14-18 grams of food per day. In winter, a 40 watt light bulb will keep hens laying eggs and help provide warmth. If possible, the cage might be moved inside a garage for winter protection.

Since these birds have pleasant sounds and do not crow this also makes their suitability for small urban spaces more appealing than chickens. Their life expectancy is two years or longer.

If you want to raise Japanese Quail, the egg incubation period is 17–18 days, and small pair-cages are ideal for housing. An incubator will be necessary, as the hens aren’t good brooders in captivity.


Note that this post first appeared on my former site, Big Picture Agriculture, on November 6, 2010.--k.m.


  1. I like the idea of the high return on some smaller animals that don't need as much feed-- quail, rabbits, etc.

    What I don't like is the factory-farm philosophy. I thought the whole idea of raising your own food was to do it in a healthier manner than big-ag, not to imitate big-ag on a small scale. The article says you can keep them in a tiny wire-floored cage-- one square foot per bird. (This is similar to the way rabbits are often raised.) Please, no. If people were to see zoo animals confined in such tiny spaces, on a wire floor, they would protest, so how/why would you do that to your own animals that you will consume?

    I think any farm animal-- bird, mammal, fish-- needs to be treated in a way that addresses all their needs. Shelter, food, water, but also psychological health which means space to move around, privacy from other animals when they want it, the ability to keep themselves clean (in the quails' case probably dust baths), and an environment that offers some mental stimulation to prevent boredom. Quail probably are on the order of chickens so they wouldn't need a whole lot, I'd guess: dirt to scratch in, some sprouts to peck, perches to jump on and off or maybe a little tall grass to hide in since it says quail come from grasslands, the dust bath mentioned above. More than one square foot per bird but not a whole lot more.

    Sorry to be negative about this. Those tiny chicken pens (chicken tractors) also bother me. :-)


    1. If you've seen a covey of quail, you know they are quite small and huddle together, so I don't really think this space requirement of 1 sq.ft. per bird is too bad though I wish they would be turned loose occasionally or daily. For some, keeping they may not be a hobby, it may be the source of protein for their family.