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.