Originally Posted by cjm10
I will be purchasing some quail next week. This will be a first for me so I've been doing a ton of research over the last several weeks. But I still have a few questions...
I plan on raising the quail for meat AND eggs to eat and hatch. I have a good grasp on the ratio for breeding purposes. Should I have 3-4 different sections parted off in my pen? For example: One breeding cage, one cage for unfertilized eggs to eat, one cage for meat birds, and one cage for the newbies when they are old enough to come outside.
Thanks for the help.
The following is based on you getting coturnix quail. If you want meat from them too, you'll probably want to breed the biggest birds you can, so you'll want to group the biggest hens with the biggest cock. Incubating and brooding your birds will take up space and time, so you may want to raise your meat birds in batches. Two people eating quail once a week would probably be good with 2 quail each, or 4 per week. That's 200 quail a year for your meat. You can save eggs for 7-10 days before incubating, but 7 would probably be safer. If it takes you a week to collect eggs, 2-1/2 weeks to incubate and 8 weeks to raise them, you could do a complete batch in 12 weeks, so 4 a year. You can compress that by collecting your next batch of eggs when the first batch goes into the brooder so that you're hatching about every 4-5 weeks so you can get your 4 batches in during the better weather. You can do 4 batches of 50 chicks, but you'll need to set more eggs than that. Incubating them isn't hard and, if you've got your own birds and cage them for good fertility, you can get a 90% success rate. If you aim for a 75% hatch rate and account for losing a few, you can set 72 eggs and hatch 54. You should be able to do better than that, but it's a good place to start if you haven't hatched and brooded birds before. 72 eggs/7 days gives you just over 10 eggs a day to collect. I'd probably go with 12 hens as they won't always lay an egg a day.
If you have a 2'x2'x12" cage, you can keep 3-4 females and a male. If you have a 2x3x12" cage you can keep 5-6 females and a male. I use 2x2 cages because I'm making them out of 1/2" hardware cloth, so any larger and they sag. I prefer to keep 3 females and a male in a 2x2 but I could see going with 6 females and a male in a 2x3, so that gives you 4 2x2 cages with a 3:1 ratio or 2 2x3 cages with a 6:1 ratio. A 6:1 ratio is pushing it for fertility, but you're also planning for a 75% hatch rate and you should do better than that. In the end, it all comes down to what fits for you. If you have tonnes of space and a large budget, you can build larger pens instead of cages, but I'd still segregate based on your best birds for hatching so you can control your quality.
You'll then need a brooder that can handle 60-65 chicks. You'll want about 8 square feet to start them in and 12-15 square feet would be better if you want to brood them to 4 weeks. I don't know where you live (it's handy to put that in your profile), but you can push them to feather out by 3 weeks which helps if you've got a smaller brooder. I'm in Canada and that's what I'm doing. At 3-4 weeks you can put them in cages or pens to finish growing out. This is where you can go with 1 big cage or pen. Some people will disagree, but you can raise 60-70 quail in a 3x5 pen. They won't be full size, so they'll have a good amount of room and, if it starts getting crowded in there at 6-7 weeks, you can start culling. It's actually more economical to cull the smallest first. They aren't as efficient as the bigger birds, so they won't put on as much weight as the bigger birds will in the last 2 weeks. I've seen 120 quail raised in a 4x8 pen to 8 weeks and they were happy.
Those numbers should give you a good place to start and you can adjust your numbers based on your needs. I personally wouldn't brood fewer than 30 birds at a time in a production system. With the above, you'll save eggs for 4 weeks of the year, giving you 10ish eggs a day for the other 48 weeks. That's about 2 chicken eggs worth. Quail eggs are the best eggs I've ever had, so you may want to keep some more hens just for laying if you want more than that. They can be kept in a larger group in a larger pen. Keep your biggest birds, male and female, for your fertilized eggs (though there's not much reason to keep a big hen if she doesn't lay 6-7 eggs a week) and your next biggest hens that lay well for any additional eggs. You can quickly increase the quail size by rigorously selecting for size. To start with 12 hens and 4 males, you should hatch out 160 and keep the best 10% for your breeding, but that's a lot of quail to start with. If you're not that committed you can hatch out 50 to start and keep the best 25%. If you can buy adult birds, you're far better off to do your research and pay more for big birds that lay well, though most quail lay well.
You'll never be able to tell if an egg is fertilized or not just by eating it. Pretty much every farm egg sold around here is fertilized as they all keep roos. You can tell if you crack it and look at the white spot for a bullseye. There are posts on this site with pictures to show you what to look for, but there really is no practical difference. Sorry for the essay, but I hope it helps. Good luck.
edit: I forgot to mention that, in for a penny, in for a pound. If you're keeping 16ish birds or more for hatching and eating eggs, even if that's enough for you, you might as well keep a few more layers to sell the eggs. A hen should lay 28 eggs a month and eat about 2 lbs of food. If you can sell the eggs for $3/doz and feed costs you $20/50lb, it'll cost you about $1 for every 2-1/2 dozen eggs you get, so you'll be able to make roughly $6.50 per hen per month. That would pay for the feed for 6 more birds, so if you keep 6 extra hens, it'll pay for your 16 breeding stock birds and probably all the feed for the meat birds you raise. No, I don't have an addiction...
Edited by Em Ty - 3/4/16 at 8:24am