Just What Are Quail?
Quail is a collective name for several genera of mid-sized birds in the order of Galliformes. Old World Quail, or quail native to Europe and Asia are found in the family Phasianidea. And the New World Quail, or quail native to North and South America are found in the family Odontophoridea.
Quail are a small, short tailed game bird resembling partridges but are smaller and stockier. 130 species in all, 95 Old World and some 36 New World Quail. Quail have been kept in captivity for meat and eggs since the Egyptian times. In fact they even have their own hieroglyph! Japanese Quail or Coturnix Quail as they are also called were a very common bird to keep back in those days. As these quail migrated through out the area, the Egyptians found they were easy to catch. So it only made sense to keep them captive and breed them for their eggs and meat.
Why Keep Quail?
Quail are quickly becoming a common species of poultry in many back yards across the country and the world. They are mainly kept for meat or eggs but also as pets and the entertainment value of this fun little bird. They are easy to maintain, can be kept in smaller spaces than other larger poultry, they are quieter than other species of poultry and lets face it, they are just so darn cute!
But there are a few other reasons that make sense as to why you might like to keep this little bird:
1. Unlike Chickens or other poultry, for some reason Quail usually don't fall into that category of "Poultry" when it comes to city ordinances and laws. They just don't see them as "poultry". So more often than not, those of you that are not allowed to keep Chickens, Ducks or Geese in your town, city or HOA, you CAN keep Quail. Of course you will definitely want to contact your City Hall or HOA on all the laws and regulations on keeping quail in your area.
2. There are health benefits to keeping Quail as well. Especially the eggs. Quail eggs have been used for eons to treat various ailments in the human body such as Asthma, Coughs and Allergies. Many people are allergic to Chickens and their eggs. Chicken eggs can cause itching, nausea and even vomiting. Not so with quail eggs. They are not only allergy free but they help to fight allergy in your body due to a special protein they contain known as Ovomucoid. So those of you that are allergic to Chicken eggs, you will be able to eat Quail eggs. The eggs are also known to improve your memory, boost your immune system, they are rich in iron and contain so many more vitamins and minerals that aid in good health.
3. By raising your own quail for meat, you know what you are eating. No mystery meats there! Quail can dress up nicely for the table. A Jumbo Coturnix Quail can weigh in at nearly 14 ounces, and a Jumbo Georgia Giant Bobwhite can yield up to 16 ounces! While Bobwhites take much longer to grow won't be ready for butchering until 14 to 16 weeks of age or sexually mature until 6+ months of age, Coturnix Quail are fast growers and can be ready for the table at 6 to 8 weeks of age and laying by 9 weeks of age.
4. Quail are just fun little birds to keep as pets as well! While they may seem aloof at times and most of them do not like to be cuddled or held like many other species of poultry, Quail are smart birds and can learn their names, come when called, eat from your hands and can even be trained to do certain things. Give them a healthy diet, an environment conducive to good mental health, a clean area and you will have happy healthy quail no matter why you are keeping them.
Where to get baby Quail or Adult Quail
Unfortunately Quail are not as common as Chickens so you may have to do a bit of work to find them. Some feed stores like Tractor Supply will carry Quail chicks in the springtime. So it is best to call ahead and find out if your local feed store is going to carry them. Some feed stores will even special order them for you. Hatching eggs are available on line, however I do try to sway people from purchasing hatching eggs from unknown breeders. I have found that people selling on E-Bay or Craigslist can be selling eggs from Quail with a lot of genetic issues, deformities and the hatch rates on these eggs is very poor. So be aware if you turn to these sources, but sometimes there is no other place to go. We do have a Breeders Directory here on BYC of Quail breeders that you can work from. Most people do not ship adult Quail as they just do not do well being shipped. There is a member here on BYC... Robby at "James Marie Farms" that raises the finest Quail in the U.S. Many large hatcheries around the country also sell eggs and chicks, although they do have high quantity orders, many times 100+ chicks. You CAN purchase eggs in low quantities however. I have had great luck in the past with Murray McMurray hatching eggs. Had very good hatch rates as well. There are many Quail hatcheries around the country that sell quality eggs and chicks. I have never dealt with any of these hatcheries, but if you do your research you can find quality dealers. And don't forget the local Quail Farms. I got my start in Quail from a local guy and his Quail Farm.
Do you need a license to keep Quail? If you decide on keeping any of the New World Quail such as Bobwhites, Gambels, Blue Scale, Montezuma, California or Mountain Quail, yes you will need a license to keep them. If you choose to keep any of the Old World Quail such as Japanese Quail or Button Quail, no you do not need a license. The reason behind this is that here in the United States it is illegal for unlicensed citizens to harbor or keep any of our native species of birds. (This licensing may not apply to other countries so do your research) Should any of your pen raised Bobwhites escape and survive to breed with their wild cousins, (and this is highly unlikely since pen raised birds have bonded to humans and do not have the skills or instincts to survive) they could potentially endanger or wipe out entire colonies of these native birds with diseases or genetic issues they are not immune to. Our wild birds are already stressed and populations are shrinking due to human encroachment. So it is our duty as citizens of the U.S to protect our bird and animal species. You will need to contact your state Fish and Wildlife services on applying for a license. They will require you to fill out some forms as to how many birds you are keeping, why you are keeping them and how you are keeping them. There is a small fee as well. Some states will even do yearly inspections of your facilities and advise you on how to better keep them before reissuing your license that following year. So get your license! If someone reports you to the Fish and Wildlife services or they find out on their own, you could be fined heavily.
Quail can be such a fun little bird to keep. If you keep them properly, they can bring you years of enjoyment. Just remember, healthy happy quail start with good stock. This is an area you should never overlook and need to do your homework before you purchase eggs, chicks or adult birds. Genetic issues are very common in overly bred Quail from breeders that are not experienced enough. Obtain all birds or eggs from a good quality breeder or hatchery. The average lifespan of captive kept Quail is 2 to 5 years, depending on their health, their environment and how they are kept. However they have been known to live 7 to 8 years. Quail are seasonal layers which means they lay during their natural breeding season of spring through fall. The average healthy hen will lay about 100 eggs during this time. You can use "force laying" during these off seasons with extra lighting, however you will be shortening their lives and cause more stress to the hens physically.
Another thing to take into consideration is that Quail have lost that instinct to brood their own eggs. It can and does happen occasionally, but generally brooding has been bred out of them. Since they will not set long enough to hatch a clutch of eggs, you will need an incubator.
So consider raising some Quail! And feel free to stop by our Quail section here on BYC as well for lots more information and sharing pictures and stories about your quail and their adventures!
Links to obtaining Quail:
Link to Fish and Wildlife Services by State:
Feel free to stop by our Quail section here on BYC as well: