Housing Your Quail
(This section pertains to all Quail except Button Quail which I will cover later.)
Your Quail will need to be kept safe, secure and dry at all times. You can keep them in cages, pens, Rabbit Hutches or even aviary style. You can even keep them in small Chicken coops with an attached run. But no matter how you keep them, put a lot of thought into keeping them secure from predators. The very day you put your Quail out into their new home, predators are going to smell your birds from miles away, I kid you not. You will be drawing in predators from the next county over! Well, maybe not that far, however somewhere back in these predators ancient memories they have eaten wild Quail at some point and will come snooping around for a meal day and night. So don't set up an "all you can eat Quail Buffet" in your backyard. Build it safe and securely. Build, rebuild and over build your facilities. Think like a predator and build it sturdy and safe.
There are battery type Quail cages you can order on line or even build cages yourself. I am a big fan of Rabbit Hutches and Aviaries. I like to give Quail a more natural environment and offer them as much room as possible. The New World Quail being as hyper and skittish as they are will do much better in aviary style set ups. Because they are kept in pairs during the breeding season, I find that using those extra large dog crates make excellent cages for the pairs and do fit nicely in a large aviary. If you only have a couple pairs and a very large aviary, you can sometimes get away with keeping the two pairs together as long as you give them plenty of brush piles to hide from each other and do their breeding thing. They also love to fly and become quite flight conditioned on their own. Just make sure to never use chicken wire on anything. Ever. It can be chewed apart, torn, Hawks or Owls can dive through it, paws can reach right through the large holes. You also want to keep out rats, mice, snakes, weasels and other unwanted critters. Hardware cloth is the only way to go. You can use 1/4 or 1/2 inch, either one will work fine. If you use a Rabbit Hutch, many of them come with 1 by 1 inch or so wire on the sides and front. If you are keeping your hutch outside, you will need to cover this wire with hardware cloth. Some people keep their Quail secure areas such as a shed or an enclosed porch, in which case the wire on the Hutch will work as is as long as these areas are safe from the critters.
(Bobwhite hen in a Rabbit Hutch)
If your pen or Rabbit Hutch has a wire bottom, you WILL need a catch pan or some sort of barrier so that critters can not reach up and grab the Quail toes that might be hanging out. This will happen at night. Coons or Skunks can grab entire toes or feet and rip them off. So keep something as a barrier beneath the floor of the wire. Also, you do not want poop falling out and piling up beneath your pens or cages as this will only attract predators from the smell. Flies too. Many Hutches have catch pans built in. Make sure nothing can pull this tray out at night, so put a locking system on the tray.
Some people keep their Quail in pens or cages on wire. If you keep them in cages and pens, give them some place to get off of the wire occasionally as wire is very hard on their tiny feet. Put in a piece of plywood in the back corner to rest their feet. Keep the wire very clean. Built up poop will harden, can puncture their tiny pads and cause bumblefoot. Caged birds on wire are susceptible to Bumblefoot and unlike Chickens pads that are large enough to do surgery on, you can't really do surgery well on tiny Quail pads. So keep it very clean, if that means cleaning the wire daily, and give them a place to get off the wire.
Whether you keep them in pens, hutches or aviary style, you can use bedding. I prefer bedding so that the birds can snuggle in deeply on cold winters nights, they can use the hay to make nests and it helps to absorb poop and smells. Bedding makes for a sanitary, natural environment. You can use pine shavings, (never use cedar shavings, toxic to the lungs) grass hay, straw, or even sand will work, especially in aviary style set ups. Grass hay and straw tends to stay put better covering wire floors than pine shavings. You can also use a solid floor if you don't have wire and cover it with bedding. Just make sure the bedding is deep if your flooring is wood. Wet wood harbors bacteria and parasites. So keep it dry as clean as possible. Pine shavings, grass hay, straw or sand works well as litter on aviary floors.
Quail need to dust bathe daily to keep the mites away and the skin in good condition. If you keep your birds in a cage or hutch, you will need to put a low pan or low tray of sand or dirt in the corner. In aviaries you can devote a corner to the sand pile.
Quail don't use nest boxes like chickens, however some if given the opportunity, will use over turned buckets with a mouse hole cut into them, over turned flower pots with a mouse hole cut into them or even make a nest from grass hay. Most cage or pen kept quail will leave their eggs anywhere the hen happens to be when the egg is ready to lay if they have no bedding material in which to make nests.
Keeping it natural:
I like to add branches to all pens, cages, hutches and aviaries. Quail don't roost at night like chickens on a roost bar, however they do like to fly up to get a good look at their territory any time of day. Generally they all line up or get tail to tail in a circle to sleep. Brush piles really give quail a sense of security even in small cages. Using cover is very important if you keep Gambels or Bobwhites. Both of these breeds can be skittish and flush very easily boinking their heads on the ceiling breaking their necks. However branches added to cages and hutches gives them a sense of security and when the birds are frightened suddenly, instead of flushing up, they will seek shelter beneath branches. Quail are natural ground dwellers and in the wild are most often found hiding under brush piles and such. So give them a more natural environment and they will be much calmer. Especially these excitable breeds. And on this note, cages should have a ceiling of no more than a foot. Hutches are usually taller but if you put some cut branches in there for them, you can get away with a higher ceiling as they are not likely to flush up. Aviaries should have ceilings of 6+ feet, 7+ feet if you can afford it. You can always put in a false ceiling of some sort of netting so if they do flush up, the will hit the netting instead of the ceiling.
What ever type of housing you use for your birds, make SURE to stick to the proper square footage as per the different species requirements. NEVER cram your quail in. They can be very aggressive, cannibalistic and will kill each other if they feel cramped or frustrated. Lots of threads started all the time in our Quail Forums because people are cramming them in. So do not be tempted to keep more birds than you should in their allotted space requirement.
Food and Water:
I like to keep the feed and water dishes elevated a bit to keep any bedding or poop out of the food and water. You can use the standard poultry quart waterer and chick feeders for your Quail. You can put them up on over turned saucers or planter saucers. Anything will work. Some people use water nipples for their Quail which is a very sanitary way to water your quail. Parrot bowls that attach to the sides of cages work really well for oyster shell. If you keep your Quail in an aviary, you can use a low dish or just keep it in a specified corner. You will need to offer up your layers oyster shell when they are laying. This is VERY important for the hens to put a hard shell on their eggs and for the contractions to push that egg out. Quail are very susceptible to egg binding, especially young birds. So make SURE the hens have calcium. You can purchase crushed oyster shell on line, even cuttle bone that is sold in the parrot section for caged indoor birds will work. I use oyster shell for the automatic dispensers. It is chipped pretty small and I don't have to do anything to it. Most big feed stores, (not sure about TSC) sell this chipped up oyster shell for automatic dispensers. If you keep Chickens, both your Quail and your Chickens can eat this stuff. Make sure to change their water daily and scrub all feeders and waterers with a bleach solution at least once a week to help prevent disease in your Quail.
You will need to offer your Quail a shelter to get out of bad weather, such as rain, wind or snow. Quail are incredibly hardy and can survive brutally sub-zero temps as long as they can get out of the weather. If you keep your Quail in cages, you can either bring your birds into a shed or garage during the winter months or cover them completely with a heavy tarp during bad weather. Wind will suck the heat right out of your birds and kill them. They cannot tolerate being wet either. Make sure when you use a tarp there are still areas for air to escape so moisture does not build up from the pooping and breathing and fall back down on the birds as frost. Use bedding on all wire in areas that get below freezing. This cold wire will give them frostbite on their toes so bed it deep! If you are keeping them in an aviary style set up, you will need a roof to keep most of the moisture out. Quail get mud balls on their feet very easily. Wet environments grow bacteria and harbor parasites. If you can, tarp up the sides as well to keep the heaviest rains or the snow out. Dry, drier, driest!
If you keep them in a hutch style enclosure, make sure to use a tarp as well to cover all areas that wind, rain or snow can enter. If you keep your birds in an aviary, you will need to build them something to escape to, out of the aviary during these cold winter nights. A small elevated box/coop will work for them. One of my aviaries backs up a greenhouse where I cut a hole in the side of the greenhouse and inside through this hole is a rabbit hutch they use for bad weather.
What ever you use, get creative. Give it some windows for light and make sure it has four walls and a solid roof and ceiling so they can keep warm on those cold winter nights. Some nice soft bedding to snuggle down in as well. You may need to lock your birds in this enclosure for a few days and nights to get them secure with using it. They generally will not use something like this and will be afraid to use an enclosure unless they have been acclimated to it for a few days.
Closing Notes on Housing
You cannot free range Quail. Well, you can free range them once but you will never see them again! So don't even because of a Chicken's size and aggression level, they have been known to kill Quail. These diseases that Chickens carry and bio security will be covered in another article. So just be aware that you will need to keep these two species in their own quarters, a safe distance from each other.
Housing Button Quail
Since Button Quail or Chinese Painted Quail are originally from sub-tropical climates of S.E. China, these cute little birds do not tolerate cold areas well at all and do best at temps averaging around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. They are comfortable at temps up to 85 degrees and can tolerate temps as low as 45 degrees for short periods of time. So you will want to keep these little birds indoors at all times, especially if you live in a area of the world that sees climate extremes.
These tiny birds are kept in pairs only and do not do well in colony type settings. They will require at least 4 square feet for the pair. You can keep them in bird cages or even aquariums. Be careful with glass aquariums however as they can over heat very easily, build up moisture and can cause poor ventilation. If you go with a bird cage, make sure the bar spacing is less than a 1/2 inch as they have tiny heads and can get them stuck in the bars. The ceiling should be no higher than 14 inches. You can make a false ceiling with netting or something else to protect them from boinking their heads, but generally 12 to 14 inches does not give them enough room to fly fast and hard. Just be careful as they can boink hard enough to kill them.
You will want to keep them on a solid type floor or bedding. Button Quail's feet are tiny and delicate to withstand wire. Pine shavings, (never use cedar...toxic to the lungs) seem to work the best. Grass hay is ok but sometimes it can be difficult to walk through.
These tiny birds can be shy and enjoy having little hidy places in which to sneak around in and hide from all kinds of things they think are after them. Silk plants or some sort of fake foliage is nice to hide under, over turned ceramic jars with a space to sneak into will also work. Use your imagination and decorate a bit for them.
You will need low profile dishes for feed and watering. Chick waterers for poultry will work ok. Just make sure your birds can access the food and water.
The hens will require crushed oyster shell for laying those hard egg shells and contractions to push those eggs out. You can order crushed shell on line at some pet supply places that sell parrot goods. Drs Foster Smith sells crushed oyster shell for small caged birds.
Feeding Your Quail
All Quail require Gamebird Food. Do not be tempted to feed your Quail chicken feed. It is far to low in protein for Quail. Baby Quail require protein levels of 28% to grow properly. You can do them great damage if you feed babies low protein feed. (crush all feed for babies as long as it takes for them to grow large enough for them to eat the regular sized crumble in the bag) Full grown Quail prefer protein levels of 24% to 26%. This will give them the proper protein for good health and egg laying. During the off breeding season, you can feed your Quail 20% protein feed if you wish but you don't have to. If you are growing meat birds, you can continue to feed adult birds 28% or even 30% protein for fast growth. I do not recommend protein levels over 26% for the average kept Quail however as higher protein levels can cause egg binding to which young layers are highly susceptible. So once they are no longer babies, if these are not meat birds, lower the protein to 24% to 26%.
Some countries sell layer feed for Quail. The high calcium levels in layer can be hard on male Quail's kidneys, so just be aware of this. Crumbles only, no pelleted feeds. Pellets are too large for Quail to eat.
Never feed moldy, wet, old or buggy feed. When ever you open a bag of feed, give it a smell and a look see. If it doesn't look right and smells funky, take the bag back to the store for a refund. Feed that has gone bad can be toxic and kill your birds.
Quail love all kinds of other extras that you can feed to them as a treat! Food can be a wonderful bonding agent for you and your Quail. They can generally be a bit nervous, stand-offish and shy, so food is a wonderful way for you and your birds to bond and get to know each other. Once they see you coming with that goody bag, they will grow to be anxious to see you!
Quail enjoy nearly all the same types of foods that Chickens do, however you may need to chop some of these things up into smaller pieces so they are easier to eat:
Corn on the Cob
Peas in the Pod
Seeds: Millet or Millet Sprays, Hulled Sunflower Seed, Safflower Seed, Milo, Cracked Corn and other tiny seeds
Hard Boiled Eggs
Greens of all kinds
These are just to name a few. I will leave you with the list of other treats from our Learning Center, Chicken Treats. Treats should only compromise about 10% of the daily intake, so be careful with quail since they eat so little to begin with and need to eat their Quail food for good health.
Never feed them anything salty or spicy, no avocado, no raw potatoes, chocolate or alcohol.
Not to be confused with oyster shell, which should never be fed as grit, grit is needed to help the gizzard grind up all foods that are not water soluble. If you feed ONLY game bird food, no grit is ever needed. However if you feed them anything else, things that do not dissolve on their own with water, your birds will need grit. You can use parakeet grit you buy in the parrot section of the pet store, sand will work and even dirt from the yard. This can also double as your dust bathing material as well. If it contains some tiny course stones, the gizzard will use it to grind up all stiff foods. You can use a hanging feeder for grit like the kinds used in parrot cages or let them get their stones and sand from their dust bathing area.
For more information on keeping quail, see the following articles:
Link to our Chicken Treats Chart which also pertains to Quail:
For more help with your Quail, telling stories or sharing pictures, please see our Quail Section: