Yes, I did it. I ate two of my quail. I’ll tell you that story in a bit; first I want to share some questions I received. Amber writes:
I wanted to tell you that reading about your success with raising quail on the ground in a natural environment has given me so much hope to do the same! I was wondering if you would be willing give me the approximate dimensions of both quail coops and any advice on things you would change or keep the same? Also, how do you clean them? Thank you!
Instead of answering her privately, I decided to turn this into a blog post, because those are some great questions! (And I’m also thrilled that she is considering raising quail outside of those small wire cages that so many people use.)
If you haven’t been following my blog, or missed the posts about the quail coops, you can see pictures of how they look, here.
The dimensions of my largest coop (the one with the roof garden) is about 8ft long, by 3ft wide, by 5ft tall. This is way overkill for what the quail need. I built it with the idea that if I didn’t like keeping quail, it would be suitable housing for something else. Serama chickens, perhaps, who would actually use that height!
The smaller coop is 6ft long, by 2ft wide, by 2ft high. This is a perfect size, I’m finding, for up to four quail. I have three in it right now, a male and two females. They have plenty of room to jump and scratch around in. The top-lifting door is working perfectly, as well. My quail aren’t frightened of me (I’m the Bringer of All Good Things, after all) so they just look quietly up at me when I open the top. They *are* afraid of the Wide World, and thus don’t want to attempt to escape. The only reason they would try to fly out, is if something startled them so severely that they just flew without thinking about what they were doing. I’ve only had one escape me, and that was when I was trying to put her in the cage for the first time. She didn’t try to fly away, even then, just scuttled off under some leaves. With her coloring, it was literally as though she’d disappeared! I had to not move for fear of stepping on her; I just knelt carefully down and searched the ground until I finally picked her out. And then she just let me pick her up.
I’m going to be building another cage for Loki the quail and his future wives, and it’s going to be very close in design to the smaller cage. Just a little prettier, since I’m making it a focal point of my garden.
The cages have a dirt floor, with wire dug underneath for security against predators. I put a very light layer of shavings on top, and when it starts to look dirty, I take a trowel and turn the shavings layer under into the dirt. Then I add more shavings on top. It’s almost like the quail are toilet-trained – although they run all over the cage, there are definite corners that they tend to hang out in, and poop in, the most. I turn those corners over more frequently than the rest of the cage – maybe every week or so. The shavings and poop compost down, and I’m getting some really nice soil in those cages! At some point, I’ll scoop a bunch of it out to put on my garden, and give the quail new dirt to improve for me! This troweling also loosens the dirt, which lets the quail have dust baths. I need to figure out a tray or box that I can make a proper dirt bath in for them…although the jury is out on whether they will use it. Quail definitely have minds of their own.
One thing I would change in the smaller coop is the nest box. I’m still figuring out what quail like in their nest box. They would prefer no nest boxes at all, I think, and just a lot of tall grass and brush to hide under, but right now I’m still figuring out what varieties of grass will grow well in their coops, so they have very little grass. This summer, I’m going to try to remedy that situation. I also like them to have nest boxes, because it gives them a place where they can go to get warmer in winter, or to give them added protection against wind and rain…but so often I go out in nasty weather, and they are choosing to sit in the most unprotected part of the coop! It hasn’t seemed to harm them any, though – they are plump and healthy. Mama quail did use the next box to hatch her eggs in, so that was a win for me and my nest boxes.
One thing I wouldn’t try to do again is keep more than one male together in a coop. It didn’t work. In my quail-partner’s coop, there were a couple of terrible injuries, and I took warning and separated my males before they had more than mild squabbles. Young ones can be kept together, but once they hit puberty, watch out! They become fierce little warriors, perfectly capable of pecking another quail’s head half off.
I also plan to start giving them more seed for food, rather than packaged Game Bird crumbles. I’m not a fan of soy, for one thing, and for another, the quail LOVE seed. They come running over when I go out to the coop in the mornings, because they know I will scatter seed for them. I also need to figure out how to grow more greens for them. They liked sprouted alfalfa, and they love chickweed. They are peculiar birds, though. If I pick a few leaves from something they should like, they stomp all over it, rather than eat it. If I “plant” the leaves, they’ll cluster around it and eat. I’m thinking of growing some sort of plant in little trays that I could put out for them, but that is still in the works. Right now I am just troweling up any likely chickweed I see and transplanting it into their coop.
They are really quite easy to care for, and will be even more so, once I get Loki into a coop of his own, and figure out the nest box/greens/grass situation. I love how, when I go out in the morning to give them fresh water and seed, they look at me, fluff their wings, then start “popcorning” This is a thing quail do when they are happy – they make these small jumps into the air. It’s called that because when you have a whole bunch of babies doing it at the same time, it’s like popcorn popping! I didn’t think they would continue to do it when they were grown up, but mine do. It’s sweet.
And that’s all I can think of. If anyone has any more questions about keeping quail, be sure to ask.
So…I can’t keep more than one male per cage, but in Mama quail had two boys hatch from her clutch. I can’t keep them in the coop, or they’ll end up getting killed, or killing my other male. So I did what you do with extra males. I ate them.
I was not prepared to do the actual kill myself, so my quail-partner Laura came over this morning and did the deed while I watched. She used the kitchen shears method, which I consider the most humane. If you want to know how, you can watch this instructional video.
It was very quick and easy, and next time, I believe I could do it myself. I feel very strongly that if I’m going to eat meat, it’s far better to raise an animal myself, know that it is both properly cared for and not polluted with chemicals or disease, and then dispatch it as humanely as possible. Unlike the meat you buy in the supermarket, which has probably been pumped full of all sorts of artificial hormones, antibiotics, and other pollutants, as well as tortured its entire short life. Disturbing as it was to see an animal I’d raised from an egg suddenly become a piece of meat, it felt right as well.
After they were dead, Laura demonstrated how to skin and gut one of the quail, then I did the second myself. It was surprisingly easy; it only took a few minutes, and then I had a couple of plump miniature “chickens”.
Unlike chickens, quail are all dark meat, though – which is excellent.
I saved the wings, and am attempting to preserve them by covering them in Borax. The internet taxidermy folks says it works. I like the idea of using as much of the bird as I can, so if it does, these wings will someday be used on a hat or something.
And after marinating them in a pomegranate sauce, I roasted the quail and mom and I had them for dinner. They tasted….not like chicken. I wouldn’t describe it as a ‘gamey’ flavor, but it was distinctive. But good. Not so good that I’m going to run out and start slaughtering all my quail, but next time I end up with excess males, I definitely will enjoy eating them.