Are Quail the New Chicken?

Coturnix quail can be raised easily as a replacement for chicken in suburban areas.

The Grocery Store Only Offers Quail

How many times have you said “the quail meat section in our local grocery story is too large”? Are you like so many others who are frustrated with how much space on your favorite restaurant’s menu is taken up by quail dishes, leaving no room for others? The beef, pork, and chicken sections have dwindled down to nearly nothing and it’s been replaced with quail. Holiday gatherings get so monotonous when your co-workers only bring quail dishes to the pot luck and never pork, beef, or chicken.

Quail are MIA

Ok, if you live in the US, absolutely none of those things above are ever true. In 99% of the grocery stores across America, you won’t find one solitary quail. In some specialty, ethnic, or “whole” food grocery stores you may find quail eggs but usually not the actual birds. You can definitely order them online from wild game distributors, but that’s a hassle and it’s ridiculously priced.

When things aren’t sold in stores, many people assume that’s because it’s not a quality food source. Tell me that with a straight face next time you pick up that bag of chocolate wafer cookies with the cream inside that’s one molecule away from being plastic. The same could be said for that industrially processed chicken that, on average, has 7 baths in chlorine bleach before being packaged due to bacteria contamination.

What is sold in grocery stores in the US has absolutely nothing to do with what’s good for you and has everything to do with what’s socially acceptable and easy to mass produce. That’s the same reason that rabbits are only slightly more ubiquitous than quail. On average, both are better for you than virtually any other meat you’d find in the isle of your favorite store, so why are they missing?

Nutrition Facts Don’t Lie

Both Mark Twain and Benjamin Disraeli have been attributed with saying “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics”, but since we only have facts and statistics to go on here… we’ll proceed with some stats.

The facts about quail are fairly compelling (as cited from the Self Sufficient Me website):

  • Quail meat has 4 times more vitamin C than chicken meat
  • Quail meat has over 3 times more iron than chicken meat and an incredibly 4% more iron than beef sirloin!
  • Quail meat has vitamin A whereas chicken meat has none.
  • Quail meat rates significantly higher in minerals and amino acids than chicken meat.

The author of the article, Mark Valencia, goes on to note that quail is also considered a “complete” food and has the ability to fill you up more based on a similar serving size of chicken. So even though quail are considerably smaller than chickens, they fill you up more. Both are birds are considered “white” meat and quail is universally regarded as being more savory and flavorful. Quail is also more tender than chicken and is quickly cooked on the grill or roasted.

So based on these facts and statistics, people should be clamoring for quail. So why aren’t they?

Quail are Becoming More Common on Homesteads

Volume Processing Matters

In certain European, Asian, and Latin American countries, consuming quail and their eggs is quite common, it’s just never caught on in the US. That is at least partially due to the cost of processing such a small bird. The average dressed broiler chicken in the US was 6.5 lbs. in 2021 compared to the average Jumbo Coturnix quail that comes in closer to 12-14 ounces.

Given that there are 16 ounces in a pound (for anyone on the metric system), that means that the chickens are over six times larger than a quail. Most of the chickens sold in the US are process in automated factories and not by humans, and those companies are all about scale. It takes six times less chickens to achieve the same amount of processed meat, so these factories can make bigger margins on chickens.

So in a nutshell, that’s why you don’t find quail available in most places.  The factories aren’t designed to handle the small birds and the industrial processors don’t see value in retrofitting their factories until the profit justifies it.

Homestead Processing is Different

On homesteads animals are typically processed manually, like it was done years ago.  In almost all cases, this is a safer and more hygienic process that is less prone to food borne contamination than in industrial facilities. That is because animals are dispatched humanely and processed in small groups on homesteads where equipment is cleaned regularly. 

As we have mentioned, chickens processed in large factory settings often receive 7 or more baths in chlorine bleach solutions due to bacterial loads in chilling tanks and equipment.  None of this is necessary on homesteads because they are smaller scale and more sanitary.

Quail are a fantastic fit in this small-scale homesteading model because they are small and do not require material investments in equipment to begin raising or processing.  To lift a steer for processing, you must have a tractor or some heavy-duty infrastructure.  Even with intensively managed pasture, you would also need at least a few acres of pasture to raise things like beef or pork. 

It is the exact opposite for quail because they are so small.  You can use a stationary cage/coop or you can follow our model and raise the quail in movable tractors.  This gives the quail a new green carpet each day to graze, scratch, and just be birds.  It also keeps their waste at a minimal and just as importantly “smell free” level.  It keeps them safe from predators while also keeping them confined.  Quail are game birds, so they will NOT come back to roost at night like chickens.

When it comes to processing, it can be done by hand or with the use of some different feather pluckers that are available on the market.  There are some that are manual and some that you simply toss the bird into and it plucks the feathers as it spins.  No matter what method, the birds are easily processed in a few hours in your backyard.  Any waste can be composted or fed to the chickens as a protein source, just like birds would find in a wild setting.

If you’d like to take the next step to see a low tech approach to dispatching and processing quail on your homestead, you can check out our video on it below. Just understand that it is a processing video for educational purposes.

Are Quail Right For You?

Quail can be a fantastic addition to your homestead, especially if it is on the smaller scale.  In addition to providing food for your family, they can also be raised for hunting preserves or hunting dog training facilities as a revenue generator.  Even local pet stores and other creative locations are often look to buy smaller birds like quail as food for snakes or eggs for large lizards.  The reality is that quail are food for a lot of animals out there in the wild.

Some states also allow for custom processing of quail or rabbits as exemptions under certain volumes.  Check your state regulations, but there is a good chance there is an opening for those entrepreneurial minds out there.  In some states, the birds and rabbits must be sold on farm for the exemption to be used.  This is where it gets a bit arbitrary.  In some cases, farmers can sell directly to the public from the farm, but if they were to deliver the birds to a person or restaurant, that would violate the rules.  Same bird, same processing, same buyer… but the where it is bought matters.  This is why it is so critical that you do your homework and understand what’s required in your state.

Egg sales are another great option for making revenue from quail.  Because they are less common, unfertilized quail eggs often sell at a premium compared to commonly available chicken eggs.  Although, the chicken egg shortages are causing massive price spikes, quail eggs continue to be a niche industry.  Depending on where you are located, there are many different countries and ethnicities where quail eggs are commonly eaten.  In some Asian and Central American countries, quail eggs are a delicacy that are used in specific dishes.  These can lead to great opportunities to sell if you can tap into those communities.  Again, do your research to determine what your local requirements are and what you’d need to do to sell eggs where you live.

What Does It Take to Raise Quail?

As it turns out, not much.  If you’re going to raise the birds for your own family’s consumption, the list of things needed is very manageable.  Typically, you will be buying eggs to hatch, as day old quail chicks are less common than chickens, so you will need an incubator of some type.  Once hatched, you will then need a brooder space, heater, feeder, and waterer.  If the list seems daunting, don’t worry, we have you covered.  We have linked to a list of all our tried and true favorite products to help you get started to help take some of the guesswork out. (affiliate disclosure here)   

Once you have the chicks hatched and doing well, you’ll need to determine if you want to have the chicks on pasture, in a hutch, or some combination.  If you are interested in a fairly cheap DIY hutch construction, you can check out how we built the one we use below.  We use this DIY hutch during the winter for our breeding stock when our Midwest winters would be too harsh for the quail in our tractors. 

Let’s Talk About Feed

The final thing that you would need to consider is feed.  We HIGHLY recommend that you find a local feed mill to buy from instead of using one of the big box providers like TSC.  There has been a lot of reports of alleged issues with Tractor Supply chicken feed, so that’s one reason to avoid it.  Secondly, we really believe in keeping the dollars local if we can.  Also, when you use a local feed mill, they will often tailor the mix to the nutritional needs of your birds.  That is worth a lot right there since you will know exactly what’s going in the feed.

Just like chickens, quail can also consume a significant amount of their daily ration as forage.  We’ve found that our quail can forage 30-40% of what they eat each day if they have access to grasses, seeds, and clover.  Just like chickens, quail will consume significant amounts of green material and it is healthier for them, their eggs, and you. 

As we mentioned previously, quail are NOT like chickens when it comes to roosting.  I am sure someone has a one in a million example, but as a rule, quail do not come home to roost.  If a quail gets out of their enclosure… they will be gone and never come back.  The fox will have an excellent meal that night unfortunately.  They still have far more “wild” instincts than a chicken does in that sense and are just higher strung.  For this reason, we strongly prefer quail tractors.

What Is A Quail Tractor

Pastured poultry like Joel Salatin produces, introduced the world to the chicken tractor.  It is quite the ingenious little contraption really.  There are many variations, but it is essentially a large wooden rectangle frame covered in chicken wire or hardware cloth.  It has a lightweight roof to protect the birds from the weather and most of all, it’s mobile using “people power”. 

To be effective, the tractor must be movable by a single person at least daily and also protect the birds.  The biggest feature of the tractor is that it should allow the birds to easily and freely graze the grass, bugs, and seeds available.  To do this, the floor does not have wire or anything else that would prevent the birds from scratching.

What Are The Benefits Of A Tractor

We could spend an entire article espousing the benefits of tractors, but essentially, it’s a way to allow the birds to graze and self-serve while being protected.  We took the idea of the chicken tractor and miniaturized it for quail.  Quail are different from chickens in the fact that they CAN and WILL fly away at a moments notice.  As we mentioned before, they are easily startled and because of this their tractor needs to be either about 1 foot tall or about 6 feet tall.  Anything in between and you run the risk of the birds getting startled and “flushing” only to hit their head on the roof and break their necks.  To prevent this, the tractor needs to either be low enough that the birds can’t get airborne (1 foot high) or tall enough to give them time to slow some from the initial explosive jump (6 feet).

The benefits of the process are exactly the same as they are for the chickens.  We built our quail tractors to be about 4 feet wide by 6 feet long.  That is 24 square feet and we will keep about 40 birds in there.  Now if you are doing math in your head right now, that means each bird has a little over a half foot of space.  Initially that may not seem like much, but you must consider a few things. 

First, these birds naturally want to huddle together in coveys.  In nature, they would pack together closely for safety, so they will do the same in the tractor.  Secondly, the birds are much smaller than chickens, about six times smaller like we mentioned above.  So the space needed is much smaller.  Finally, you need to factor in the daily movement.  That means that each bird is getting a half foot a day of new pasture.  When you multiply that over the 5-10 weeks they are on pasture, that’s a lot of space per bird to graze and just be a quail.  

One word of caution when using a quail tractor. Be aware of predators in your area and the concentration where you are. Animals like minks or weasels are small enough that they can squeeze into very small openings and gaps on uneven ground and dig fairly well. While they may be less inclined to take on a whole flock of chickens in a tractor, quail are a much smaller and reasonable target for them. If you have those specific predators, you may need to take additional precautions like wire skirting for your tractor.

Perfect for Suburbia

Quail and rabbits are very quiet, I mean really quiet. Coincidentally, if you want to see more about why we think rabbits are better than chickens, you can check out our prior post about it.  When people think of chickens, they almost always think of a rooster crowing at the crack of dawn.  Unfortunately, that is pretty close to reality. You can hear many roosters crowing from up to a mile away.  That’s great if you love that sound, not so great if your neighbor works the night shift and is trying to sleep during the day in your subdivision. 

This is another reason why quail are perfect for backyard homesteaders.  The quail hens make no noise, unlike chicken hens which have an egg song that can rival some roosters.  Also, a quail rooster has a crow that can easily be confused by 95% of your neighbors as a wild bird sound.

Many subdivisions and HOAs often have rules about keeping chickens and even more frequently about keeping roosters, but very few call out quail.  We are not telling you to go violate your HOA covenant, but investigate it.  Because you can keep quail roosters and hens relatively quietly, your flock can be self-sustaining with fertilized eggs that you continuously hatch out and replenish your flock with as you process order birds.

Finally, quail can be kept in a garage if necessary (not optimal) which isn’t possible with chickens given their size.  This opens a lot of places to keeping quail that just couldn’t be done with chickens.  It also allows you to keep prying neighbor eyes off your birds and reduces the chances of complaints to the HOA Board.      

Final Verdict

We hope that you’ll take a second look at quail to decide if they are right for your backyard homestead.  For all the reasons we’ve mentioned, quail really should be considered as a potential alternative for chickens, especially in spaces where chickens are not allowed or aren’t feasible.  The birds are small and manageable and have superior nutrient profiles to chickens. Not to mention, they taste great.  At a bare minimum, quail may be an additional meat source for your homestead and could also be a money-making opportunity as well.  We believe there’s a compelling case to consider quail as “the new chicken”.

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