Domestic Ducks


Guinea Fowl

Ornamental Waterfowl






Quail are attractive, small, generally ground-dwelling, secretive birds which fly well. Worldwide, there are at least 44 known different species inhabiting different environments from mountains to deserts to tropical jungle and therefore, if kept in captivity, have varying husbandry needs depending on their origin – the desert species are particularly susceptible to pneumonia in our damp UK climate, for instance. Some of the species are endangered and need a special licence to keep them in this country. Quail belong to the Galliform family which includes pheasants and chickens but do not take kindly to being handled as this can make their stress levels too high and can affect their health. Some species are hardier than others – the mountain species of course can withstand colder temperatures than the tropical jungle species.

Japanese laying quail

The size range of quail is from the smallest, Chinese Painted Quail at 10.2 cm (4 ½ ”) long to the long tailed Tree Quail at 33 cm (13 ½ ”) long. Chinese Painted are often kept in aviaries with other seed-eating birds to help clear up spilt or dropped seed. One of the advantages of these small birds is that an aviary does not have to be enormous to contain them, although a roof is a necessity, so a small garden or back yard should be plenty of room. One word of warning – some of the above “ornamental” quail (that is, not domesticated, despite being kept in captivity) have a loud perpetual call, particularly in the breeding season, and neighbours could be upset by this.

Ornamental quail should either be kept on small mesh wire netting, to separate them from their droppings, or on sand which is raked every day to remove the droppings. The best environment for them is a planted aviary (with a sand floor to avoid the parasites present in most soil) with a shelter, both for warmth and privacy. They must be fed and watered daily and this gives an opportunity to monitor their general alertness. Quail are a prey species, so hide their symptoms if feeling unwell. If a quail looks depressed, then it is very sick indeed and will need immediate veterinary attention. It is recommended to worm them twice yearly, outside the breeding season, with the licensed wormer which goes in the feed. Normal feed is a basic diet of chick crumbs plus some millet and if possible, live food, whether shaken off a bunch of nettles in to the aviary or purchased mealworms which come in different sizes.

It is important for the welfare of the birds to make sure that vermin such as mice (disease carriers) are excluded from any aviary – the wire mesh needs to be very small (<1.25cm or ½”) to prevent this and also to prevent any young quail escaping since they are tiny when hatched. Most ornamental quail will make a nest and hatch and rear their own young, so suitably small feed needs to be provided for them.

Quail egg production
However, you may well have seen the attractively mottled quail eggs in shops and pubs and these come from the Japanese quail (Coturnix coturnix) which has been domesticated for hundreds of years. These quail are not kept outdoors either as they also are very susceptible to damp conditions and get pneumonia easily, but in warm and dry weather appreciate some time on short grass, contained in a run otherwise they will fly away! The smaller chicken arks are useful here. Handle quail by either catching in a small soft net or drive into a corner. Remember, they fly well, so close off any escape routes. Once in the net, hold the bird around the body with both hands to contain the wings, remembering not to squeeze as squeezing can compromise the breathing.

For egg production, Coturnix quail are kept either on shavings or on wire in cages. They scratch the ground a lot, so if on shavings, the drinker either needs to be the nipple type or put on a grid to prevent shavings getting in and clogging it. The special cages have integral feeders and drinkers which are accessed through vertical bars, keeping both feed and water clean. The feed is chick crumbs without the drug coccidiostat since this can get in to the eggs, plus millet and some live food and greens if possible. They like chopped plantain or dandelion and a very small amount of lettuce (to avoid diarrhoea). Chick grit (the smallest size) should be provided to help with digestion and the provision of calcium for egg shells.
Coturnix quail can be sexed by colour if they are the fawn variety, the males having a plain breast and the females spotted feathers on the breast. Other colours are Tuxedo (dark brown with white patches), the British Range (dark all over) and the English White, all of which have little visual difference between the sexes except that the adult male usually has foam at his vent and the female has a lower slung abdomen for egg production.

Quail mature incredibly quickly – six weeks of age and the first eggs arrive!
Special quail-sized egg boxes are obtainable for fresh eggs. Providing hardboiled quail eggs for a local pub is an option as quail will lay almost continuously for about a year. Hardboiled quail eggs can be peeled by steeping them in vinegar which dissolves the shell or can be hand-peeled. Hardboiled quail eggs eaten with some celery salt are absolutely delicious. It takes several eggs to make a decent omelette, however.

The adults at the end of lay can be used as food as they are still tender at this stage – very often, restaurants will take end-of-lay quail but they may request them to be oven-ready which may involve you contacting your local authority for the most recent legislation. You can process the birds for your own use without being inspected but general hygiene precautions are essential.

Replacement birds will have to be purchased or bred. Coturnix Quail are commercially available from various places in the UK, most of these having websites, and are purchased generally at about 4 weeks of age, ready to begin laying at only 6 weeks of age. It is probably better to purchase them from the breeder rather than through an auction – auctions are exciting places, but the risk of disease makes them unreliable places to purchase healthy birds from.

The breeding ratio for Coturnix quail is one male to about eight females. These quail are poor mothers and in fact drop their eggs anywhere, not even making a nest, so artificial hatching and rearing is the norm. Fertile eggs should be stored at a temperature of 10°C (50°F) for no longer than seven days before putting them in an incubator. It is best to fill the incubator so that they all hatch at the same time, although not all of the eggs set will hatch – 80% is acceptable. The eggs can be candled (a bright torch held to the broad end in a dark room) at 12 days of incubation to find out which are fertile – the fertile ones will be dark for 2/3 of the egg with the pale air space at the broad end, clear ones have no dark areas.

Incubation is 17 days and small incubators do the job well – some people have two or more incubators so that the eggs can be set within the seven day time-frame for best hatchability. The chicks are incredibly small and active and tend to leap out of the incubator once it is opened. They have the instinct to escape but little commonsense, so they also like to try and drown – put clean pebbles in the red base of chick drinkers to avoid this and make absolutely sure they cannot jump or climb out of the brooder area. Heat is provided by an infra-red ceramic heat lamp (heat but no light) or a heat mat. Ordinary light bulbs are not warm enough and 24 hours of light encourages the chicks to become feather-peckers. You may have to reduce the size of ordinary chick crumbs for the first week or two by putting them through a blender.

Coturnix quail take little space to keep provided they have the correct environment. They can provide an income as well as being entertaining little birds and a great way to teach children about incubation and bird keeping.