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Chicken vs. Quail: The Great Debate
So you want a backyard protein source, eh? AWESOME!!! Backyard chickens are the gateway to raising your own food. Plus they are hugely and unexpectedly entertaining :)
Oh, don’t have the yard, neighbors, or rules for chicken raisin’? Enter quail!
Hal and I are long-time chickenistas. We got started in Costa Rica in 2009 with 3 chickens. When we moved back to the states in 2010, we got backyard chickens right away. Honest, you get addicted to having them around! All they really do is eat, poop and lay eggs, but they do all that with a quirkiness that is endearing.
Yeah, you grow to love your chickens. Tiktok has some hysterical examples…
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Since then, we’ve had chickens wherever we lived: city, country, city… now permanently country since 2014. We’ve raised them for eggs and meat. For three summers, we did the chicken tractor thing and processed all our own meat birds. Good lessons learned! In today’s world, you want to know how to raise and process your own food.
Honestly, you process every animal the same basic way: kill, de-feather/hair, gut, freeze. You’ll just need bigger equipment for bigger animals :) Excellent video here.
In February 2022, we watched the last of our hens get carried away by coyotes while Lilah, the sweetest Great Pyrenees ever, napped nearby. We did great with chickens for years but I guess the coyotes found us.
We were loathe to keep feeding coyotes… then got intrigued by quail. In our usual fashion, we did some basic reading, then bought a cage and some quail. I guess we like learning on the fly.
We discovered that there are indeed advantages to raising food in a cage. It’s not entertaining in the least, but hugely efficient. We also found that we love quail eggs waaaaay more than chicken eggs!
So let’s talk about the basic differences, pros and cons, from birth to death, when it comes to Quail and Chickens.
Birth: hatch or buy?
If you have a rooster, you’ll have baby chicks.
Chicken mamas are wonderful. They sit on the eggs, only getting up occasionally to eat and drink. Once babies are hatched, mama protects them as best they can, and keep them warm.
If you have pets, you’ll probably want to keep the chicks & mama safe in a caged coop until babies are too big for your pet.
No rooster or just getting started? There are lots of good hatcheries where you order chicks online. You can get unvaxxed chicks and at least one hatchery offers non-GMO chicks from a line of non-GMO hens.
Buying from a local store is VERY risky, ask anyone who’s done it. We bought 6 last year, 4 died within 48 hours. Turns out that’s a common story.
Quail are so domesticated, they don’t sit on their eggs or nurture in any way. Gotta buy eggs and incubate, or buy chicks, lots of sellers.
You’ll need an incubator, a large bin for the chicks
Incubating is fascinating and simple. For the pro, there are a million detailed steps like candling, checking for fertile eggs, etc. For a basic homesteader, put the eggs in the incubator, check temp and humidity every day, you get quail chicks in 18 days, chickens in 21.
Chicken and quail are much more in danger of overheating than of being cold! They pant in the summer, their body temperature is over 100 degrees. In winter, ours have survived in -22 degrees. I have a picture of one of our black astrolorps sitting in the snow during our last snowstorm. Happy as can be. When she got up, there was a warm melted spot under her! They need to be protected from harsh winds, that will hurt them. Cold temperatures will not.
Chickens: there are breeds for every need: good foragers, good layers, good for meat, pretty, show chickens… gotta know your chicken goals!
Quail: there are two basic breeds.
Bobwhites are for hunting and you need a license to breed them.
Coturnix are the quail that the rest of us raise.
There are jumbos and regular mixed run.
CHICKENS coop where they will be protected from predators at night, yard for foraging, waterers or a bucket that you fill, feeder that is rodent-proof, sandbox or access to a dirt pit for bathing
Do you NEED roosters?
PROS They are good protectors for the chickens, you can have baby chicks
CONS They can get big and mean. They are loud and they can’t always tell time. They will scratch the feathers off the hens’ backs… if you don’t have enough hens to roos, you will have chickens with naked backs! Roos are relentless…
Basically everything likes chicken, quail & their eggs! Hawks and coyotes in the field. Owls, raccoons, opossums, snakes, RATS… you want to learn your predators and how to protect against them. HINT: hardware cloth is essential!
How many birds for how many eggs?
Both chicken and quail produce 5-6 eggs a week. Some breeds produce more, some less, but we’ve found that to be a reliable number.
Four quail eggs = 1 chicken egg. Hal and I can eat 20-24 quail eggs for breakfast easy. So that’s a dozen quail minimum if we want eggs everyday. We freeze-dry the extra eggs and make quail egg powder.
Quail eggs have more yolk to white ratio and taste richer. We have grown to love quail eggs much more than chicken. So do the grandkids.
Backyardchickens.com, they also have a quail section
Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens which also has a quail section
We bought all the quail books and NONE of them had any substantial info, there’s more in this one post. Some had outright lies, lol. We learned much more from FB groups and backyardchickens.com!