If your space is VERY limited, quail may be the ideal animal for your homestead. Quail can even be raised in an apartment or garage as an efficient source of meat and eggs. Coturnix, also known as japanese quail, are more efficient egg layers than chickens and will produce more egg per bird on a pound of feed, than a chicken given the same amount of feed. This is also considering the fact that quails lay much smaller eggs than chickens. It takes about 3 to 5 quail eggs to equal one chicken egg depending on the size of the chicken and quail eggs being compared. While you may need more of these eggs to make, say an omelette, the taste of these eggs is identical to that of chicken eggs which is generally not the case when comparing duck or goose eggs.
When it comes to choosing a breed of quail for your homestead, there is really only one choice and that is coturnix. It is also possible to raise Bobwhite or other kinds of quail at home but these are slow growers and seasonal eggs layers. So while one can raise them for meat or eggs they are not a steady source of either. Meanwhile, coturnix are mature at 6 weeks of age and by 8 to 10 weeks they will be laying. They will also be ready to butcher at this age. Another benefit of raising coturnix quail is that they’re incubation is only 16 to 18 days so one could realistically raise 3 generations of quail within one year’s time if all they start with is eggs to incubate.
Wether you raise Coturnix or Bobwhites, quail require a higher protein feed than other poultry. Bobwhites more so that Coturnix. A 24% protein feed should be good for them although you can probably get away when a 20%. Some places do sell gamebird feed, this is rather expensive so I just stick with higher protein chicken feed.
Quails can not be kept free range like larger poultry. They aren’t the smartest of the birds and will just run off in every direction. Never to be seen again. So they must be contained but their shelter does not have to be elaborate. When planning a shelter for quail, consider that you should have about 1 square foot of space per bird. That’s a general guideline. I have had up to 15 or 20 birds in a 2′ x 4′ space and they were quite comfortable. If they are too crowded they will pick on each other which may lead to cannibalism and that is not the sort of behavior you want your quail to develop. If you see picking, thin their numbers and they shouldn’t have any problems. It is also a good idea for their shelter to be raised and have a wire bottom. Keeping these birds in one spot and on the ground can lead to disease and high mortality, especially when it comes to Bobwhite Quail unless they are kept in large netted enclosures or aviaries where the birds have a lot of clean dry floorspace.
Quail are one of the easiest type of fowl to butcher. It is recommended that you skin, rather than pluck them. This is because their skin is so thin, you will most likely end up tearing and partially skinning them as you pluck. The only reason to leave the skin on would be if you prefer the skin on your cooked quail. Some people like the crispiness that it might add to a roasted or grilled quail.
If you do just go the skinning route, a very sharp pair of poultry scissors and a clean bucket of ice water should be all you need to butcher. The best way to dispatch quail is by decapitation. So you will just grab a quail in your hand, pinning down both wings as you grasp around entire body of the quail. Then just nip their head off with the scissors. It’s very fast and painless for the animal. Allow the heart to pump the blood out. You can skin by just pulling down the loose skin from where you cut the head off or pinch up a bit of skin at the breast and just cut into that. Once you’ve made a whole in the skin, you can tear it wider and just begin peeling it off the quail. It will come off very easily. Once you have skinned it, clip off the feet at the first joint after the foot and clip the tip of the wing off at the first joint. We usually clip these areas off in all birds as there is no meat here. With quail, all of the meat if concentrated in the Breast and Thigh. So some people only harvest these parts of the bird.