Sustainable Agriculture

How many quail are too many quail for a first time quail farmer?

Probably significantly less than the number I recently acquired.

When I first moved back to my family’s property a few years ago, I was traveling at least two weeks a month for work. Free dog care, which can easily add up when you are gone half the month, had a great deal of appeal at the time, and I was also thrilled about some small-scale projects that could increase my sustainability vibes. Japanese quail somehow jumped to the top of the list, primarily because of the novelty of tiny eggs and how easy this book and the homesteading forums make them sound.

Well, I kept traveling and the quail fell to the bottom of the priority list. Then the pandemic happened, and small poultry were almost impossible to find in the Bay Area last spring. So we got goats instead.

Fast forward another year, and when I was cruising craigslist for a love interest for my goat girls, I came across a posting for quail locally. My deep desire to have all the animals quickly kicked in, and next thing I know, I’ve committed to picking up 50 quail in less than 24 hours.

Luckily, I have a partner that loves animals more than I do, and almost instantly, we have a quail cottage under construction (we were also in the middle of upgrading the girl’s goat pen, so luckily it wasn’t that hard of an ask as what’s one more project).

Dan, determining the appropriate price for my lovingly cared for birds.
Dan, determining the appropriate price for my lovingly cared for birds.

My quail came from the most adorable man, Dan, in Castro Valley who seemed to love birds a great deal. He definitely quizzed me before I picked up my mix of male and female adults and babies (did I have waterers? and heat lamps? and adequate space?). I had no idea what I was doing, honestly, but having spent my mornings before kindergarten in our family’s commercial chicken houses seemed to provide enough information to convince him I would provide a worthy home for his very well tended flock. He also has hundreds of birds, to the point that his complicated pricing system threw us both for a loop and I ended up with 54 quail for less than money than his recorded Craigslist prices. We stopped raising chickens commercially when I was probably 5, so that was a bit of a stretch, but we’ve always had at least 10 or so hens around through high school, and quail couldn’t be that much harder, right?

Correct, they’re a total dream and I’m obsessed with these little birdies. My final count: 5 adult males; 16 females; and 33 babies, whose gender identity is yet to be confirmed. They’re tiny birds, but PROLIFIC egg layers (we can expect about 200-300 eggs per hen in a year; we’ve averaged about 10 eggs a day so far, even in the cold and with the change in habitat).

We had a couple scares, the first morning I went out to check them and 3 managed to escape from their temporary pen. I managed to get 2 back in while one flew over our garden fence. I thought it was lost forever until our coltriever puppy brought it home in a series of comedic events (no quail were harmed in the resulting melee).

We also lost 2 of the 33 babies, which is unfortunately normal for very young birds. A week and a half later, and they’re growing so rapidly and seem incredibly strong. They lost their spot on our kitchen counter, as they were trying to jump out of their brooder, and have been “upgraded” to large dog kennels in our living room.

The hens and roos are outside in our garden as they await the finishing touches on the quail cottage, and we cannot keep up with the eggs so far. If all goes according to plan, my breeding sets will give me fertile eggs to incubate, in which case I can continue to share the quail love across the East Bay, and my growing quail flock will provide enough tiny hipster eggs that I can sell to others.

Otherwise, keep your eye out for all the quail egg and goat cheese sandwiches I can get my hands on. In the meantime, if you decided to start your own quail flock, I can certainly help… and while I don’t regret getting 54 birds, it might be wise to start with a few less!

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