Quail lay eggs early and often. These tiny birds begin laying while barely little more than chicks themselves, and can lay up to 300 eggs annually. In the United States, the coturnix quail is the most common type raised domestically. This breed is also known as the Japanese quail, the Bible quail and the Nile quail. While quail are relatively easy to breed and raise for eggs or meat, check with your state's department of environmental protection or its equivalent before purchasing birds. In some states, quail are considered game birds and require special permits.
Quail reach sexual maturity and begin laying eggs at the age of just 6 or 7 weeks. Males reach sexual maturity and can mate a week or so earlier. You can sex your quail at approximately 3 weeks of age, as differences in male and female plumage emerge. Females grow larger than males, and the plumage under the throat and breast are white. The females' feathers are also longer and pointier than those of the male quail.
While quail hens begin laying early, they've often reached their peak production while domestic chickens are just getting started. Quail are most fertile and productive between the ages of 2 and 8 months, when hens usually lay one egg daily. At 9 months and beyond, fertility declines, although the average hen may still produce 200 or so eggs annually. For best results, keep one male with just two to three females.
Brooding with Hens
Natural brooding has been mostly bred out of coturnix hens. If you want to raise quail without using a brooder, slip fresh quail eggs under a setting bantam hen. If you go that route, remove the bantam's eggs from the nest. The two species hatch at different times, and the varying size of the eggs results in poor quail hatching rates.
Incubating Quail Eggs
You can also incubate the eggs. The incubation period until hatching for coturnix quail eggs is 17 days, although it ranges between 14 and 19 days. Store eggs for incubation, larger end up, at 55 degrees and approximately 70 percent humidity.
Incubate the eggs as soon as possible but certainly within one week of collection -- after that, hatching levels decline precipitously. Incubators vary, so follow the directions provided by the manufacturer. Turn the eggs three times daily, 180 degrees each time, until the 14th day. At that point, stop turning them and wait for hatching. You can check for fertility on days seven to 10 with an LED light, looking for a dark appearance in silhouette, vs. a translucent appearance, indicating a lack of fertilization.
If you want to raise gamebirds, consider bobwhite quail. Check with your state's department of wildlife regarding regulations for raising bobwhite quail in your district. Bobwhite quail hens do not lay as many eggs as the coturnix, averaging 150 to 200 eggs annually. In contrast to the coturnix, bobwhite eggs take between 23 and 24 days to hatch.