Quail don't take up a lot of space, making them a good choice for the backyard breeder. They're also quiet and relatively calm birds. Bobwhite quail generally are released into the wild for hunting. You want to raise the domestic Japanese, or coturnix, variety. Raising baby quail is relatively easy, and doesn't take long. By the age of 6 weeks, female quail start laying eggs.
Incubating Quail Eggs
You can purchase fertilized quail eggs from breeders or through online hatcheries. If you don't want to purchase an incubator designed specifically for quail eggs, a standard chicken egg incubator can do the job. However, you'll have to make some adjustments for the smaller quail eggs. Cutting up traditional egg cartons and placing the egg section in the incubator's egg holder can do the trick. Place eggs in the tray with the larger end up. If your incubator has a horizontal tray, you can place the eggs flat but never place the larger end down. Turn the eggs at least three times daily if you don't have an automatic turner. On average, quail eggs hatch between day 16 to 18.
If you purchase baby chicks, you must raise them in a brooder. You'll also transfer hatchlings raised from eggs from the incubator into a brooder. Keep the brooder's initial temperature at 100 degrees Fahrenheit, lowering the temperature weekly by 5 degrees. Use newspaper or paper towels to line the bottom of the brooder, replacing the dirty lining at least once daily. After four weeks, the chicks can go into regular quail cages.
Your quail chicks first diet consists of a starter mix for game birds. Feed the starter mix for their first month of life, then gradually switch over to a grower mix designed for game birds. Supplement the feed of older birds with greens. Your quail must have clean water available at all times. However, baby quail can drown in even shallow dishes, so purchase a chick waterer for your birds.
You can purchase quail cages, or build your own. If your cage isn't inside a shed, garage or other structure, put a roof on it. Otherwise, you can cover the top section of the cage with fine wire mesh so that your quail can fly and there's plenty of ventilation. Keep cages above ground level to deter predators. Because quail are so small, you must ensure that there are no holes in the pen large enough for them to escape, and for predators to get in.
Breeding Your Own
Once you've raised that first batch of baby quail, you might want to breed your own. For best results, select one male and three females for each breeding colony. Females are slightly larger than males, and there are slight coloration differences, but you can differentiate the males by their distinctive crow. Feed a game bird breeding diet. In her approximately two-year lifespan, a Japanese quail hen lays between 200 to 300 eggs. Since this species seldom grows broody, you must either incubate the eggs or place them under a broody chicken hen -- small breeds like bantams are best -- to hatch and raise them as her own. You must remove the chicken's own eggs before replacing them with quail eggs.