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Quail - not the ultimate permie fowl

 
Posts: 89
Location: Lake Geneva, Switzerland, Europe
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I sometimes see japanese quail toted as the ultimate permie fowl:
- they don't need much space
- they grow fast and have a great feed conversion rate
- the eggs they lay are very healthy and can help with allergies and asthma
- eggs sell for a premium

I have kept quail in my back yard for quite some time now but don't consider them nearly as sustainable and useful as chickens:
- Keeping them on wire may be legal in the US, it is not in Switzerland, where half of their cage must be litter. I provide deep litter (dry home compost works best) for half their space and dust/ash for a quarter, the rest being wire mesh. However, they would be much happier in a volière setting where they could fly and eat greens at will.
- they are tiny, and even tinier when you have dressed them, that is a lot of trouble for just a little bit of meat.
- they only lay if provided with 12h of daylight, I have added lighting to the setup but they still stop laying in winter.
- their eggs would indeed sell at the same price as a chicken egg, but you have to buy their feed. They will eat greens but their beaks are tiny which limits what they can eat. Quail will stop laying if the feed does not meet their requirement in protein.
- don't feed them redworms unless you can exclude a contamination by bird droppings (including their own). They can become sick, and being such small beings that usually means they will die. Larvae (mealworms etc) are fine
- my husband's hay fever has improved massively since he eats the quail eggs. But if they don't lay in early spring...
- quail cannot free range (they will fly away and lay their eggs on the ground, making it a pain to move their pen) and are flighty, they don't appreciate being handled.
- it is very difficult to get a quail to brood, their instinct is triggered by the ideal environment.
- Yes, quail cocks are quieter but they do crow and we got rid of them for waking us up at five in the morning. So you need to have a breeding setup and a source of fertilized eggs every two years minimum.

Why I'm in love with chickens
- they live largely off my kitchen scraps, they eat everything (except plastic and metal and what they don't eat they scratch around, making great compost
- they till my garden and eat my weeds
- they're great company, will follow me around when I'm gardening and come to me when I call. These birds came from a production facility yet adapted within a few months to foraging and are quite tame.
- the eggs are a decent size! And they lay year round
- I sell half a dozen eggs per week to a family, take all their food scraps for the chickens, and that pays for the little feed they consume
- chickens are cheap: I got spent layers, an electric fence and charger, was given a house which I put on wheels I had. Cost me less than the rabbit hutch I keep my quail in.
 
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I don't have "Permie" experience raising quail, and much prefer raising chickens as well, but I think a few considerations might make Quail more viable(although it doesn't convince me to back off of chickens, ducks, and rabbits in my own plans):

- You can potentially offset feed costs by growing Amaranth(pigweed) and other small seed crops to supplement storebought feed?
- and yes, making quail for a family of six at home is probably not cost/time effective, but selling your "locally sourced, organic, free-range" quail and eggs to a restaurant at a huge markup would be a great income source to supplement the other activities on your farm/homestead.

I personally am planning on growing/raising many things that will be more of a "Cash Crop" than a "Subsistence Crop,"  and have factored that transience into my plans - i'll save chickens for the eggs, meat, compost, scratch-tilling, and sell the Cherimoya fruit and tree seedlings to offset other hard costs.
Quail(or pheasant, or some other exotic, high priced species) could be someone else's "Cherimoya," if the market is right.
 
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I have golden pheasants, they are good for absolutely nothing, but I just adore how beautiful and elegant they are, there is a great difference between animals that humans have domesticated and the wild ones, the wild animals look more perfect and also move differently and are much more agile, I really like watching them and having them.
I breed them and sell them, they are really easy for breeding, I keep wondering how come there are still people who need some when most people buy pairs for breeding. With the money I can buy more eggs than if I keep chickens, but these eggs are not the same quality alas...
 
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Susan,
This is really good to hear from someone with experience raising quail. I've always been curious about how easy or difficult it is to raise them. Also good to know that they don't like being handled...I'm a cuddler with my animals, so that wouldn't work for me.

One question, though: If they have a good feed conversion rate, then why are chickens cheaper to feed? Is it because quail only eat certain seeds/greens whereas chickens will eat any of your scraps?

I love the idea of raising them as a high value cash crop (for meat and eggs) and then raising chickens/ducks for subsistence needs.

Would love to hear anyone's negative experiences with ducks/geese, as we live in a wet climate and I'm planning on raising mostly ducks. I would like to hear both sides of the coin in regards to raising them. Sounds like they're pretty easy, but maybe there are things that you only learn from experience.
 
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Hi Susan,

Thanks so much for posting your experience.  I've raised quail in the past and I absolutely love them, but I agree that there are areas where they don't excel.  I'd had chickens for a couple of years before I got quail and, even though the chickens were free range and were some of the best eggs I ever tasted, once I got quail I just gave away my chicken eggs.  I describe quail eggs to people as tasting like chicken eggs, but 40% better.  Most people who had them agree that they taste even better.  I also have really bad allergies and I was taking 4 allergy pills a day just to function, but I was able to cut that to two within days and I stopped taking them entirely after a week of eating 12 quail eggs a day.  That alone is reason enough for me to keep them.  

Things I like about quail:

- Great tasting eggs that cure my allergies
- Easy to incubate and start laying or can be butchered at 7-8 weeks
- Super fast to butcher and clean.  It took me about 3-4 minutes a bird, but I've seen them done in less than 2 minutes each.  
- Fairly quiet.  I lived in a semi with quail and my neighbours didn't hear the males over the wild birds, but I could pick them out.  Another neighbour had them and worried about the noise too, but I couldn't hear her birds from the sidewalk, so I think there was some paranoia there for both of us
- They lay an egg a day, every day and, when I butcher the layers after a year the meat is still tender, unlike a spent hen

Issues I had with quail:

- If you move them too far they may stop laying for a week or two.  Once they get used to moving it isn't an issue.
- If they get out, even if they only go a few feet, they're really hard to find.  You'd think a brown or white bird in green grass wouldn't be hard to pick out, but I lost a couple.  I did have a poodle that would find them for me.
- They will kill a quail that they don't like.  Chickens can too, but I've found it isn't as bad and they're bigger, so you've got more time to catch that behaviour and isolate the hen.
- Mine laid right through the winter without extra light.  It gets down to 9 hours of daylight (today) and I've found that I need to give the chickens extra light, even the Chanteclers, so I don't see any difference between the two.
- The egg size does mean more work but I personally find it worthwhile.

I think that's all the problems I had with them.  

I think that each species has a niche and quail are great when you're either can't have chickens or in combination with them.  Quail can't do all the things I love about chickens, like eating your scraps, free ranging, garden prep or entertain you.  Chickens also take about 6 months to start laying and that needs to be taken into account when looking at feed costs.  Chickens also need much more space.  If you can have both, that's great, but if one doesn't work for you, go with the one that does.  I think that chickens are much more useful as a permiculture tool, and I'll always have some, but they don't do what quail do, so I'll have quail too.

Keeping them on litter must be a pain.  I understand the thinking behind not allowing them to be kept on wire, but there's different types of wire.  I like to use 16 or 14 gauge wire for quail because it's thicker and doesn't bother their feet.  I've kept some on hardware cloth in a pinch and didn't see any issues with their feet, but it was a short time and I wouldn't recommend it.  You may be able to use the plastic coated wire that's available.  If it satisfies your laws, I would recommend it.  Honestly, though, I would ignore that law and keep them on either the plastic coated wire or 14 ga. wire if there's no chance of getting found out.  Easier management means happier people.  I would consider freezing some eggs to make sure your husband has them in the spring.

One other thing of note with Japanese quail; in many municipalities you can keep quail but not chickens.  When I had chickens in town it was illegal, but the quail weren't.  I'd love to hear if you decide to keep them.

edit:  I did keep track of my costs and it worked out to about $2.25/lb of quail meat using fermented 28% turkey crumble.  I raised jumbos, which ranged from 12-14 oz (330-390 grams) live weight, and dressed out to about 7-8 oz.  



 
Posts: 39
Location: Vermont, USA (zone 4)
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I have no experience raising any type of fowl (or any meat animals for that matter) but the place where I buy my dog's raw food (Hare Today) offers ground quail which contains every single part of these little birds, except the intestines.  Preparing quail in this manner would surely eliminate much of the painstaking work of dressing a quail (no removal of the head or feet; no plucking feathers) so to feed a dog, quail might be practical.  I only feed ground quail as a portion of my dog's diet because I think too many ground feathers might not be a great idea, but there are doubtless many nutrients in the heads and the organs that might not be found elsewhere.
 
Timothy Markus
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Hi Marci,

I butcher quail by snipping off the head from behind, so they don't see it coming, snipping off the wings and lower legs, then I skin the bird, cut out the backbone, butterfly them and scoop out the guts.  I keep the hearts and livers to fry up with garlic and some of the bits go to the dogs.  

It takes about 3-4 minutes and the downside is you lose the skin, but you can simply wrap them in bacon.  I've plucked a few too, and it's not that bad.  For reference, it takes me about 12-15 minutes to butcher a chicken.  I've seen people clean quail in a little over a minute, and I know chickens can be done in around 5, but  I ain't there yet.
 
Marci Sudlow
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Thank you Timothy Markus, but I have no desire to raise and/or slaughter any meat animals.  I prefer to buy from those who raise meat animals organically and humanely and support them with my dollars.  Also I like that the (finely) ground (raw) quail that I buy for my dog contains all parts of the bird, except the intestines, so it supplies nutrients that my dogs would not otherwise get.  

I remember my grandma painstakingly plucking the many small game birds that my grandpa used to shoot, and it was a great deal of work.  The results were so worth it though!  The skin and organs of these creatures were always my favorite part!  I think she drew the line at squirrels and other mammals and just skinned these creatures before cooking or had my grandfather do it.  They used to have a game dinner every New Years day and it was wonderful.  Now I'm reduced to seeking out local game suppers in neighboring towns.
 
Timothy Markus
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Marci Sudlow wrote:Thank you Timothy Markus, but I have no desire to raise and/or slaughter any meat animals.  I prefer to buy from those who raise meat animals organically and humanely and support them with my dollars.  Also I like that the (finely) ground (raw) quail that I buy for my dog contains all parts of the bird, except the intestines, so it supplies nutrients that my dogs would not otherwise get.  

I remember my grandma painstakingly plucking the many small game birds that my grandpa used to shoot, and it was a great deal of work.  The results were so worth it though!  The skin and organs of these creatures were always my favorite part!  I think she drew the line at squirrels and other mammals and just skinned these creatures before cooking or had my grandfather do it.  They used to have a game dinner every New Years day and it was wonderful.  Now I'm reduced to seeking out local game suppers in neighboring towns.



When I was a kid I worked at the feed store and, spring summer and fall we had an older eastern European man who would come in once a month and only buy a double handful of wheat.  After about a year, I finally asked him what he did with that small amount of wheat.  He said that he would set up a lawnchair in his driveway, lay out a line of wheat, then wait with his shotgun for the sparrows.  When he had 24 he'd take them to his wife who made sparrow pie.  I asked him how much time went into cleaning them and he told me that's why he only got it once a month.  I've never tried sparrow, but he said it was his favourite.
 
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I read a first hand report of keeping quail in a low tunnel/ raised bed arrangement.
They were foraging and even went broody and raised their own young, while not doing damage to the crops.

The fact they cannot readily feed off of scraps is a pain, but my chickens hardly do better, probably due to a host of other options.
I have considered raising pigeons as a high value option.
They can clearly survive on food waste and they fetch a pretty penny as meat.

The real reason I havent tried quail are reports of them mauling each other.
My chooks don't peck out eyes, just feathers, but they get the run of the yard, something you cant do with quail.
If I could set up a Velacreations style raised bed for them, I might consider trying them for eggs and fun.

 
Timothy Markus
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My chickens were fiends for scraps.  I also gave them the guts of the rabbits and they tore through those.  One of my favourite things is when I see a hen with a mouse.

I'd tread very carefully with pigeon, especially for meat.  Years ago there was a guy around here who got quite a few people to invest in pigeons for meat, called squab.  It was basically a pyramid scheme, though I got the feeling that that was never his intention, but that's how it worked out.  He'd sell people on the idea, sell them the pigeons to raise, then go find others.  He never found or created a market for pigeon beyond breeder sales.  At first he would buy all the pigeons from those he set up in order to set up another 'customer'.  In the end, because there wasn't a market beyond his customers, the gubmnt went after him for running a pyramid scheme.  He was convicted.  People lost well over a million on it, though it didn't seem to me that he kept much of that.  I think it was his passion, but not many North Americans would eat pigeon.

I know that you can find a small market for them, but I don't think that it's worth it to put all that time and effort into any enterprise that has a limited commercial appeal.

I only ever lost 1 bird to the quail.  She was a hen I bought before I hatched out my first batch.  She was kept right beside them and I housed them all together for quite a while.  For some reason they turned on her and I pulled her out to recover from some pecking at her vent.  I checked her out, let her heal, then put her back in.  She was fine for another two weeks, then they went after her vent again, this time fatally.  I had other hens I got with her in with the crowd, but I never had any issues with them.  Sometimes an animal just isn't accepted by the others, and I've seen it across several species.  Chickens can take some abuse, but quail are so small that there's not much leeway.  Typically, people will house 4 hens with a male in a cage, which really cuts down on problems.  If the male is too aggressive, the hens may turn on him, but I never experienced that.  I don' t think it's too much of an issue and I've had two chickens that were killed by other chickens.

If you had an enclosed space like a greenhouse, I think they'd be worth considering to free-range in it.  They really don't do much damage to the crop, but they would certainly help with pest control.  I'm thinking about button quail for that use.
 
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Rosemary Hansen wrote:
Would love to hear anyone's negative experiences with ducks/geese, as we live in a wet climate and I'm planning on raising mostly ducks. I would like to hear both sides of the coin in regards to raising them. Sounds like they're pretty easy, but maybe there are things that you only learn from experience.



I love my ducks! I've had them for 4 years, and find them a lot easier to manage than chickens. I could never really let my chicken free range because she'd get in my gardens and destroy them in a few short minutes. My ducks can be herded/lured around. They can't really fly and so don't usually get into raised beds or over a 1-2 foot fence unless they're really hungry. I love their eggs, too.

However, I wouldn't want a bunch of ducks in a small area. Chickens seem to do fine that way...but not ducks. Ducks poop wet messy poop. The poop of 15 ducks spread out over an acre isn't a problem. The poop of 15 ducks spread out over 1,000sqft kind of is. It's slimy and slippery. And, they really kind of need to take baths, which makes for lots of spashing. Again, a 2 foot by 2 foot dish of water is plenty for them if you empty it every day. And, it can be moved from tree to tree ti water/fertilize the fruit trees. But, that much water in a small area and all the poop soon turns into a mud slick!

I don't think I'll ever garden without ducks, because without ducks I'd have waaaay too many slugs. Now I only see one every other month or so. I do deep litter in their house, and that works great, and makes great mulch for my garden beds (when aged) or berries/fruit trees (unaged).

Ducks are not good for turning food scraps into compost like chickens are. Chickens scratch and rip up food. Ducks can only really nibble at soft things.

So, really, it comes down to what type of gardening you plan on doing, and how you want to incorporate poultry. If you want an animal to tear up compost and live in a small section away from your garden, you might want chickens. If you want a few birds that can roam around your whole property without destroying everything and eat all your slugs, ducks would probably be best. If you want to have a high stocking rate of birds per square foot, go for chickens. I LOVE my ducks and find them vital to my homestead. I don't have any chickens right now, but if I got them again, I'd probably have them in a chicken tractor or tearing up my compost, and not allowed to range freely, because I don't want them destroying all my gardens and I don't want to spend the money to fence off all my garden beds.
 
Rosemary Hansen
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Nicole Alderman wrote:

Rosemary Hansen wrote:
Would love to hear anyone's negative experiences with ducks/geese, as we live in a wet climate and I'm planning on raising mostly ducks. I would like to hear both sides of the coin in regards to raising them. Sounds like they're pretty easy, but maybe there are things that you only learn from experience.



I love my ducks! I've had them for 4 years, and find them a lot easier to manage than chickens. I could never really let my chicken free range because she'd get in my gardens and destroy them in a few short minutes. My ducks can be herded/lured around. They can't really fly and so don't usually get into raised beds or over a 1-2 foot fence unless they're really hungry. I love their eggs, too.

However, I wouldn't want a bunch of ducks in a small area. Chickens seem to do fine that way...but not ducks. Ducks poop wet messy poop. The poop of 15 ducks spread out over an acre isn't a problem. The poop of 15 ducks spread out over 1,000sqft kind of is. It's slimy and slippery. And, they really kind of need to take baths, which makes for lots of spashing. Again, a 2 foot by 2 foot dish of water is plenty for them if you empty it every day. And, it can be moved from tree to tree ti water/fertilize the fruit trees. But, that much water in a small area and all the poop soon turns into a mud slick!

I don't think I'll ever garden without ducks, because without ducks I'd have waaaay too many slugs. Now I only see one every other month or so. I do deep litter in their house, and that works great, and makes great mulch for my garden beds (when aged) or berries/fruit trees (unaged).

Ducks are not good for turning food scraps into compost like chickens are. Chickens scratch and rip up food. Ducks can only really nibble at soft things.

So, really, it comes down to what type of gardening you plan on doing, and how you want to incorporate poultry. If you want an animal to tear up compost and live in a small section away from your garden, you might want chickens. If you want a few birds that can roam around your whole property without destroying everything and eat all your slugs, ducks would probably be best. If you want to have a high stocking rate of birds per square foot, go for chickens. I LOVE my ducks and find them vital to my homestead. I don't have any chickens right now, but if I got them again, I'd probably have them in a chicken tractor or tearing up my compost, and not allowed to range freely, because I don't want them destroying all my gardens and I don't want to spend the money to fence off all my garden beds.



Thank you, Nicole! Great advice. I'm excited to try ducks this year!
 
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Quail do have some disadvantages and definitely are not a substitute for many chicken functions. I disagree with the claim that you need to buy feed for them. While I did buy some feed for my quails when I used to keep them, it would have been practically possible to completely eliminate the need to buy feed. If you feed them on duck weed, insects (including BSF and other maggots) and grew a small amount of grain you could easily support enough to supply eggs and the occasional meat meal.

They are lots of work to pluck, but worth it. I used to skin them if I was feeling lazy or in a hurry, didn't time it, but would have taken around 30 seconds a bird, maybe less. Either way not something that is ideal for feeding lots of people as a regular meal.

The biggest disadvantage is the difficulty in getting them to brood. Has anyone had any luck getting getting them to brood reliably?
 
Timothy Markus
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Chris Wang wrote:
The biggest disadvantage is the difficulty in getting them to brood. Has anyone had any luck getting getting them to brood reliably?



I built an incubator out of a styrofoam cooler, lightbulb, thermostat, fan and a hard plastic egg tray that I linked to a threaded rod out through the top so that I could turn them 5-7 times a day.  I also cut out a bit of the top and put in clear plastic so you could watch them hatch.  I had to order the thermostat from the States and had to pay an arm and leg for shipping, but you could probably build one for $20-25 if you live in the States or have the time to wait for a Chinese thermostat to get shipped.  
 
Chris Wang
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Does anyone have Californian quail? How do they compare to Japanese quail?

Timothy Markus wrote:

Chris Wang wrote:
The biggest disadvantage is the difficulty in getting them to brood. Has anyone had any luck getting getting them to brood reliably?



I built an incubator out of a styrofoam cooler, lightbulb, thermostat, fan and a hard plastic egg tray that I linked to a threaded rod out through the top so that I could turn them 5-7 times a day.  I also cut out a bit of the top and put in clear plastic so you could watch them hatch.  I had to order the thermostat from the States and had to pay an arm and leg for shipping, but you could probably build one for $20-25 if you live in the States or have the time to wait for a Chinese thermostat to get shipped.  




I used to incubate them when I had them, but still more work and needs constant attention and electricity compared to natural brooding. I used a similar setup, but only turned them 2X a day with hatch rates in the high 90's. More electricity and work cost is from getting them from chicks to being able to handle natural temperatures.
 
Susan Wakeman
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Interesting discussion! I'd like to clarify that while I agree that quail can be an interesting homesteading business, nice market, high end product and all that I came to the conclusion that they are less sustainable than chickens. Because I have not been able to not feed them quail feed without them stopping to lay.


Also their functions were limited (in my system, consume bought feed, some salads/greens from the garden, mow the lawn and produce eggs, meat, fertiliser for my tomato planters)

I'd be very interested to hear if any of you have been able to reduce their quail feed costs by, say 50 - 80% like you can easily with chickens by feeding table scraps and allowing free range. Do please share your solutions!


I cannot raise soldier fly larvae as they are not native to my area (yet?). I did feed them some mealworms I raised on dried bread from the bakery, but that was more of a treat than a base of their diet (Too much fat)


I also fed them house fly maggots. https://permies.com/t/59082/critters/smelly-maggot-bucket-quail-chickens


Here's what I could find out about nutritional values of grubs etc:

https://www.backyardchickens.com/threads/nutrition-info-mealworms-earthworms-red-wrigglers-compost-worms-etc.837491/
 
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Fukuoka says in one of his books that the Japanese chicken (the one that's solid black like a crow) is such a good forager that you can not feed them and the hens will still lay an egg every other day. That's assuming they're free ranging of course. If that's true then I'd say that makes them the best permaculture bird. Maybe other heritage breeds can do the same thing, I don't know.

People complain about small eggs and small breasts on heritage chickens, but they still beat quail by a wide margin. I've always thought the legs were the prize on a chicken anyways. And as Fukuoka says, any eggs from chickens you don't have to feed are free eggs (I think I'd at least give them access to a compost pile though).
 
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I jumped at the idea of quail. I built a 3 tier cage that held 60 and before I knew it I had hatched and had over 40 in no time. Now that being said.
Pros:
Mini eggs, I love red beet pickled eggs and these made perfect bite size eggs.
Small birds they take less room
Less noise then chickens and roosters once the males get done finding their voices
Taste great
Cons:
Eggs need special cutters to open because they are so thick and 3-4 eggs for one chicken egg
Small birds that poop a lot
They need feeders that they cant scratch all the feed out of because they are wasteful buggers
Little meat

I love my quail still have a few now but nothing like what I started with while they are nice to have and if you only eat a few eggs they might work for you I wouldn't go as far to say they are the perfect poultry as it takes 2 to make a single meal and they don't grow as fast as I was told. I know youtubers that love them and while I do like them from a homestead and production stand point not worth the effort.
 
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We have kept quail in the past. Some of them were quite peaceful, but there was always a few that panicked and flew all over the room when we entered it to service them. They were also vulnerable to predators.

Weasels can get into their pen unless you have strong rodent-proof netting (expensive for larger areas). Chicken net will not stop weasels in our experience. Crows killed many of our quails too, they got through a larger diameter chicken wire we had in the upper part of the walls surrounding the pen. Or through the roof when there were some holes big enough for a crow to squeeze themselves in. A crow got in and killed four quails once, before I noticed. The crow couldn't get out through the same hole and was flying inside the quail house when I came. Weasel killed the rest of the quails so that was the end of quails and we got chickens instead.

The best part of quail was how cute the eggs looked and how nice it was to give quail eggs as an unique gift to people.
 
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