The gloves are off and in the center of the ring it is a showdown, chickens vs quail. Which lays the most eggs? What about housing? Ease of care? Who is better for meat production? Which little feathered dinosaur deserves a spot on your suburban Homestead? Read on to find out.
Chickens Vs Quail For Eggs
Chickens are the long standing homestead staple. They are very hardy and lay large delicious chicken eggs, up to one a day in the summer. Eggs produced on the homestead are often of a higher quality than those that money can buy, at least in the supermarket. You will notice though that I said chickens will lay ‘up to’ an egg a day. You will read this all over the internet but it is very rare to find a chicken that will actually do this. In reality expect about 5 delicious eggs a week from a good laying hen.
Quail are no slouch in the egg department and in my experience actually do lay an egg a day in the summer. Like chickens, their egg laying is tied to day length rather than actual temperature. At those times of the year when you would expect 5 eggs a week from your chickens, you can expect 7 from your quail. Quail eggs are tiny and for every chicken egg you will need 4 or 5 quail eggs for the same recipe so there is a trade off there. Special tools are also required for opening quail eggs if you are to avoid going crazy trying to open them! Nutritionally both types of eggs are very similar and to me they also taste identical.
In the subtropics egg production of both birds does slow down in the winter but really only in July. Elsewhere in the world though you are likely to have a longer egg gap. There are keepers (in particular those with long winters and short summers) who use lights to lengthen days and stimulate egg laying, but here where the winter is short I feel the birds benefit from the rest.
Chickens Vs Quail For Meat Production
Both birds produce a good quality carcass but quail will do it much more quickly and are much easier to process. Quail can also be harvested at any any age and remain very edible (as a fryer) while chickens have to be harvested young lest the become a tough, boil only bird. This gives quail the distinct advantage of remaining harvestable at the end of their productive egg laying life.
Nutritionally both are very similar but it depends a lot on the breed of chicken and how it was raised. For most homestead birds this is a moot point. Taste too is very similar, don’t believe the ‘game bird’ hype attributed to quail. When talking chickens vs quail for meat production it is a no contest for me. There is just less stress, less time, easier processing and less waste when rearing quail for the table over chickens.
Chickens are less efficient than quail in almost every way. While they may lay an egg a day, a hen needs to eat a lot of food to do it. That’s not to mention the 24 weeks it took that hen to lay her first egg. For comparison quail are laying by week 8. That entire time the hen was eating food, taking up space and wasn’t producing any eggs. The chart below compares feed to egg conversion across a number of poultry. Note that quail need a lot less food per egg than chickens and this is after they are both producing. The quail has already laid over 100 eggs by the time the chicken gets going. Quail eggs also sell for a premium over chicken eggs if you have too many. This is a clear win for the quail in the chickens vs quail comparison.
When it comes to the efficiency of meat production the line is a little less clear. Studies show chickens as being on par with quail but these studies are talking about the Cornish Cross. These are the large, fat and relatively immobile birds that are raised in sheds, they are not a bird you would use on the homestead. If you are talking about any chicken breed suitable to the homestead then it is another clear win for the quail both in terms of time and feed efficiency. Quail meat also sells for a premium if allowed in your area.
Something worth noting in the discussion about efficiency is that quail need a higher protein feed than chickens (I use a game bird maintenance feed). These higher protein feeds are generally more expensive and so it is worth checking what is available in your area and doing the math. Here the quail still comes out ahead despite the slightly more expensive feed.
Quail are quieter than chickens, period. Even my chicken hens are louder than my crowing male quail (oh yeah, quail do crow). When we get to talking about roosters the gap widens further. If noise levels are a concern then quail win this round.
Housing and Maintenance
At Boobook Farm I keep the chickens in a permanent pen and tractor the quail but both birds can be kept in various ways very easily. I won’t go too far into all the ways you can keep them here but I will point out the one glaring difference, the space required.
Quail, regardless of how you keep them, require about a square foot per bird. Chickens on the other hand need about 12 square feet minimum. So if space is a concern you can keep about 12 quail for every one chicken. For many homesteaders (myself included) this won’t really matter as we give our birds much more space than required. If you are on a smaller lot though it is certainly worth considering and is another feather in the quail’s cap.
Chickens do have the benefit of being able to free range. Provided you have a way of keeping predators at bay, you can let chickens out of the coop in the morning and they will return of an evening. Just make sure there is no way they can get to your vegetable beds or they will make short work of them! There is no practical way to free range quail and so this is a win for the chicken.
This is were the chicken shines. While quail are great for meat and eggs, that is about it. Chickens can be the waste disposal system of the homestead. They will turn food scraps into compost in no time flat. Chickens can also be used to remove weeds and pests from an area and for turning over and preparing vegetable beds. Another use of chickens is to rotate them through and a pasture/food forest to help build soil Joel Salatin style. Chickens have many uses on the homestead other than just meat and eggs and that is why they still have a place here at Boobook Farm.
So chickens vs quail, which should you keep on your homestead? Well like most things in permaculture, it depends. Both have their upsides and downsides. For basic egg and meat production the winner in most cases is quail, especially if you are short on space. On the homestead chickens certainly have a lot of uses beyond these basics though and for this reason I will always keep both chickens and quail here at Boobook Farm.