• skills for a sustainable lifestyle

    Chickens and Quails: How Different Are They?

    Posted in QUAILS on 01/28/21

    Chickens, quails. They're both birds. How different are they from each other, really? If you are just getting started with both or either, you may be wondering how to pick between the two or what you need to get set up. There are a few major differences between these two types of birds.

    Quails: Quails are ground-dwellers by nature. They love to spread out in the underbrush, quietly napping on their sides with one leg out or sitting quietly, observing the world around them. They are pretty much silent throughout the day. Male quails will sometimes trill, but it is usually in response to high ratios of males to females, overcrowding, or dominance issues within the covey. They may also trill more often in the early spring, because mating is ramping up and egg-laying starts again. The trill is not loud, and many actually enjoy the sound. In an urban setting, the neighbors won't be able to separate the sound from a neighborhood bird, so it is easier to start a backyard breeding program with quails than with chickens.

    For the most part, quails don't make any sound at all. A little quail trill is much easier to explain to neighbors than a crowing rooster at 3:00 am!

    Because of their ground-dwelling nature, quails lay their eggs wherever they are sitting. Quail-keepers commit to an Easter-egg hunt when raising quails in a ground-dwelling environment. When raising quails in raised cages, many quail-keepers will set up a system to roll eggs into a catch tray for easier collection.

    I prefer keeping my quails in an aviary, so I opt for the egg hunt. Spending time in the aviary with my quails is one of the highlights of my day, so I am happy enough to poke around and find the eggs while I am out with them.

    I personally have found success with an aviary setting, and would recommend a ground cage for anyone getting started with quails.

    During the day, quails will jump and run around with little bursts of energy. They flap and flush upwards when surprised--a trait that has been historically exploited by hunters, who would send their dogs to flush the quail from the bushes in the wild. The quail would fly straight upwards and the hunter would take aim. This behavior is exhibited in domestic quail-keeping environments, too. When quails are surprised, scared, or in conflict with each other, they will flush straight upwards (a behavior sometimes referred to as "bonking" since they will usually jump, full speed, right into the roof of whatever enclosure they are living in and bonk their heads).

    Our aviary is 8 ft tall to allow for several feet of bonking space. When keeping quails in shorter cages, it is important to keep the roof at a distance lower than 18" or risk the quails hurting themselves by bonking upwards. If you are keeping quail in short cages, it will restrict their urge to bonk.

    My personal philosophy, both as a teacher and as an animal keeper, is to create an environment wherein the natural behavior is allowed to occur in a safe and healthy way, rather than to restrict an environment in order to prevent a natural behavior.

    This is why I prefer not to use short cages and opt for an aviary instead. It is always easier to train a behavior in the direction you want than to try to eliminate it altogether!

    When it's time for quails to sleep, they do not roost. This is useful (and money saving!), since you do not need to build them a coop. They will sleep huddled together or separate from each other, under plants or in a small structure. Within our covey, some quails prefer sleeping inside the small house we built for them (my husband calls it the quail chalet because it looks like a little ski lodge), and others like to sleep out "under the stars".

    They are very easy to keep, as long as you set up their environment for their natural needs and behaviors.

    Quails, however, are not all sunshine and rainbows. If they are overcrowded, or you have some quails with aggressive personalities, or you have too many males, they will attack each other. It is important to maintain a ratio of 1 male to every 5 females, and sort out any oppositional personalities. When I first started keeping quails, I vowed that I would never keep them again. After two rough months of quails attacking and scalping each other, I thought that the problem was with the quails

    However, after doing some research and observation, I noted that the problem was not with the quail themselves. It was with how I was approaching keeping them.

    My husband got to work building an aviary, and I got to work breeding a new generation of quails from my one calm male. If you are having issues with your quails and aggression--don't give up! Try out some more natural quail-keeping strategies. Give them a ground dwelling and check your ratios of males to females.

    With quails, and really all creatures, I believe that success comes from fully understanding the natural behavior of the animal and setting up an environment that reflects the way that creature wants to live.

    Chickens: Now, chickens are the classic homestead bird. Often called the gateway animal to homesteading, they really are like potato chips. You set out to have only two or three chips and, before you know it, you've consumed an entire, family-sized bag. Am I right?

    Quails are cute. They're sweet. They're quiet. But when it comes to personality, this is where chickens shine.

    Don't get me wrong, quails can have lovely, dynamic personalities. But, when I think of the difference between heading out to the aviary and going out to check in with the chickens, the thing that stands out to me the most is how the birds react to my presence.

    My chickens yell a specific call out to me, either my "name" or the combination of bawks that means "I want mealworms, now!". When I walk in to the run, my Barred Plymouth Rock and top-of-the-pecking-order hen, Pepper, follows me happily around while I clean their coop or refill their feeder and waterer. They enjoy my presence and I enjoy theirs.

    Many people keep chickens because of their distinct personalities, the ease of finding and collecting eggs, and the beautiful simplicity of the tried and true system within which chickens live.

    If you have a large, clean run (with a roof and predator-proof hardware cloth), a coop that can house everyone comfortably (that is draft-free with good ventilation), enough roosting space, and accessible food and water, you can easily create a self-sustaining system with about the same maintenance as owning a cat. Plus, they pay their rent in eggs. How cool is that?

    Chickens are noisier by far than quails. They love to talk, both to you and about you. When I'm inside, I can hear them out there having conversations. When I walk outside, the tone shifts to include me in the discussion.

    If noise is a concern for you or your neighbors, and you have a small space or do not have the resources to build a chicken coop, quails may be a better option.

    Chickens can be hard to keep if you do not have enough space for them, and with the tendency to want to grow the flock every year (chicken math is real!), square footage is a real consideration.

    I'll do some more in-depth posts in the future about the process of building the aviary, the ultimate guide to quail setup, and more information about how to raise quails naturally in the future. Which do you prefer? Chickens, quails, or are you like me and you have to have both?