Let’s talk quail again! I promise we’re doing more at Sunny Side Up Urban Garden than just birds, but the birds took up a large part of the early phases of this endeavor, mostly because we wanted to get them up and running so that we could use the eggs to help support the rest of this fairly massive backyard undertaking!
So once the quail were about 5 weeks old (and had most of their feathers...no this one above isn’t dead, just laying it all out to sleep like no other birds I’ve ever met!!), they were ready to be kicked out of the garage. We had bought three cages designed to roll eggs out the front when they were laid. Unfortunately we found pretty quickly that most quail cages are designed with harvesting eggs in mind, but not much else (and can actually be quite sharp - both on the birds’ feet and the hands changing food and water daily - ouch!).
We put the birds on the west side of the house, thinking that we would eventually build the chicken run over there, and the chickens could dig in the quail poop and help take care of the smell and flies and whatnot. But what we found was that the smell and the flies and the wasted food and the poor stressed birds were not going to last until we got the chickens over there! We could stand it for less than two weeks before we worried that the neighbors had even started noticing there were significantly more flies around than usual! We had to shift gears.
The other quail setup we had been introduced to prior to starting this project was one where the birds were on the ground. When we went to visit, they were happy, not stinky, no flies, and seemingly very little work and very little maintenance. With that in mind, we gave up one of our backyard shed areas to build a quail coop instead. We used mostly reclaimed wood from the garden bed that had circled the property before, with a few new boards for decoration. There’s an aluminum roof over half of the 8’x10’ structure, so the birds and the food can stay mostly dry if it rains. One thing to note about quail structures is they either need to be very short or over 6’ tall because when the birds startle, they get a burst of flight that can break their necks on a medium-sized roof. We went with a taller structure since we would be going in regularly to check for eggs and wanted to be able to stand up.
We were glad to finally move the birds into their new home, and as you can see in the video the birds were ecstatic, every one rolling around in as much dirt as it could get its beak on! The cages worked for raising the birds, but in order to be a long-term solution, it would have required daily movement of poop out from under them (some breeders have them in a shed or garage where they can wash the floor or put cardboard under the cage that can be removed daily). The other thing they needed was a dirt bath! You can see in the video how desperately these ground birds want to cover their feathers in dirt. It’s really sad to me that many cage-breeders don’t give their stressed birds such a luxury. Lastly, we got the water situation finally figured out, using a 5-gallon bucket leading into cups with at least one floater cup so that even the birds who couldn’t figure out how to push the yellow knob to get water still had some available at all times.
Now that the birds are on the ground as God designed them to be, they are healthy, fat, happy, and extremely low-maintenance. They take care of turning their own poop and we haven’t had any smell (we’ll see if anything changes when it gets to be the heat of Phoenix summer again), and all of the food waste is now being eaten off the ground. We just have to go in once a day to check food and water levels and then put down a new layer of peat moss every 2-4 weeks. Once it builds up to about 6” of soil, we’ll rake it all out and use it as compost! Overall, we are extremely happy with how this all turned out. Yes, we lost some shed space, but I think this is a middle-of-the-city kind of sustainable quail endeavor now that should soon be giving us a bit of income! And we still have the cages to raise up the next round of birds (which is actually coming much sooner than we thought...).