Thursday, May 11, 2017

Quail harvest - butchering, results, costs & process of raising quail for meat

Hey there. I'm going to talk about butchering quail. There are a couple of pictures with very minimal blood, nothing graphic. I am also going to talk about bird penises. Yep. It's a hoot around here.

At seven weeks old the quail are old enough that the males have started to crow regularly and show interest in mating, to put it politely.  Because baby quail are sold un-sexed, there were plenty of males  in the group and not in a good way.  It was time to thin down the flock before the males started fighting or stressing out the ladies too much. The goal is to keep a small breeding flock for eggs and future incubation.  Plus, they're beautiful and have a wonderful little song and are really nice to have around.

They have been mostly raised in a quail tractor, on grass.  You can read more about the tractor pen here.  They left the garden after that post and went into the lawn. I was moving them to fresh grass every day, sometimes twice a day, which only took a couple of minutes.  The feeder was upgraded to a trough-style chick feeder and they got a bigger waterer. The shelter was changed from a pet carrier to a wooden crate covered with pine brush.  They still mostly did not use it.  There were plenty of things to keep them occupied and they seemed happy with the space per bird.  I had no losses.

When they are mature it is very easy to tell the sexes of the brown Coturnix quail apart.  The males have a rust colored breast:

The hens have speckles:

The white Texas A&M are impossible to sex by feathers:  

This one of the birds that I kept.  Please be a female.

You can do something called vent sexing which involves flipping the birds over and checking out their private bits.  You're looking for evidence of a foam-like substance that helps carry sperm.  Male quail, like male chickens, do not have penises. Waterfowl do, seasonally. Yes you read that right. You can read all about duck penises here in the New York Times.

At this point in the story some people, like my husband, might say "oh, my God, stop talking. Where is your filter?" I will apply it here. Better late than never.  Let's just say that although there are certain things you can see while vent sexing, the process is not perfect for various reasons the details of such we will not go into.  I tried it exactly once.

Anyway. The plan is to keep a male Coturnix quail and a group of females, ideally six. In my opinion, the brown quail grew more quickly than the A &M. I've decided on half browns and half A&Ms for the fun of seeing what patterns come out of the matings. 

***update: yeah, didn't work. Within hours the male brown was attacking all of the white birds and they were harvested too. Turns out 2 of the 3 white birds were males.***

I've been butchering quail each afternoon this week while my toddler is napping.  Here's how I do it and it works pretty well for me.

Put a plastic bag in the sink. Have a roll of paper towels handy along with two containers: one for the dead and another for the cleaned birds. Also you need a pair of heavy kitchen shears. Take off your rings and tie an apron on.

Tear off a couple of squares of paper towels and go outside and get your bird.  Please don't withhold feed from them. There's no reason to and if you take them off the feeder all the better as it's far less stressful for the bird. They're pretty docile and won't even notice you picking them up if they're busy with something.  Cover bird snugly with the paper towel and hold it to your body as you go back in the house.  They calm very quickly like this.

Place bird in left hand over sink as shown below.

Wow, my hand looks fat there.

Pretend this bird still has a head - what you want to do let the bird poke its head out from the paper towel, then gently stretch the neck out like this and firmly cut the head off with the shears. Do not worry about not having the hand strength to do this - it takes about the same effort as cutting a sturdy flower stem.  Hold on to the body tightly and let the bird drain into the bag.  A purely reflexive flapping of the wings will happen but I assure you that bird is dead. DO NOT DROP THE BIRD. I dropped two and I promise you, they will spray you. Either avoid this or learn to laugh at yourself.

Put bird in the dead bird tray.  Put a fresh paper towel in the bottom of the bag to cover up the head and the blood so the next bird you bring in doesn't have an OH, SHIT moment before it dies.
Compassion at all times, please. Taking the extra second to do this is the least you can do.

Repeat with remaining birds. I chose the birds to process based on; extra jumbo brown males first, un-sexed white quail on body type and color pattern (getting rid of the ones I didn't want to save).

After all of your birds are headless it's time to skin them. Cut off the feet below the knees, pinch the breast skin between your fingers and tear. The skin comes off very easily and quickly. I clip the wings off at the second joint.  Then remove the crop and neck with the shears. Cut a very shallow V following the outline of the rib cage, follow the ribs down and cut around the exit under the tail. This whole lower internal section should come away with one gentle tug. It helps to have the cold water running at a trickle to wash away any loose feathers as you work. Rinse out the cavity, pat dry. Place in clean tray and repeat with the other quail. Let rest in the refrigerator at least a day for the bird to go in and out of rigor before you cook or freeze

So far in this way I've done 15 over three days with more to do tomorrow.

Here are my costs for this project:
  • I purchased 27 day-old quail for $15 locally.
  • The local feed mill charges $14.40 for 50 lbs of game bird crumble. I've used about 75? lbs = about $21.60 They had a full feeder at all times. Also they've been raised on the ground with the opportunity to chase bugs, eat seeds and greens.
  • Wood chips for brooder - maybe a 1/10 of a bale = .50
  • I am not counting a heat lamp or the cost of the quail tractor because I will use it for brooding and raising many more birds.
So the cost so far is only $37.10 or $1.37 per bird.

I pulled 10 quail at random and put them on the scale (yes, it was set back to 0 to account for the weight of the bowl).  All together the 10 weighed just about 3 lbs on the dot, dressed out (4.8 ounces).  Please someone check my maths but I think that's about $4.56/lb.

To put it in perspective, Google quail meat.  A very popular outdoor store sells them 12 for $69.99 for 4 ounce birds. Without shipping. That's $5.80 per bird for ones that weigh less that mine.

We were doing sliders on the grill tonight and decided to put on a couple of quail to try them. I spatch-cocked them and secured the legs to the breasts with toothpicks.  Olive oil and and a generous shake of herbs de provence.  They were very, very good cooked medium/medium-rare and my husband wondered how many more I could raise before fall.  If we were making a whole meal of these we agreed that 2 per person would have done it.

So, that's the quail project in a nutshell.  From brooding, housing, feeding and processing (and taste) I think it has a much greater return than raising other poultry.  

I'm happy to edit this if anyone wants more information or there's something I've left out. Thoughts?  has anyone else raised quail?


  1. Now I posted a comment here but it's not saved - annoying. Found this really interesting when I read it the other day and we're considering quail to trial at some point. Maybe next year though as they don't fit into this year's plans just yet.
    I love the fact your filter kicks in late haha!

  2. Oh no! I know some people have had trouble recently with blogger "eating" comments but I haven't up until this point. Ugh!
    Quail - they are SO easy and take up so little space we will probably have them for a good while. My husband is hooked and calls them the "lobster of poultry" and immediately set about proposing a business plan.
    Bonus: we got out first egg today too!

    1. I've lost your email - send me another one over please! I'd love for you to do me a guest post and it might increase traffic to your blog hopefully, my facebook page has been going quite well lately as well. I'm so tempted to get soem quails next year, I'd love to set up a small garden area adn prove how much I could grow in it to write about. Quails would be the perfect thing to keep for it!