Processing Quail for Meat – Everything You Need to Know

Rearing quail in your backyard farm can provide a source of meat, eggs, and feathers. Quail are small birds, require minimal maintenance, and offer a tasty meal when butchered and prepared for cooking. 

Knowing when to butcher your quail will ensure that you can set up procedures and timelines to ensure that you always have quail ready for butchering. 

Quail are ready for butchering at around 6 to 8 weeks of age and weigh around 7 to 9 ounces. At this stage, the meat is tender, and the birds are small enough to make the process of butchering easier. Some prefer to wait until the quail are 8 to 12 weeks old as the meat is more flavorful, and they put on some extra weight.

Jumbo quail are slightly larger than regular quail. If you raise your birds mainly for their meat, this is a better variety. They also lay slightly larger eggs, but they won’t be as prolific layers as regular quail.

Learn how to raise your own quail and have an unlimited supply of eggs and meat.

If you are only rearing a few quail, you can use the meat for family meals. If you have a large number, you can use them to provide a source of income for a small business. 

When to butcher quail?

The right time to butcher quail depends on a few factors, including the type, age, and size of the birds, as well as personal preferences for meat tenderness and flavor.

Quail are ready for butchering when they reach 6 to 8 weeks of age and weigh around 7 to 9 ounces. The meat is very tender and the small size of the birds makes the process easier. Some farmers prefer to wait a few weeks longer. The meat gains additional flavor, but may not be as tender. This is a personal choice. If you are a beginner, you should experiment to see what suits you best. 

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Quail lay year-round if exposed to sufficient light (the light source can also be a light bulb), and they can be hatched and raised year-round, so you can have fresh quail meat to eat any season of the year.

How to butcher quail?

If you have never butchered quail before, you may need some strong nerves. Butchering a quail is a process that requires some skill and care, but it’s not very difficult. Once you overcome the mental hurdle, you will learn it in no time.

You will need

  • Sharp knife or scissors
  • Plastic container to catch the blood
  • Plastic container or garbage bin to hold the heads
  • Plastic container to hold the bodies for processing 
  • Cutting board
  • Clean workspace

Here are the steps to follow to butcher a quail.

To kill your quail, you can use two methods.

Severing neck nerves 

This first method does not involve blood (initially). Hold the bird firmly in one hand around the body. Hook one finger under the neck and press down on the top of the head with your thumb. Make sure your grip is very strong. 

Now pull the head away from the body with a sharp, strong pull. The bird dies instantly, but the wings will flop around for about 30 seconds before it goes still.

Once the body stops moving, you can cut off its head with a sharp pair of scissors, let it bleed out, and process the rest just as described in the following method.

Cutting off head

This second method is messier. Hold the bird firmly with one hand. Use your scissors to cut off the head at the narrowest part of the neck. 

Allow the blood to drain out into your container. Place the head into the disposable container and the body into your container for processing later. 

Once you have processed all the quail, you can move to your workspace and continue to process the birds.

Choose whether to pluck or skin the quail. 

Plucking involves pulling out all the feathers and leaving the skin intact. It is time-consuming, and care must be taken not to damage the skin. 

Skinning is faster. To skin the quail, hold the bird firmly and tear a section of the skin open. Once the meat is exposed, it is relatively easy to pull the skin and feathers off the remainder of the bird. Use some force but take care not to tear the meat. 

Cut the spine of the quail to remove the backbone and rib cage.

Use a sharp knife to remove the wings and feet at the joints.

Remove the entrails by making a small incision near the tail, and then use your hand to gently remove the entrails and discard them.

You can keep the neck and giblets for stock or soup (you need a LOT of quail giblets to make a soup because everything in the quail is so tiny, but even adding a little can add a kick to your meal).

If you are planning on roasting the quail in the oven or putting it on the BBQ, you’re ready to go after a thorough rinse. 

If you want to use its parts separately, remove the breast using a sharp knife to cut down the center of the chest. Use your fingers to separate the breast meat from the rib cage.

Use a sharp knife to separate the legs from the body at the joints.

Now you can pack and store. Wrap the cut pieces of quail in plastic wrap or parchment paper, then store in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to use.

Note – Always wash your hands before and after processing your quail. Ensure you sterilize all surfaces and equipment after use to avoid food contamination.

Plucking vs. skinning

Plucking and skinning are two methods used to prepare quail for cooking. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, and the best method for you will depend on personal preferences, experience, and cooking requirements.

Plucking is the traditional method for preparing quail. It involves removing the feathers from the bird by pulling them out by the roots. It is done by first scolding the bird by dipping it into hot water for a few seconds. The feathers will come off quite easily after.

This method leaves the skin on the bird and provides a natural barrier between the meat and the heat, helping to keep the meat moist and tender during cooking. The skin also adds flavor to the meat as it caramelizes during cooking. 

However, plucking is a time-consuming process, and it can be difficult to remove all of the feathers without damaging the skin or the meat.

If you have many quail to butcher, it is probably better to skin them instead.

Skinning involves removing the skin from the bird and discarding it. This method exposes the meat directly to the heat, which can result in a more evenly cooked bird. 

Skinning is a faster process than plucking as it eliminates the need to remove the feathers. Some cooks find that skinning the bird makes the meat more susceptible to drying out and losing flavor during cooking.

What are the usable parts of quail?

The usable parts of a quail are the meat, eggs, and feathers. 

The meat is considered a delicacy and is often served in upscale restaurants. The breast and legs are the most common parts used, but the neck can also be used in stocks and soups. 

Quail eggs are a popular choice in fine-dining restaurants. They can be served hard-boiled in salads, made into omelets, or poached. Quail eggs are also delicious as mini scotch eggs. 

The feathers are very pretty and have many uses. Let’s take a look at some creative ideas.

What to do with quail innards?

Some inner parts of the quail, such as the heart, can be eaten. When you have many quail to process, it may not be practical to save all the edible parts, since they are so tiny.

However, innards don’t need to be discarded because they make excellent fertilizer. You can put them in the compost and cover it to protect it from flies, and within a few days, it turns into valuable nutrition for your plants.

What to do with quail feathers?

Here are a few ideas to make use of quail feathers after butchering the quail.

Compost – you can collect the feathers along with the rest of the parts of the bird and put them in the compost. They break down quite fast, and they can turn your soil into fertile ground.

Fashion accessories – Quail feathers can be incorporated into jewelry, hats, or clothing for a unique look. 

Event décor – Quail feathers are ideal for retro and vintage 40s and 50s themed events like weddings, engagements, parties, and anniversaries. They add a rustic and natural ambiance to your venue. 

Fly fishing – Fishing experts use quail feathers to create a lure attached to a hook that attracts fish. 

Mixed Media Art – Include quail feathers in your mixed media art, paintings, or collages. Use them in dream catchers, wreaths, and wall hangings. 

Home décor – You can arrange quail feathers in a vase or container to create a talking point when guests come around. They look lovely in a study or a home work office. 

Calligraphy – If you enjoy the age-old art of calligraphy, quail feathers are a perfect choice. 

Taxidermy – Quail feathers are used in taxidermy projects to create lifelike displays of birds.

Toys for pets – Some pet toys are made of quail feathers as they are safe and fluffy.

How many quail per person for a meal?

Quail is a small bird. If you are serving a starter, one bird per person will be enough. 

For a main course, you will need to serve at least 2. 

Big eaters may want more, so ensure you have enough sides to provide enough food. Quail pairs well with roasted vegetables, all forms of potatoes, grains like rice and quinoa, and freshly baked artisan breeds. 

Final thoughts

Keeping quail in your backyard farm gives you a great source of meat, eggs, and feathers. Butchering quail may take some courage to start, but once you get used to it, you can establish a streamlined process and always have tasty quail available for home cooking or commercial income. 


Sam is an outdoor enthusiast, who loves spending time in the garden and learning about animals. His motivating forces are his wife and 5 beautiful children. When he doesn't get it right, he will go and try again!

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