If you’re planning to raise your own quail or your first batch of fertilized eggs is in the incubator, you’re probably wondering what you should feed them after hatching.
You should feed your baby quail either a quail-specific starter feed, a gamebird, a turkey, or a pheasant starter feed. These foods are high in protein, which helps the development of the body. This is in line with their diet in their natural habitat, where they eat more protein-rich foods in the first weeks of their lives.
What is a starter feed?
Baby quail consume protein by eating bugs, insects, and worms in the first stage of their development in nature.
If you want to raise your own quail, you should look for a starter feed that contains 24% or more protein. Some starter feeds have as much as 30% of protein, which is essential for their healthy development.
As opposed to chickens, quail is a type of game bird requiring a higher percentage of protein in the early stages of their development. Their diet is similar to that of pheasants and turkeys, and you can use their starter feed interchangeably.
The store where I bought my first bag of starter feed only had a generic gamebird starter crumble with 24% protein, and it worked great. All my quail grew into healthy mature birds and I didn’t lose any.
Chicken starter feed contains less protein, and it’s not ideal for baby quail, but if it is all you have available, you can use a non-medicated chicken starter. You can add some extra protein by giving them mealworms, snails or slugs.
When to switch diet?
Quail grow remarkably fast. A two-week-old quail chick doesn’t resemble anything to the baby it was just a few days earlier, and by the time it turns eight weeks old, it has pretty much reached its peak size and weight.
You can keep your quail on the starter feed until they reach sexual maturity: the hens start laying eggs regularly, and the roosters breed the hens and start crowing regularly. This is usually when they reach between six and eight weeks of age.
You can transition them to a layer feed at this stage, which is lower in protein and higher in calcium (1.5-2%). This helps keep them produce eggs with strong shells.
How to feed baby quail?
Day-old quail chicks are tiny, much smaller than newly hatched chickens. They are so small that they can find it difficult to swallow the grains of the starter feed. In the first five days, you should ground their food in a mixer or crush it somehow.
None of my quails have choked because of too large grains, but I lost one quail because it swallowed a small piece of egg-shell after hatching. When I opened the throat to see what had happened to it, I saw that it was a small piece, barely the size of a grain.
At around 5 days of age, they have grown enough so you don’t need to ground ther food anymore.
How much do baby quail eat?
Day-old baby quail eat very little: barely a few grams a day. As they grow and develop, they eat more and more.
After a week, a baby quail eats 10-15 grams of food per day, and at two weeks of age, it eats around 25 grams per day.
Make sure they have access to food (and water) at all times. Don’t worry, your quail will not overeat; they only take in a much food as necessary for their development. You will see that they rest and lie idle next to their feed when they are not hungry.
Quail are messy eaters: they shake their head as their beak touches food, and they spill a lot of grains. In the first days, you need to leave the food on the floor of their cage (a piece of paper or a shallow tray), but they quickly learn how to eat, and they grow big enough to reach higher for their food. You can save wasted food by using a system that catches the spilled grains. The easiest and cheapest solution is using a Tupperware box and cutting holes on its side. I transition to this system when they are around 5 days old.
Quail also drink a lot of water besides eating. Make sure you have fresh water available to drink. I use a shallow plate in the first days, and I transition to a Tupperware-style drinking system after 5 days because not only are they messy eaters, they are messy drinkers as well.
I cut the hole big enough for their heads to fit in, but not their body.
A poultry fountain is also a good solution later on, when they are a bit bigger and don’t sit and poop in the tray.
Caring for baby quail in the early days
Food and water are essential for caring for your baby quail, but there are a few other things you need to pay attention to, such as the proper temperature and keeping them safe.
I wrote an extensive article about caring for your baby quail, including the first few hours in the incubator, the move to the brooder and other helpful tips I picked up in my journey with quail. You can find the article here.