Not sure what to feed quail chicks when you first bring them home? Here's everything I've learned about feeding quail chicks!
Originally published March 2019. Updated Sept. 2021.
This post contains affiliate links. Click here to learn more.
Feeding quail chicks
For optimum growth, quail chicks require feed with a higher level of protein than what's provided in chick starter formulated for chicken chicks.
From hatch until 6 weeks of age, quail chicks should be fed a starter crumble that contains at least 23% protein.
Exactly how much protein the ideal quail starter ration should contain, is a bit of a debate.
Even the available scientific studies don't perfectly agree on the optimum amount of protein for quail chicks. One study found that a protein level of 23.08% was best for quail chicks destined to be egg-layers. Others have shown excellent results with levels of 24 or 26%. Ask seasoned quail breeders who raise them for meat, and you'll likely find that most swear by raising them on nothing less than 28-30% protein.
Whichever number you land on, a high protein chick crumble isn't always as easy to find as you might think. When I first started raising quail, this was really surprising to me, since quail are becoming such a popular source of eggs and meat, and more and more folks are raising them.
Here are some good commercially available feed options if you can find them:
- Purina Startena (30% protein)
- Bluebonnet Feeds Game Bird Turkey Starter Crumbles (30%)
- Blue Seal Feeds Multi-Flock Turkey 'n Game Starter (28%)
- Lone Star Game Bird Starter-Grower Crumbles (28%)
- Green Mountain Feeds Organic Turkey Starter Mash (26%)
- DuMOR Chick Starter 24 (24%)
If you're having a hard time finding a good starter crumble for your quail chicks, don't just settle for a bag of chick starter. Unfortunately, feed store employees untrained in the nutritional requirements of quail often tell those who inquire: "this is what you need." And hand them a bag of 18 or 20% chicken starter.
Instead, if you're coming up dry for high protein chick crumble options, try asking what your feed store carries for feeding turkey poults. Quail chicks and turkey poults have similar nutritional needs, and turkey starter is generally in the 28-30% protein range.
Ask your feed store to stock game bird starter crumble
It's also worth asking your local feed store to carry exactly the quail feed you want. I've found that local co-ops and farmers' unions tend to be extremely responsive to their customers' needs!
Make note of which feed brands your store already carries, and do a little quick research. It may be that your store doesn't stock the full line of feed products, simply because nobody has asked for game bird starter feed. I happily found this to be the case at my local farmer's union, and the now manager kindly does a wonderful job of keeping my favorite starter crumble in stock.
Should you choose a medicated quail chick crumble?
This is a hotly debated topic. Many starter crumbles available do contain coccidiostats and antibiotics. Depending on which part of the country you live in, (this is very much a regional issue), you may find it difficult to obtain non-medicated feed. In other parts of the country, medicated game bird feed is nearly unheard of.
I choose not to medicate my quail. After many hours of research, this is not an option I am comfortable with. Medicated feed has been clearly linked to lower body weight, and several studies suggest links to reduced fertility, and liver damage, among other concerns.
It's also important to note that as of the time of this writing, Aprolium which is the primary coccidiostat in many available poultry feeds, has not been approved by the FDA for use in Quail. This study found it to be "ineffective for prevention of coccidiosis", and the same study omitted Amprolium from the list of coccidiostats found to have "a reasonable safety margin in quail". If you do choose a medicated feed, it's worth checking the label and doing a quick bit of research about the specific medications listed on the label.
Some tips on how to feed quail chicks
Choosing a nutritionally adequate feed is a key part of raising healthy quail chicks. Here are some other considerations you'll want to keep in mind, as you create a food and water setup for your new chicks!
Offer continual access to clean water. You'll want to use a quail waterer like this one, or a nipple style waterer, so that quail chicks can't splash around in their water. Even with the quail-sized screw-on watering bases, it's worth putting some small marbles or stones in there so that tiny quail chicks can't topple in. They're so tiny for the first few days!
Use a chick feeder with holes, rather than an open dish for food. This is my favorite chick feeder. For the first couple of days after hatching, you may want a very small and shallow dish for food - even the lid of a jam jar is big enough to hold food for several quail chicks as they figure out the whole eating and drinking thing. But soon - they're going to want to dust bathe in their food, even if they have a sand box. It's just in their nature. To cut down on waste, you'll want a feeder with small openings.
Grind the chick crumble even more finely for the first several days. I find that most available chick crumble is still too large and coarse for day-old quail. For the first 3-4 days I grind their food a bit smaller, using a coffee grinder.
It's ok to offer healthy treats. Don't let anyone tell you that introducing your chicks to nutritious, real-food treats will mess up their "complete" diet. I'm not talking about offering them a bite of your donut. Healthy quail snacks are totally ok! here are some of my favorite nutritious treats that quail chicks can have:
Dried or live mealworms
Dried or live crickets (start with small ones!)
organic lettuce or arugula
small live earthworms
hard boiled egg yolk
Start transitioning them onto a game bird developer ration when they reach 6 weeks old. The feed you choose to finish growing out your quail will likely depend on whether they're destined to be egg layers or meat birds. Whichever feed you choose, you'll want to ease them onto it for several days by mixing it 50/50 with the food you've been feeding them for the first 6 weeks.
I hope the information here helps save you a bit of the research time it took me, when I was looking for real answers about what to feed my quail chicks! If you have any questions about feeding quail chicks, let me know in the comments, and I'll try to help!
Best of luck to you and your new quail babies!!
Sources for this article:
- Soares, R da TRN, Fonseca, JB, Santos, AS de O dos, & Mercandante, MB. (2003). Protein requirement of Japanese quail (Coturnix coturnix japonica) during rearing and laying periods. Brazilian Journal of Poultry Science, 5(2), 153-156. https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S1516-635X2003000200010
- Li, Y.X. & Wang, Y.Q. & Pang, Y.Z. & Li, J.X. & Xie, X.H. & Guo, T.J. & Li, W.Q.. (2011). The Effect of Crude Protein Level in Diets on Laying Performance, Nutrient Digestibility of Yellow Quails. International Journal of Poultry Science. 10. 110-112. 10.3923/ijps.2011.110.112.
- Akhtar, Humayoun & Abo-EL-Sooud, Khaled & Atef Ahmed Shehata, M. (1996). Concentrations of salinomycin in eggs and tissues of laying chickens fed medicated feed for 14 days followed by withdrawal for 3 days. Food additives and contaminants. 13. 897-907. 10.1080/02652039609374478.
- D Ruff, M & C Wilkins, G & B Chute, M. (1987). Prevention of Coccidiosis in Bobwhites by Medication. Poultry science. 66. 1437-45. 10.3382/ps.0661437.
- E Jones, J & Solis, Juan & L Hughes, B & J Castaldo, D & E Toler, J. (1990). Production and Egg-Quality Responses of White Leghorn Layers to Anticoccidial Agents. Poultry science. 69. 378-87. 10.3382/ps.0690378.
- Gerhold, Rick. (2011). The Efficacy of Anticoccidial Products Against Eimeria spp. in Northern Bobwhites. Avian Diseases. 59-64. 10.1637/9572-101310-Reg.1.
- Sawant, S. G., P. S. Terse, and R. R. Dalvi. "Toxicity of Dietary Monensin in Quail." Avian Diseases 34, no. 3 (1990): 571-74. doi:10.2307/1591246.