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After chickens, I think quail are probably my favorite bird to keep on the homestead. Whether you keep them for eggs, or for meat, they will bring movement and character to your homestead.
I have been keeping and breeding quail for many years, and I spend a lot of time giving talks at clubs and shows around the country. One question I frequently get asked is ‘do quails need grit?’.
Yes, quails do need to have grit available to them at all times. Quail do not have teeth to chew their food, but rather grind it up in their gizzard by using small pieces of grit. Over time they will need to replace that grit, so it should be made available to them at all times.
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Do Quail Need Grit?
Quails do need grit. Grit forms an essential part of a quails digestions system by breaking down their food before it reaches their stomach.
Quails, along with many other birds, including chickens, do not possess teeth. They have no way to chew their food before swallowing it.
To solve this problem, quails have evolved to have a gizzard that lies between their mouths and their stomachs. A gizzard is essentially a storage bag where the quails’ food can be processed slightly before reaching the stomach.
Scientists believe some birds developed gizzards as a way of allowing them to feed quickly, then leave a given area before predators found them. They do not have to waste time chewing their food. They can eat quickly and then fly off.
Once the quail has swallowed their food, and it has entered the gizzard, the food is ground up with grit that is stored in the gizzard. Grit is an essential part of a quail’s digestive system. Imagine what it would be like for us to digest our meals if we had to swallow all our food without chewing any of it.
How Much Grit Do Quails Need?
Typically, an individual quail only needs a very small amount of grit. If like me, you keep your quails on the ground in a free-range style setup, then you can just spread a few handfuls of grit around their enclosure once every few months.
The chances are, that free-range quails will have access to lots of naturally occurring grit as well as small stones and possibly pieces of shell and other small, hard objects they will swallow and store in their gizzards.
If you keep your quails in a cage system, possibly up off the ground, then you are best to either provide your quails with a dedicated pot of grit or add it to their food.
Quails will instinctively know to swallow grit from the pot as and when required, although using this method you will need to check your quail haven’t defecated in their grit pot, which they are prone to do.
Mixing grit with your quails’ food is probably the easiest method of providing grit to your birds, as they will typically consume it whilst eating without even thinking about it.
In the past, I have added a few handfuls of grit to a 30lb (13.5kg) sack of quail food when I tipped it into the feed bin.
How Often Do Quails Need Grit?
How often? will depend on many factors. Quails essentially need grit in their gizzards at all times, and there is no way to know when an individual quail may need more grit.
In my experience, the best thing to do is ensure your quail have access to grit at all times.
What sort of Grit do quails need?
Over the years I have tried a number of different types of grit for my birds. I have found crushed, non-soluble granite like Manna Pro Poultry Grit which comes in 5lb bags from Amazon.com to be the best for my quail.
You certainly want the grit you use to be non-soluble as you don’t want it to break down. The idea is the grit crushes and breaks the quail’s food down before the quail swallows the food down to its stomach.
Whichever grit you use, make sure it is developed for poultry and it is small enough for the quail to swallow, and pass through their system, as some inevitably end up in the quail’s stomach and then out when it poops.
What Else do Quails Need with their food?
If there is one other thing I would ensure your quail always have access to, it would be crushed oyster shell.
Many inexperienced quail keepers confuse crushed oyster shells with grit, thinking they are one and the same thing. In fact, crushed oyster shell is a source of calcium for your quail, which helps to make sure they have strong bones, but also their eggs have strong shells.
Quail that lack calcium in their diet can sometimes produce eggs that are thin-shelled and so break either in the nest box or when collected by the quail keeper.
Quail only need small quantities of crushed oyster shells, so I don’t typically add them to their food as I might with grit, but rather throw a handful around their run once every couple of months, or if I notice their egg shells are thinning.
Quail do need grit. Grit is an essential part of a quail’s digestive system. As quail do not have teeth to chew and grind their food before swallowing it, they have developed to do the ‘chewing’ in a special part of their digestive system called the gizzard.
Quail will instinctively know when to consume grit, and how much to consume. Our job as quail keepers is to make sure grit is available to the quail at all times, either by adding a small quantity to their food or by spreading some around their run so they can pick some up as and when required.
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