Small birds are usually bypassed as a food source, but those looking to supplement their food supply or establish additional food security can benefit from small birds. There are two main small birds I would recommend: quails and pigeons.
Here are the advantages to owning quail:
- They are small, so they need no more than one-square foot for each bird.
- They don’t roost, so a pen about 18-inches tall is sufficient. Pigeons, though, are roosters, so you will want a taller pen with a place to roost and nest.
- They are efficient egg layers in terms of converting feed into eggs.
It takes four quail eggs to equal one average chicken egg. Quail eggs bring much more money than standard chicken eggs, so you even can sell them.
Quail are quiet except for a sing-song coo; not even the males crow. This bird will not bother your neighbors! In fact, if you live in an apartment, no one will know you have them. Cleaning them is easy because the cage should have a screen floor with no need for nest boxes. Quail are not picky; they lay eggs wherever they stand.
Other great, yet smaller, quails are the gambel’s quail, Tennessee, California Valley, Texas and button quail.
Quail meat is high in protein and minerals and it’s lean, so it can dry out while cooking. It’s best braised, but can be fried or used in other ways. The eggs are amazing and full of HDL cholesterol (the healthy cholesterol). They are also hypoallergenic, so people with chicken egg allergies likely can eat them.
Pigeons: not Just an Annoying Bird
Pigeons (squab) may be a nuisance in the city, but they are valuable as a food supply. Pigeons are really easy to care for, and they grow quickly. If you look online for a meat-quality pigeon pair, you may be shocked; you would be fortunate to get a pair under $100 online. I suggest visiting a farm that has a silo; Amish farms would probably be the best choice. You may be able to purchase pigeons from Amish for less than $5 each. You will not find the fancy pigeons there, but they are very edible. Ask them to catch several, for mating. Once pigeons pair up, they stay together for life.
Before bringing them home, make a pigeon coup. It doesn’t have to be fancy and it will not have to be all wire. You’ll need:
- A closet or shed.
- A screen box to mount on the side so that they may peek out.
- A nest box so they can lay eggs.
“Squab” is a fancy name for the pigeons, and usually means young birds. A healthy pair will raise 12-14 squab during the year. It only takes about 26 days from hatching until eating. The parents will usually lay a second set of eggs before the first pair of chicks leaves the nest.
Pigeon feed can be found at many feed stores, or it can be pre-ordered. They will need minerals and clean water, daily.
Once established, you will have a constant food supply and new hobby!
Squab is a healthy and delicious meat. All the meat is dark and, believe it or not, tastes like the dark chicken meat. It is a tender meat, juicy and flavorful with fatty skin. There are many ways to cook this bird—all taste great!
Regardless of the way you choose to go, these birds offer multiple benefits. The cost of feeding chicken alternatives is inexpensive. All you need is a handful of feed a day, minerals and clean water. Anyone who has the room to keep either bird will find all sorts of cage plans online. The only thing left to do is go out and give it a try. You won’t be disappointed!
Have you ever raised quail or pigeons? Share your advice in the section below: