How To Hatch Quail In an Incubator
If you have your own quail and want to incubate the eggs in an incubator you should collect them daily to keep them as clean as possible. There are different opinions on whether to wash eggs, you can very gently wipe extremely dirty ones over with a sponge damped with tepid water, however there are egg-washes on the market if you decide to clean all your eggs.
There are many places to buy eggs, try searching on the internet or have a look on E-bay, but it is important to realise that no-one can guarantee fertility and a fertile egg may not hatch for any number of reasons, particularly after posting. You should always take this into consideration when buying eggs for hatching.
Eggs should be stored with the pointed end downwards and on a slight angle, in a cool (but not cold) place and turned gently 180° once a day to make sure the membrane doesn’t stick to the shell. Mark each egg with a pencil "X" one side and "O" on the other so you can see which eggs you have turned, although this marking can be difficult to see on the mottled shells. Another method of storing is to angle the eggs at roughly 45 degrees and tilt them the opposite way each day.
Eggs can be stored for 7-10 days before incubation, although some breeders recommend not storing them for more than 5 days as the hatch success rate can be reduced, others say you can keep them up to 14 days. I stick with the 7-10 because it works for me! Only set one batch at a time because setting the eggs at different times may cause problems when the incubator needs to be left closed for the last three days of incubation. It's also best to stick to one type of bird at a time as different types have different incubation times.
Coturnix quail eggs usually take around 17-18 days to hatch. Before setting the eggs check the manufacturer's instructions for your incubator as they can vary. The incubator is best placed in a room with steady temperature and humidity and not in sunlight. It is a good idea to run the incubator for 24 hours before setting the eggs to ensure that it is keeping an even temperature. The temperature of my own incubator is set to run at 38.5C (101F approx) but check the instructions, including whether or not to add water at the beginning (for humidity). I now dry hatch in a still air incubator, just adding water to the reservoirs on the last day of turning and luckily usually have good results.
Once you are satisfied that the incubator is running properly you can set the eggs in place. Make a note of the day you put the eggs in and then calculate what the date will be 15 days after (that'swhen you stop turning) and also 18 days from setting as that's when to expect your babies! If you don’t have an incubator that automatically turns the eggs you will need to turn them an odd number of times daily, three or five times is often recommended, although there is no need to turn them on first day. If you didn’t mark the eggs during storage, remember to mark them with “X” and “O” so that you know which side to turn them on to each time. This may not be as easy as it sounds as most quail eggs are heavily mottled, you may have to ensure that you turn them over by turning them 180' in your hand and then place them carefully back in the incubator.
Eggs can be candled between seven and ten days after setting to see if they are fertile. It is possible to buy egg candlers but I have made my own using an upturned “snack pot” type container with a small hole in the bottom to rest the egg on and I stand it over a strong torch light to check the eggs.
To use this method just place the rounded end of the egg in the hole, turn on the torch and switch off the lights. If the eggs are fertile there will be a dark mark inside the egg and/or red vein-like “threads”. If the eggs are clear inside after ten days they should be removed from the incubator to prevent contamination of the other eggs. (The egg in the picture is not fertile – it is actually a duck eggs that has been “blown”, i.e just the shell).
Three days before the hatch is due make sure the water reservoirs are topped up and then stop turning the eggs. Don’t open the incubator until after the first chicks have hatched and dried.
On a couple of occasions we have heard the chicks cheeping and pipping on the day before we were due to stop turning. In these instances we have not turned the eggs but quickly topped up the reservoirs and replaced the lid of the incubator until the chicks have hatched and dried.
The first part of the hatch is when the chick pushes its beak through into the air sac in the egg. This is called internal pipping and you can often hear the babies tapping and cheeping.
The next stage is when the chick should crack the outer shell of the egg, called external pipping, and begin to wriggle, tapping his way round until he breaks free.
We leave the chicks in the incubator for about 12 hours (but never more than 24) to dry out – they do not need to be fed at this stage because they are still absorbing the rest of egg yolk.
Once they are dry we move the babies into our home-made brooder, although it is possible to buy brooders commercially – try E-bay again. We made ours using a large white plastic storage box with a heat bulb suspended from – believe it or not – an old TV aerial! If the chicks seem a bit warm – they will try to avoid sitting under the lamp – we just raise the bulb a bit higher. In the bottom we use newspaper with anti slip mats (Ebay has them too) for the first week to stop the chicks slipping and injuring themselves. The mats wash well and dry quickly but it is worth having a couple to make it easier to keep everything clean. You can use shavings in the brooder but the chicks may try to eat them so it’s best not to put them in for the first week or so until they realise that shavings aren’t food!
From experience we recommend using jam jar drinkers with narrow trays but you can use a shallow dish with pebbles in it to stop the chicks drowning, a shallow dish or quail feeder is fine for food.
For the first day we feed a little bit of mashed boiled egg with finely ground chick starter crumbs and then carry on with the starter crumb until the chicks are a bit bigger and can manage the crumb without grinding it. After a few weeks you can introduce a little bit of canary seed, lettuce, cucumber and millet sprays of the type for budgies. Another real favourite are dried mealworms but only feed a few at a time as they are very greedy with them.
After four or five weeks, depending on the weather, the chicks (who will be almost grown by now) can be moved into their outside accommodation. We use a heat bulb for the first couple of days if it’s a bit chilly and always at night as with the older birds.
Please note this information is offered as a guide only and whilst I have made every effort to ensure it is accurate, I cannot be held responsible if the information doesn’t work in your circumstances!