Quail chicks still in the incubator, so very tired.
It has been almost two weeks since the quail chicks hatched. And the rate they are growing is pretty amazing. Knowing, academically, that quail mature in 6-8 weeks is very different from actually seeing it. We had nine chicks hatch and at almost two weeks, all nine are still with us. One is fully half the size of the others, and I’ve been watching him (her?) with some trepidation, but the little bugger is doing well and I am very pleased so far by the whole experience.
Before going any further, I am not an expert. This is a whole new ball game for me, but its been fun, exciting and pretty eye-opening. You can google raising quail chicks and find all sorts of official looking suggestions. I’m going to touch on the basics, but also put my own experiences as I go.
- Start by hatching your quail eggs!
Two day old quail chicks.
Two day old chick.
- Have your brooder ready before the chicks even start to hatch. A brooder is anything that the quail can live in with high sides that can be kept easily cleaned. I used a large storage container that we used to keep Christmas decorations in. Some people use aquarium tanks. I would shy away from anything that can’t be wiped down, like cardboard boxes.
-I lined the bottom of my brooder with old bath towels at first. You want something the chicks can get traction on so that their legs don’t keep sliding apart- this can lead to a condition known as splayed legs. Yup, pretty much self explanatory in the name, I know, but it’s serious and can lead to serious health conditions as the quails get bigger. Easiest way to deal with it is to avoid it. You can switch to newspaper and shredded paper later to make clean up easier. I added a layer of shredded paper after the first week to make cleaning easier.
-Have a waterer and feeder ready to go. The waterer should have marbles or other smooth, clean stones in it. This is because, as cute as they are, quail chicks are not very bright and can drown themselves. After the first week I removed the marbles without any mishaps. Food should be a non-medicated Game Bird Starter. This has a higher protein content than regular chick starter, and the quail need that. I had to grind mine further for the first week and a half. A mortar and pestle works just fine, or you could use a food processor. Think sand, not powder.
Top: Game Bird starter crumbles. Bottom: ground up crumbles, better for tiny birds.
How often to feed and water them? Whenever the waterer or food bowl is empty or soiled. Don’t skimp on fresh food and clean water. These guys are doubling in size every week or so and they need it.
-You will want a heat lamp. I have read differing accounts of the best temperature newly hatched quail prefer. It seems to range between 92-98 degrees. I accomplished this with a regular 100 watt incandescent bulb. The type of bulb is important because many of the newer, energy efficient bulbs put off very little excess heat, and it is the heat, not the light, we want here. Though some people recommend a 250 watt red light bulb (which I purchased at the feed store), I found that it kept the brooder WAY too warm and I had to switch to a lower watt bulb. If you are keeping them in the house, the 250 watt is probably not necessary. If you are keeping them in an unheated garage, barn, etc, you might want the warmer bulb.
This all sounds very complicated, but really, the chicks will tell you. If they are all huddled up right under the lamp (in the warmest part of the brooder) they are too cold and either need you to lower the lamp or put in a warmer bulb. If they are scattered to the edges or laying about with their legs and wings all splayed out, they are too warm, and you need to raise the lamp or switch to a cooler bulb. I’ve noticed that, no matter how warm the brooder is, my chicks prefer to sleep all together, but they don’t pile up on each other unless they are chilly.
Over the course of the next couple of weeks, you can drop to a lower wattage as they start to feather out. Our house is around 78-82F during the day this time of year, and at almost two weeks, I’ve just started turning the lamp off during the day and turning it on before I go to bed at night when the temps dip back to the mid 60′s.
One week old quail chicks.
One week old quail chicks.
One week old chick. Protesting this indignity.
-When moving the chicks from the incubator to the brooder- You need to, gently, dunk their beaks in the water to show them where it is and what it is. I did this twice, once when they first went in and again when they were all in the brooder since I had a pretty staggered hatch. Chicks can go a while without food…. not as long as chicken chicks, but they will survive if it takes them a bit to figure out the crumbles…. but they can die in a couple hours without water.
-Put a top on the brooder. Use mesh or an old window screen (that’s what we’re using), something that will let air through but keep the chicks from jumping/flying out. Mine are starting to flap and there have been a few near escapes because of it. Put the top on the brooder BEFORE you think they can jump high enough to get out. The softer mesh of the window screen is nice, because I know there is some give to it and they can’t hit it hard enough to hurt themselves.
-Clean the brooder. I do mine every 2-3 days, depending on how messy/stinky it gets. Clean the food dish and waterer everyday. Seriously, they get gross, and that can’t be good for them. If it looks too funky, feel free to do it more often.
-I handle the chicks every day. Every one gets taken out, inspected and held. Which means that while my chicks will still scatter when I reach in the brooder (they are prey animals after all) they are very calm once they are in my hands. I’ve found that they do not prefer to feel confined, but will sit calmly in my loosely cupped hands and let me handle them. They will cry if they get distressed, and will sometimes throw up if they get too wound up or frightened. This happened to me exactly once. It wasn’t as gross as expected, but it gave me a good idea the level of stress they can take while handling.
Keep an eye on their health. Their eyes should be bright, their movements perky and not sluggish and their butts fluffy without any feces stuck and dried there.
Two week old chick.
-The chicks will cry, especially when separated. This is heartbreaking and hilarious in turns. They have a very soft peeping sound that indicates they are happy and comfortable.
-The chicks will start to feather out and get scruffy looking by the beginning of the second week. When they are fully feathered out (3-4 weeks) they can go outside if the temperatures are warm enough. What’s warm enough? How warm is your house when their heat lamp isn’t on? Are they comfortable? Then that as a low nighttime temperature is warm enough. I think it will vary for how warm people keep the chicks in the last week or so. Even though they are only two weeks old, my chicks are pretty comfortable in the mid 70′s, because I didn’t lose my mind keeping them at 95F once they started to feather out. I watched them, not the thermometer, and once they started to feather out, they did pretty well. I’m hoping that, weather permitting, mine will be ready to go out between 3 and 4 weeks old.
-Enjoy. Seriously, that’s a step. Enjoy the little critters. Let any kids that you know enjoy them, whether yours or someone else’s. Just don’t get too attached if you are raising them for livestock purposes. For us, these are not pets. But that doesn’t mean we can’t think they are adorable.
Calm and happy.