Seven days ago I received 24 jumbo coturnix quail eggs from Turnbull Farms. One of the eggs was cracked when they got here, but hopefully the other eggs traveled well. They looked good at least. All speckled and tiny! I thought they were charming. The hubby however….
“Those are not delicious looking eggs. Those are weird looking eggs.”
Since we intend on eating the eggs these someday quail will be laying, that is not an inspiring comment.
He’ll have to get used to it.
Incubating quail eggs is, in theory, pretty straight forward. But I’ve never done it by myself before (class project in 5th grade hardly counts) and I’m hovering around the incubator like, well, a mother hen. I’ll be happy if I get even a 30% hatch rate (something apparently not uncommon for eggs shipped any distance), which will give me a start assuming I get male and females in the mix. Right now, all I have to go on is what other people have said and written coming before me, and this is what I’m working with right now:
-Do not wash the eggs and store them in a cool, dry place before incubation. You can gently wipe any dirt off with a paper towel if you need to, but please don’t wash your eggs. They have a natural bloom on them that helps protect them and keep them from drying out. If you are collecting enough eggs to run an incubator full, or you are waiting for your incubator to stabilize, keep the eggs somewhere cool but not cold (i.e. not the refrigerator!) until you can put them in the incubator (around 55-60F). Then allow them to sit out at room temperature for an hour or two before putting them in to the 100F incubator.
-Quail need to be incubated around 99.5F. It seems like between 99 and 101 is pretty okay, with cooler temperatures possibly leading to later hatching and warmer temperatures leading to earlier hatching. Run your incubator for a day or two to stabilize the temperature before you get the eggs. Even with doing that, I still had issues the first day. After a hairy first 24 hours though, I’ve been able to keep the incubator steady at 100F. The thermometers that come with the incubators are not that accurate (at least with mine) so I’ve been using a digital oven thermometer which works like a charm.
Keep the incubator somewhere out of drafts and direct sunlight to avoid swings in temperature once it is stabilized. Since you will need to turn the eggs (see below), make sure it is also somewhere accessible.
-Quail eggs need around a 50% humidity, with a bump in humidity to around 60% the last couple of days after the eggs go in to “lockdown” (more on this below). My incubator has a small water reservoir, but the humidity in my house (living on Long Island) is pretty much at that level this time of year anyway. Don’t fill the water tray up too much- you don’t want any water touching the eggs directly.
-Quail eggs (like all eggs) need to be turned. This is to keep the yolk centered and the developing embryo from sticking to one side of the interior of the egg and getting deformed or even dying before hatching. I turn my eggs three times a day (though some sources say five or even more times is good). Three seems alright from my reading and I don’t want the temperature to dip too often in the ‘bator. I marked each side of the egg with a pencil (pen can bleed through the shell?) with an X or an O so I know which side I’m turning to and from and which ones I’ve already flipped. I also rotate them around within the incubator…. on the off chance it isn’t evenly warm. I don’t know if that matters, but I rotate cookie trays (no the eggs are not in the oven) so it seemed to make sense to me.
If you have an egg turner, this is easy. I do not. If you are turning them by hand make sure your hands are clean, warm and dry, and do it quickly but gently so that the ‘bator is open for as little time as possible.
-Keep records! Note the date you put the eggs in to the incubator so you know when they are expected to hatch and when they need to go in to ‘lockdown’, as well as when you can expect to be able to see anything with candling.
-Jumbo coturnix quail eggs are hard to candle (holding an egg up to a bright light source to see if you have a live egg or a dud). Their shells are thick for their overall size and the speckling makes it hard to see. In theory, I should be able to candle them and see the beginnings of veins by day six. In reality… not so much. I’m sure that as I do future hatchings of my own eggs, I’ll get better at seeing the nuances within the eggs at early stages, but the last time I candled an egg was 20 years ago and I’m not sure if I actually saw anything or if I just said I did to seem like a Superior McSmartypants. I’ll probably try again right before they go in to ‘lockdown’.
Apparently, you can “float” them, which is exactly what it sounds like. You put the eggs in warm (not hot!) water, around 99F. If they float, they are probably good (indicating a tiny air sac in your egg, which is desired! Live chick, yay!) whereas if they sink, they are duds, either dead before they got going or infertile. I’ve seen mixed messages in regard to the practice of floating. Some people say it is perfectly fine for coturnix eggs (as long as they aren’t pipping) because their shell is so thick the water won’t seep through. Other sources say you should never do this for any egg. I’m not desperate to find out yet, so for this first batch I’m willing to wait.
-Jumbo coturnix quail take around 17-18 days to hatch. Three days before hatching the eggs get put in to “lock down”. This means that you stop turning them (or turn off the auto turner), stop opening the incubator, and bump the humidity if necessary to that 60% mark. On that last turning, I’ll be putting a tea towel down in the ‘bator beneath the eggs, so that their tiny feet don’t get stuck in the bottom mesh the eggs are currently sitting on.
-Once the eggs hatch, you want to leave them in the incubator until they dry off, up to 24 hours, before moving them to a brooder (I’ll be using a large tuperware container). Quail chicks tend to ‘popcorn’, meaning they jump, popping up for no apparent reason. If the top of the brooder is too hard, they can apparently kill themselves, so a foam batting of some sort if needed to keep them from bashing their little heads in. Silly birds.
After that, it’s not that much different than chickens. They need to be kept warm, with some sort of bedding to give them traction (don’t want splayed legs), a waterer full of marbles (don’t want them drowning) and game bird starter (higher protein than regular chicken feed). Dunk each chick’s beak in to the water when you introduce them to the brooder so they know where it is. They can go outside around 3-4 weeks, depending on the outside temperatures, but you’ll want to ease them in to cooler temperatures slowly by gradually lowering the temperature in their brooder to match outside. A more in depth post about brooding will be coming later.
Jumbo cortunix quail grow fast. They mature at 6-8 weeks and will start laying an egg a day about that time. They tend to lay from March to September without supplemental lighting, or can lay through the winter with. Though the eggs are small (3-4 quail eggs to a chicken egg) they are higher in protein by weight, have more vitamin B1, iron and potassium, and tend to not cause allergies like chicken eggs. No one in my house is allergic to chicken eggs, but it’s still very interesting I suppose.
Why hatch? Why not just buy baby quail? If you can find them, all power to you! Get your chicks and go off skipping. It might be easier said than done though if you don’t have a local breeder. Quail chicks, unlike chicken chicks, don’t ship well. The smaller yolk in the egg means that they don’t have as much wiggle room for how long they can go without food as baby chickens do. If you ship chicken chicks and it takes 48 hours, you have chicks. If you try to ship quail chicks at it takes 48 hours you have- well, we don’t need to go in to it. There are also state by state regulations that limit the sale of game birds, which quail fall under, so check your local laws. In my area, so long as I have under 50 and I’m not breeding them for release, they count as pets. I’m okay with that, even if that isn’t their primary purpose.
Why quail? Why not chickens? There are too many reasons to go in to in this post, but space is a concern. Space and the neighbors. Neighbors that would take unkindly to even a trio of laying hens seem alright with the idea of the quail. The two hutches my husband and I are building can hold up to 28-30 quail. I can keep them raised off of the ground because feral cats are a problem in my neighborhood. While they can’t free range (they won’t stick to an area and even with clipped wings will try to fly off) I can make a moveable pen for them that I can have travel around the garden if I desire. Quail don’t need a lot of special equipment- you can keep them in a rabbit hutch if you so desire. As we explore more with the quail, there will be future posts about their care, keeping and quirks.
My eggs are due to hatch Memorial Day weekend. I can assure you that I will be watching like a hawk (that analogy is chilling now, isn’t it?) for egg rocking and pipping starting that Friday!