In the past I have raised many baby chickens that I purchased from the local farm supply store as baby chicks.
However this was the very first time I have ever hatched anything, and the first time I have ever raised baby quail. It turned out to be a big learning experience for me.
I had researched the hatching and brooding processes of quail a lot before doing so. And yet I was not as ready as I thought I was. Perhaps since I have raised so many baby chickens from chicks in the past, I took the specifics I was learning about hatching quail too lightly. I’m not sure. Either way my hope is with this article, that it will be a benefit to those who are both hatching and brooding baby quail for the very first time.
I would like to start this article by showing you a video I made documenting the incubation, hatching and brooding processes all the way up to where I am able to put the baby quail in their grow out pen.
Please watch this video first and then I will take you through my experience with more detail to hopefully allow you to have the most successful first experience raising baby quail possible.
The Basics Of Incubating Quail Eggs
First, before you order quail eggs, you need to purchase a quality incubator, and familiarize yourself with the instructions and how to use it. I recommend setting it up and turning it on and practice getting it to the correct temperature and humidity for a day or so. You don’t want to be figuring this out when your eggs arrive.
I was hatching both Chukar Partridges and quail during this first go around so I purchased two different types of Styrofoam incubators.
These were the Farm Innovators Model 4250 Digital Circulated Air Incubator and Little Giant Circulated Air Incubator. Of these two incubators the Farm Innovators just seems to be all around a higher quality unit.
It is a bit more expensive but it seemed to struggle less to stay at temperature than the Little Giant. Both will work fine however.
If you plan on doing much incubation, and you can afford it, I recommend getting two of these incubators. Then you can have one for the incubation of the eggs, and use the other for the last few days once you take the egg turner out in preparation for hatching.
When The Eggs Arrive
This image is one I borrowed from here because I forgot to take a picture myself when my eggs arrived from Kansas City Quail Farms. I have heard great things about Kansas City Quail Farms from people who I know raise a lot of quail. They say they are a top notch company with great breading stock, which is why I chose to go with them.
When the eggs first arrive it is very important to let the eggs sit and come to room temperature for about 24 hours, before you put them in the incubator. This is true if you have been storing your own eggs in a cool place, or if you have just received purchased eggs through the mail. I forgot to do this and took mine immediately from the box they came shipped in and put them in the incubator. This can effect your hatch rates.
Float Testing The Eggs
This is another step I neglected to do when I got my eggs from Kansas City Quail. Eggs can dry out in storage or shipping and doing a float test allows you to not only re-hydrate your eggs that have dried out a bit. But it also helps you identify some of your eggs that will not ever hatch so that you do not put them in the incubator. Putting eggs that will not hatch into your incubator can introduce bacteria to the rest of the eggs and can effect your hatch rate.
To do a float test you first let your eggs adjust to room temperature. You also poor a bowl of water and let it adjust to room temperature (you don’t want to shock your eggs). Then you put each egg in the water one by one and they should sit flat on the bottom of the bowl if they are sufficiently if they have not dried out too much.
If the eggs float at all, or float enough to stand on end, this means they are too dry to put in the incubator. If left in the water for a few minutes some floating eggs will absorb enough water and settle down to the bottom of the bowl. If they do then they are now good to be put in the incubator. If they continue to float they are bad eggs.
Below is a video by Chis and Slightly Red Necked showing you how to do this process:
Putting The Eggs In The Incubator
Once your eggs are at room temperature it is time to put them into your incubator. It is important to have already been running your incubator for at least 8 hours or so, so that you can see that it is maintaining proper temperature and humidity.
During the first 14 days of incubation it is important that the eggs be turned at least a couple of times a day so that the yoke does not get stuck to any particular side of the egg. If you don’t have an automatic egg turner then you will need to turn them by hand. Automatic egg turners are inexpensive so I highly recommend getting one.
If you have an automatic egg turner remember to place the eggs pointy side down in the egg turner. This helps the baby chick to develop properly.
Temperature: Small home incubators are notorious for being slightly off of the temperature the reading says. For example if it says 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature inside the incubator might actually be a degree or two warmer or colder than what the display screen reads.
Most people suggest having one or two long internal food thermometers that you know read the correct temperature (or can calibrate to read the correct temperature). This gives you the ability to know the actual temperature in the incubator and adjust the temperature accordingly. You want to keep quail eggs between 99.5 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit during incubation.
Humidity: You raise and lower humidity in a styrofoam incubator by adding water to the water ports (groves) in the bottom floor of the incubator. If the humidity is too low the chicks will not develop properly. If it is too low during hatching the chicks may not be able to exit the egg because the lining of the egg might be too tough. If the humidity is too high the chicks might drown in the eggs.
It is pretty simple to keep the humidity correct so don’t let this feature scare you. During the first 14 days of incubation you want to keep the humidity around 50% or so. Some people who have more humid climates do what is called a “dry incubation” which means their local humidity is already about 50% or more so they do not add water until lock-down (the last few days of incubation). If you do this be sure and keep your incubator in a place (without air conditioning) where you know the humidity is close to 50%.
Removing the egg turner on day 14 starts this lock-down period. At the start of the lock-down period you want to add enough water to the bottom to get the humidity to between 65% to 70% humidity (the high 60’s is ideal).
Removing The Egg Turner
With quail incubation day number 14 is the day that you remove the egg turner. As was said above, we turn the eggs during incubation so that the yoke does not get stuck to any particular side of the egg. By day 14 the chicks are developed enough that the egg turner is no longer needed, and you only have a few days before eggs will begin to hatch.
You don’t want chicks to hatch while the egg turner is still in the incubator as it will injure them. At this time while you are removing the egg turner, you can also candle the eggs (which allows you to see which eggs are developing chicks inside) and then remove any non-fertile eggs that are not developing chicks.
Candling The Eggs
This is another step that I did not do. Candling the eggs means you turn off the lights and hold each egg one by one over a bright flashlight to see if the egg is developing a baby chick inside.
This is something that most people do on incubation day 14 with quail eggs, the day you take the egg turner out of the incubator. The idea here is to remove the eggs that are not developing chicks, so that they don’t bring germs and bacteria into the incubator where the good eggs are hatching.
The chicks that are developing will be big enough to fill up most of the egg by day 14. When holding each egg over a flashlight in a dark room, if the baby chick is developing almost all of the egg will be dark except for a small air pocket on one end of the egg.
The air pocket will be light and see through as shown in the picture. If the egg is all white then you know that was not a fertile egg. Sometimes on day 14 you will see a small dark spot which means the egg started to develop and then for whatever reason stopped developing. All non fertile eggs and eggs that stopped developing too early should be removed from the incubator.
You will want to be quick with this process so that the eggs do not cool down. You want to remove the egg turner, candle the eggs, and get them back in the incubator a quickly as possible.
Here is the video where I got the above image from. It shows a person candling eggs so you can see what the process will look like.
Lock down is the biggest lesson I learned from my whole first time hatching eggs experience. I didn’t do it and my hatching survival rate was much lower than it otherwise would have been.
Around 10 to 12 eggs started to hatch but didn’t because of what I found out later was they were shrink wrapped in their eggs and couldn’t get out; very sad.
I was worried that the chicks might die without food and water so I was leaving them in about 12 hours or so until they looked fluffy and dry, and then moving them to the brooder. But by opening the incubator to take them out I was shrink wrapping those trying to hatch in the process.
I had watched one video talking suggesting not opening the incubator for 48 hours after the first chick hatch (that I had forgotten about). But I had not watched any that used the word “lock down” or that really stressed its importance like many I have seen since.
What the lock down period refers to the last 3 to 5 days or so of incubation where you do not open the incubator until 3 full days after the first egg hatches. This period starts when you remove the egg turner and goes until the 3 days after the first egg hatches. Baby chicks can live up to 3 full days after they hatch just off of what they ate off of the inside of the egg before they need food and water.
A lot of times you will still have a few chicks hatch after the 3 days and you take the chicks out, so you still run a chance of shrink wrapping a few trying to hatch. But by 3 days the first chicks need food and water so you have to take them out. And by that time you will have less trying to hatch than you would if you open the incubator sooner. So you still may lose some to shrink wrapping, but much less.
And you will want to be quick about removing the chicks so that you have the incubator open for the shortest time possible. Once you remove the baby chicks and put them in your brooder, leave the incubator running for another 24 hours to let any remaining eggs hatch that will. Most people get a few that hatch during that last day that survive.
Moving The Baby Quail To The Brooder Box
Once you move baby chicks into the brooder box the most important thing to remember is temperature. I cannot stress this enough. I think I actually lost one baby chick because I had the temperature too warm when the upstairs room I kept them in got hotter than usual because of it being an extra hot day outside. (An upstairs attic type room might not be the best place to keep a brooder box in the summer.) You want to keep the temperature under the lamp right at 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit. That way when they move to under the lamp to warm up whenever they want to.
I have not tried a heat plate yet. But a lot of people like them better than a heat lamp. They use less power and are less of a fire hazard. They mimic a mother hen in that the chicks go under the plate and push up against it when they need to get warm.
The last thing about temperature if you are using a heat lamp or a controlled temperature brooder is that you want to lower the temperature by about 5 degrees each week until you get to room temperature and the heat source is no longer needed. My quail were fully feathered out and pretty much weened off the heat lamp by about 3 weeks.
Very gently you want to carefully dip the end of each chick’s beak into the water, just so they know it is there. Then as soon as one chick starts drinking the water, the others will figure it out. Do this when you first put the baby chicks in the brooder box. Getting them to know where the water is is more important than food. But don’t try to force them to drink. Just gently introduce them each to it once, and they will figure it out.
If you use a chicken watering base by itself the baby quail are so small they will fall in it and get themselves wet. This can cause them to get cold and die, and some may even drown. If that is all you have then just fill the base with marbles as you see in my above picture. Your quail can dip their beaks between the marbles to get their water, but won’t be able to drown. I still had a few lay on the marbles and get themselves wet.
You can purchase a quail watering base that has a small enough trough that the baby quail can’t get in it and get wet. But there is enough room that they can get the water they need. I am going to definitely get one of these for next time. I had a few getting wet with the marbles. I don’t think I lost any because of it but I had to watch them really close and it was a pain.
For bedding the first few days I just used a couple layers of paper towels. Quail don’t poop too much the first few days so paper towels were kind of handy. I could sprinkle a little food on the ground around their normal feeder which seemed to help them figure out the whole food thing.
Then soon after they found the feeder. Again as soon as once bird figures out the food, the rest of them pick it up. (Note: after about a week the chicks poop so much I found straw bedding to be much easier to deal with.)
Spraddle or Sprayed Leg
The paper towels also provided good traction, so the baby quail didn’t slip when walking. If you have your quail on a slippery surface it can contribute to them developing spraddle or sprayed leg.
As it was I still had two chicks die from spraddle or sprayed leg. I didn’t know this at the time, but if you have any chicks with spraddle or sprayed leg here is a video below that shows what to do to help any baby chicks that have this problem.
It is important to keep the bedding clean to keep your quail healthy. I found straw an easy bedding in this regard because as one layer got soiled I could just put an additional layer of straw on top and they immediately had a clean sanitary home.
I would do this every few days depending on how much they pooped. And then I typically changed their bedding completely about once a week.
Type Of Brooder Box To Use
I used this Cackle Hatchery Brooder Box this time around. Before whenever I have raised baby chickens I just built my own in my garage. The problem with these types of brooders is you have to clip the chick’s wings (especially with the quail) or create some sort of a lid for the brooder, to keep them from flying out.
You also want to have enough bedding if these brooders are in a garage so your chicks are not laying on the cold concrete floor. Concrete can really suck the heat out of a baby chick quickly and you will lose them. I used a large flat piece of cardboard covered in plastic as my floor (to keep them off the concrete) and then put all my bedding on top of that. (The plastic aids in cleanup as well.)
What I am going to try next time as my brooder box is one of the premade contained systems that control the temperature, allow the poop to fall out on poop trays, and don’t allow the birds to fly out.
There are a couple I have found that I like. They are the Heated Box Poultry Brooder by GQF and the heated Hatching Time Chick Brooder. I have purchased the Hatching Time brooder and I am going to do a review article and video on this website once I test it out on my next batch of eggs.
Grow Out Cages
If you watched my video at the beginning of this article where I show this whole first experience of hatching and brooding quail, you saw at the end where I put the quail in these Hatching Time quail cages as show in the image to the left.
I thought the quail were big enough for the cages as long as I put a little block under the water dispenser so that they could reach it. Turns out the next morning (after filming the video) when I came out to check on them 3 of the quail had gotten out and were walking around the floor of my garage.
They were easy to catch (unlike my Chukar partridges when they get out) because they like to hang out near the cages where they hear all their friends. The Chukar partridges run to the nearest pile of boxes in the garage and hide!
People that use big open cages where all of their quail run together also need grow out pens until the quail are big enough that they don’t get picked on by the bigger quail.
Since I use Hatching Time cages (which I totally love) I also need a grow out pen for my quail until they are big enough to go into a regular cage and not get out. Since I purchased that Hatching Time brooder box I show a picture of in the above section, I will just be able to keep them in there until they are big enough to not get out of my regular quail cages (which I learned is at about 3 and 1/2 weeks or so).
I have always really enjoyed raising chickens. However now that I have raised quail I think I like them a little bit better. Compared to chickens quail just seem very sweet to me. At the time of my writing this article my quail are about 5 weeks old, so maybe my opinion will change once they are full grown. But I don’t think it will.
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