Have you ever pictured yourself hatching out a flock of tiny, fluffy quail?
Hatching quail eggs is easier than you might think! While hatching quail eggs is similar to hatching chicken or duck eggs, there are a few things you need to know about how to hatch quail eggs.
You can hatch quail eggs in about three weeks with either an incubator or a broody hen. Either method is simple and effective, but you need to know how to source quail eggs, set your eggs in incubator or under your broody hen, and what to do with the baby quail after they have hatched.
In this article, we’ll go over the details you need to know before you start hatching quail eggs.
We’ll discuss how to source the eggs, how to handle shipped eggs, and how to set your incubator or assist your broody hen so you can get the best possible hatch rate. We’ll also talk about what to do on hatching day and how to transfer your baby quail to the brooder.
My Last Quail Hatch
Before I get into this article I want to show you a quick video I did showing you my last experience hatching quail eggs. I had sold all my quail so these were eggs I ordered and had shipped to me.
Choosing a Breed of Quail to Hatch
Before you even set up your brooder, you will want to think about what breed of quail you would like to raise. There are several quail breeds to choose from. Coturnix quail is a popular breed for homesteading because they reach maturity at just nine weeks of age and produce many eggs.
Jumbo Coturnix Quail are often raised for meat. Bobwhite quail are grown for meat, eggs, and sport but have a loud, distinctive call. California quail and button quail are generally kept as pets. You’ll want to choose which breed to hatch by its purpose.
How to Source Quail Eggs for Hatching
There are several different methods for sourcing quail eggs for hatching. Ideally, you want to purchase eggs for hatching from a reputable quail breeder. A good breeder will have excellent family lines, a high fertility rate, and well-packaged eggs.
The closer to home that you can purchase eggs, the fewer disturbances the eggs will experience, which will lead to higher hatch rates. Ask around to see if any of your friends or acquaintances have a quail breeder they work with, or you might need to look on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace to find someone.
If you cannot find a local breeder to purchase eggs from, one of the next best things is to order eggs through a hatchery. A reputable hatchery will carefully wrap and ship fresh eggs to you. They may have restrictions on shipping dates, shipping amounts and have extra fees. However, this is for the good of the eggs and chicks that you will hatch.
You may also be able to find quail eggs for sale on sites such as Amazon or Etsy.
Shipping Problems Found in Hatching Eggs
There are some challenges that can occur when you have eggs shipped to you. For example, mail delays will mean that your box of eggs might sit on a hot or cold truck overnight.
If the eggs are subject to extreme temperatures, they could be damaged. Another challenge with shipped eggs is that the air cell inside the egg can detach.
A detached air cell causes the chick to develop in a poor position, making it difficult, if not impossible, for the chick to hatch. If the shipped eggs are handled roughly, dropped, or shaken, they may not be viable.
Make sure you read the refund or replacement policy of the supplier before you purchase shipped eggs. You may need to rely on postal insurance to replace the cost of the eggs if they are damaged during the shipping process.
How to Handle Shipped Quail Hatching Eggs
When you receive your eggs in the mail, they will need some time to settle in and acclimate before you can place them in the incubator. Here is how you handle your shipped eggs to give them the best possible hatch rate.
Carefully remove the eggs from their packaging and place them point side down into an egg carton. Allow the eggs to settle for a good 24 hours at room temperature. Letting the eggs rest in this manner will help the egg cell return to its normal position and prepare the egg for the chick to develop in the proper hatching position.
If you are not ready to hatch them in 24 hours, that’s ok. However, eggs will probably not be viable past seven to ten days and the longer you wait, the lower the hatch rate will be. If you aren’t going to hatch them right away, you’ll need to raise one end of the egg carton about an inch high.
The easiest way to do this is to set a book or block under one end. The next day, move it to the other side of the carton. Tipping the carton slightly will help prevent the egg cells from getting too stuck. Other than shifting the eggs once per day, leave them alone and do not jostle or disturb them until you are ready to put them into the incubator or under a broody hen.
How Long Does It Take to Hatch Quail Eggs?
Most quail eggs will hatch in about 18 to 19 days. However, quail eggs can start pipping as early as 16 days and as late as 25 days.
This is a big range, so you’ll need to be prepared for a few early and late arrivals. Generally, though, eggs will pip and zip around the same time. Many people describe quail hatching like popcorn popping because they all begin to pop out at once!
When a quail egg pips, that means the quail begins to poke its little egg tooth (the tiny, temporary tooth on its beak) through the eggshell to make a hole. You might hear the little chick peeping even before it pips!
Once the chick has pipped, then it ‘zips.’ It’s called zipping because it looks like the chick is unzippering the egg all the way around. After this has happened, the chick can more easily pop out of the egg.
How to Hatch Quail Eggs with a Broody Hen
Most of the time, female quail are not very good mothers. They are unlikely to become broody or willing to sit on eggs, and even if they do, they will more often than not abandon the eggs. Even in a natural setting, female quail are unlikely to brood their eggs.
However, if you have chickens, you can hatch your quail eggs underneath a broody chicken. Silkies are an ideal breed for this because they go broody often, and they make excellent moms!
If you find one of your hens has gone broody, simply slip the quail eggs underneath her. She will most likely treat them as her own and hatch them for you. Some people prefer this method because the mother hen will take care of the eggs.
Her feathers will control the heat and humidity, and her natural instinct will tell her when to turn the eggs. For best results, move your broody hen and eggs to a separate, quiet location.
A large dog crate in your basement or garage works well, as long as the temperature is mild. Be sure the broody mama has plenty of fresh food and water. If you want to build an automatic waterer for your quail, I recommend you read my article specifically on that.
If you choose to hatch quail eggs with a broody hen, you’ll need to take them from the hen and place them in a brooder just as soon as they have hatched and dried off. One reason to remove baby quail quickly is that quail are not good at returning to their coop.
Their tiny size means they will get lost very easily, as well. If this sounds like too much trouble, you might want to consider hatching quail eggs in an incubator.
Selecting an Incubator to Hatch Quail Eggs
There are many different types of incubators available. Incubators range in price from around $30 to $300 and more. While the cheapest incubators can technically get the job done, they will require the most hands-on work.
You can even make your own incubator if you are handy, but all incubators need to do several things to hatch your eggs. Your incubator needs to:
- Maintain a consistent temperature of 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit or 37.5 degrees Celsius
- Maintain humidity of 45% for the first 14 days and 65% after 14 days
- Turn or allow you to turn the eggs
- Be easy to clean and sanitize
- Fit all of your eggs
Temperature and humidity can fluctuate as the eggs are developing. For best results, choose a model of incubator that will automatically adjust itself. Many incubators now come with automatic egg turners. If yours does not, you will need to turn each egg manually two or three times per day.
Best Incubators for Hatching Quail Eggs
To pick the best incubator for you, consider the price, how many eggs it will hold, and if it manages temperature, humidity, and egg-turning automatically or if you will need to manage those things manually.
These are some of the most popular incubator brands for hatching quail eggs:
- Harris Farms
- Farm Innovators – Model Digital Circulated Air Incubator with Automatic Egg Turner, Improved Version.
If your incubator comes with an automatic egg turner, you may need to purchase the quail egg trays to go with it. You will need a different egg turner because most incubators are made for chicken or duck eggs, and quail eggs are much smaller. If your incubator does not come with a built-in humidity pump, you will need to control the humidity by some other means. However, you can purchase external humidity pumps to control the levels in the incubator.
Setting Up Your Incubator for Hatching Quail Eggs
Once you have purchased your incubator, you will want to follow the following steps to set up your incubator for hatching eggs.
- Clean and sanitize all parts of the incubator. Rinse well and allow it to dry.
- Set up your incubator at least 4 hours before you place the eggs inside; however, it is better to allow the incubator to run for a day or two without eggs in it to make sure it has the proper temperature and humidity.
- Set the temperature of your incubator to 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit or 37.5 degrees Celsius.
- Set your humidity level to 45%. If you do not have a humidity pump, you can fill your incubator’s water trays halfway and measure the humidity. If you fill the trays and still need to raise the humidity, you can add wet sponges to the incubator as required. Allow the levels to even out, and check to ensure you are at the proper humidity before adding your eggs.
- Make sure everything is running smoothly. It is helpful to use an extra thermometer and hygrometer to double-check the temperature and humidity are correct.
- Once everything is adjusted correctly, carefully add your eggs. Gently place the eggs into the quail trays pointy side down and wide side up. If you do not have an automatic egg turner, lay the eggs gently on their side on the mesh floor of the incubator.
- After the eggs have been added, allow the incubator’s levels to even out for a few hours. You may need to adjust temperature and humidity throughout the hatch. If your incubator is fully automatic, it will do this for you.
- Avoid moving, opening, or jostling the incubator as much as possible.
- Check water levels several times per day and add water as needed.
- To turn the eggs manually, simply use the palm of your hand to gently roll them a half turn. You’ll need to do this two or three times per day until lockdown day.
How to Candle Quail Eggs
Generally speaking, when you hatch eggs in an incubator, you should candle them to make sure they are developing correctly. An egg that has died prematurely can rot and explode, infecting the other eggs with germs that could potentially kill the chick inside. However, it can be challenging to candle quail eggs due to their small size and mottled shell.
If you choose to candle your quail eggs, candle them on or about day 9. If the egg is viable, you may be able to see veins running around the inside of the shell and an embryo developing, as well. On day 15, the chick should fill up most of the egg except for the air sac. The egg will look dark. If the egg glows like a lightbulb and looks empty by this point, there is no chick growing inside. You do not need to hatch the egg. If in doubt, keep the egg in the incubator, so you don’t accidentally waste a viable egg.
Lockdown Your Incubator for Hatching Quail Eggs
Day 15 is lockdown day. Lockdown day is when you stop turning the eggs, raise the humidity in the incubator to 65%, and leave the eggs to hatch.
First, you’ll need to carefully remove the eggs from the egg turner and take the egg turner out of the incubator. Set the eggs gently on their sides directly on the wire mesh floor of the incubator. Open all of the vents on your incubator and adjust the humidity.
Hatch is the best part! This is the day you’ve been waiting for, the moment when all of your hard work starts to pay off. Somewhere around day 17 to 18, most of your quail will begin to hatch.
You may hear peeping sounds coming from the incubator, but don’t rush to their aid! The babies know how to get out of the egg by themselves. If you watch closely, you may see the chick start to poke a hole through the egg as it pips. Next, it will crack the egg all the way around, which is known as zipping. The chick will then push its way out of the egg.
A freshly hatched chick will be wet and very tired. Hatching is hard work! The exhausted chick may flop over onto the floor of the incubator and rest. Just leave the baby chick to dry in the incubator. Most of your quail eggs will hatch within 24 hours of each other. It’s ok to leave them in the incubator for up to three days. They are still absorbing the yolk so that they won’t need food and water just yet. Resist the urge to open the incubator while other chicks are still hatching.
Opening the incubator could cause a rush of dry air into the incubator, which will dry and shrink the egg’s inner membrane. When this happens, the chick gets stuck and can no longer hatch. If you must go in to retrieve some chicks, try to increase the humidity around the incubator, open it as little as possible, and close it as quickly as possible.
If the incubator’s humidity goes too high, especially during the hatching phase, the chick could drown inside the egg.
It is perfectly normal for some of the eggs not to hatch. However, you will want to keep the incubator running for a few more days just in case there are some late hatchers. After day 24, you can test to see if the remaining eggs are still viable.
How to Test Unhatched Quail Eggs
Once most of your eggs have hatched, you may want to check on the remaining eggs’ viability. You can do this with a simple float test. Fill a small bowl with water that is the same temperature as the air in the incubator.
Gently lower an egg into the bowl. If it sinks to the bottom, it is no longer viable. If it floats quickly to the top, it is probably full of air and not viable. However, if it floats and moves around, the chick is still alive. Place the egg back in the incubator and continue on with lockdown.
What to Do If a Chick Gets Stuck in the Egg
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, a chick partially hatches and then gets stuck. A stuck chick can happen because the incubator’s humidity level dropped suddenly or because the chick is too weak to hatch. You will need to decide if you want to help the chick to hatch or if you want to let nature run its course.
If you decide to help the chick, wrap the egg in a damp, warm washcloth. Carefully remove small pieces of the shell. If you see blood, place the egg back in the incubator because that means the chick was too early to hatch. If you do not see blood, very carefully keep going.
If at any point the chick can finish the job itself, place it back in the incubator. Once you have removed the chick from the egg, gently place it back in the incubator until it is dry and fluffy.
Please keep in mind that many chicks that get stuck during the hatching process are weak or unwell and may not live even if you help them to hatch. They may have deformities or unknown health problems and helping may only prolongs suffering.
These are difficult choices to make, and you will need to choose the path that fits with your ethics of raising quail and other animals.
Moving Quail Chicks to the Brooder
Once your quail are dry, fluffy, and moving around the incubator, they are ready to be transferred to the brooder. The brooder will need a heat source to keep the chicks warm, quail food, and water. You may want to line the bottom of the brooder with paper towels instead of shavings for the first few days.
Carefully pick up a quail, making sure not to drop it or squeeze it too tight. Dip its beak lightly in the water and show it its food. It’s best to use a shallow dish filled with pebbles because baby quail drown easily. You can grind game bird food in a coffee grinder to make the pieces small enough to feed the babies.
After the quail has tasted the food and water, you can carefully place it under the heat source. If you have an automatic watering system for your quail that will also be a great help.
Quail are great birds for homesteading because they are small, easy to care for, hardy, and have an excellent feed to egg ratio. Some areas that do not allow chickens will allow quail, and they can be kept inside, if necessary. Hatching your quail is a great way to know your birds have been appropriately cared for and fed.
Sometimes, eggs from the grocery store will be fertilized and viable. It can be fun to experiment with grocery store eggs and see if they will hatch.
A dry hatch means you do not add humidity until lockdown. Dry hatching can be very effective in more humid areas.
No, washing eggs can destroy the natural coating on the eggs and make them less viable. However, you should only hatch clean eggs. If your quail eggs are dirty, do not try to hatch them.
Quail are fast growers! Quail can begin laying eggs by as little as 8 or 9 weeks of age.