These are my own experiences of breeding Coturnix quail and then incubating the eggs that I find works for me. I am by no means an expert and have learnt the hard way by making some pretty basic mistakes! I am happy to share these “cock ups” so that hopefully you won’t make the same mistakes. Please bear in mind that my experience is with Coturnix Quail only and not in the more fancy breeds:

Breeding Stock

It goes without saying that when setting out to breed your own quail the first thing that needs considering is the quality of your breeding stock. Always buy unrelated birds preferably from 2 different sources to be sure they arn’t related. Make sure the birds have no defects to feet, eyes or beaks and they also want to be of a steady temperment. If they are young birds let the hens lay for 2/3 weeks before taking any eggs for incubating. (Obviously making sure the cock is doing his business on a regular basis) The breeding ratio I employ is 1 cock to 2.5 hens.(I keep 10 hens to 4 cocks you see) I find anymore than this reduces the fertility.

Feeding your breeding stock

I feed all my layers/breeders hen layers mash & whole wheat with chick grit available ad lib. (They need grit to digest the whole wheat) Some Quail keepers think that layers mash does not have enough protein in it but I find it fine. My hens lay well all year round (obviously having extra light in the winter months) All of my adult Quail have access to this feed 24 hours a day as well as fresh clean water.

Storing fertile eggs

Store the eggs pointy end down in a cool place out of direct sunlight and turn them atleast twice a day. A normal fridge is way to cold for them. I store mine in my garage unless it is winter when it is too cold in here and I will bring them into my Quail sheds where the temperature is wamer and more constant. Experts say that 15 degrees and a relative humidity of 75% is best but I have found that unless the temperature/humidity is very severe either way, then you will be ok.

Setting the eggs and hatching

First make sure your incubator is clean and dry and then set it running for atleast 8 to 12 hours to make sure it is holding its temperature at 37.5 degrees and humidity at 35%. This is for fan assisted incubator and adjustments will needs to be made for still air incubators. If you have a digital readout on your incubator please don’t do as I did (twice I hasten to add on my first 2 attempts! very depressing.) trust it. For the sake of £6 you can buy a thermometor/hydrometor to check the machine is correct. I didn’t and found that my incubator was running 4 degrees under what it was stating on the digital readout. As you can imagine my hatch rate was 0%! Sort through the eggs and check for cracks, mishapen (too big, too small) and dirty eggs. Dirty eggs can be cleaned using a nail file to sand the dirt away. Be gentle though as you don’t want to damage the shells. Some people use egg sanitants but I haven’t (yet, fingers crossed I never will have too!) and am having good results. The eggs need to be turned atleast 5 times a day and ideally more often until day 14 when all turning has to stop in readiness for hatching to begin. At this stage I take my eggs out of the egg turning tray, lay a cheap disposable dishcloth (the blue type, usually about 50p for 10) on the floor of the incubator and then place the eggs back on top of it. (this is to give the young chicks good footing when they are first born and avoid leg splaying) If you take the lid off the incubator you should be able to hear cheeping and a sort of squelching noise as the chicks start to get in position to hatch. On day 16 the humidity needs to be increased to 75 to 80% as the chicks require higher humidity when hatching. Hatching takes place from day 16 to day 18 and it can take a chick 10 minutes or 10 hours to actaully get out of the shell once they have first “pipped”. As tempting as it it please do not try and help the chick out of the shell. It will get there eventually!

Leave the chicks to fluff up and start cheeping before moving them to a pre-heated brooder. I also keep removing the empty shells to give the remaning chicks more room to hatch in.

I use an R-COM 20 automatic incubator that I bought second hand (holds 52 Quail eggs), a Fiem 80 auto turner that I also bought second hand (holds 160 Quail eggs) and a Hovabator with auto turner and fan. (Holds 120 Quail eggs) I bought this brand new but it did not have a fan fitted but the first time I used it I had terrible results (44 out of 120 eggs set) as I feel there were just too many cold spots in the incubator as the heat was not circulating. I therefore bought a Hovabator fan, fitted it and have done much better ever since.

All of my incubators are auto turning but only the R-com controls the humidity automatically. I find the R-com the best but this only holds 52 eggs and they are very expensive compared to the other 2. I hatch at around 35% humidity and have mastered the way of achieving this with the Hovabator and Fiem using spong and a pot of water.

Brooders

My first brooder was simply a cardboard box, with a piece of lathe over the top that I hung 2 pendants with 60w bulbs from. I then placed a piece of mesh over the top and put pieces of cardboard over this to keep the heat in. The mesh is to stop the chicks jumping or flying out because even as chicks they are pretty good at flying directly upwards. I used to use disposable dishclothes on the floor of the brooders for 2/3 days but I dont bother anymore and just put the chicks straight on shavings and have had no problems at all.

I have since made a  permanent brooder out of OSB board with permanent light pendants fitted with mesh top. I use 100w bulbs in these to start with as the bulbs are quite high and then reduce this to 60w etc as the chicks grow. I like to use 2 bulbs in my brooders no matter how many chicks have hatched as I am paranoid that if I only used 1 bulb and it blew at night then I may wake up to lots of dead or very cold chicks. Please bear in mind that modern fuse boards will trip that circuit if a bulb blows which will obviously mean the second bulb wont be working too. My electrician has adjusted my fuse board so this doesnt happen anymore on just my garage electrcis where I keep all my brooders.

They stay in here for 2/3 weeks, (usually depending on how many was in the hatch) and then I move them to my rearing pens that also have light bulbs for the chicks to get under. Finally you can reduce the bulb to a 40w. Depending on the time of year the chicks can usually be weaned off light completely at week 4 but if it is the winter months or cold autumn nights this may need to be increased by a week or so. The chicks will show you when they have had enough of the heat as if you go and check on them at night when they are at roost they wont be under the heat. Just keep an eye on cold nights and if in doubt leave the light on.

Food and water

When the chicks first go into the brooder I place chick crumb in low sided plastic containers (cut down take away or ice cream containers are ideal)  to encourage the chicks to eat. You only need to do this for 2/3 days until you can put the food in a very low sided feed hopper. All my brooders have auto waterers that I put a piece of folded mesh into to stop the chicks from climbing in the water and drowing.   Again you only need to do this for 2/3 days.

I start weaning my birds off the chick crumb at 4/5 weeks when I put them layers mash.

Pictures (click to enlarge)

My homemade brooder with 3 day old Texas, Japanese and Italian chicks in it. Note the cheap dishcloths on the floor to give them grip to avoid leg splaying. Also note the pebbles in the drinker to stop them trying to drown themselves!

Some just hatched Texas, range and Japanese chicks.

The same chickens in the brooder just a few hours later already eating and drinking. This was the first brooder we used which was just a cardboard box with a 100 watt bulb.

A view of our large homemade brooder which has 3 seperate brooders in it. Access is simply achived by lifting the lids. The silver foil on the outside and top is insulation foil to keep the heat in. As the chicks get older the lids are left open and a piece of mesg is placed over the top instead. On the reverse side I have built two rearing pens.

An internal view of one of the above brooders with a nice hatch of day old Japanese chicks in. Note the auto water at the back with blocks of wood in front so they can gain access easily. I use these types of feeders for a week and then move on to hanging feeders as the chicks waste far less. The feeder hangs from the broom handle with a hook in it.