Updated: Mar 2
This week we jumped into an adventure in raising about 50 more birds...on top of the 5 chickens we already had. For some reason we imagined Jumbo Coturnix (or Japanese) Quail wouldn’t be as hard as chickens. Not that the chickens are very hard. Compared to most baby pets, they weren’t much work at all. But when it came to the quail, somehow they snuck up on us a little. We really ought to know that 50 of anything is an adventure, no matter how easy they are!!
Anyway, we took the plunge because we know a guy at the local farmer’s market who has about 90 birds and sells their eggs for around $300/month in profit, usually at $5/dozen. Females should lay about an egg a day for much of their 2-year life, so it sounds good on paper at least! His setup didn’t look too daunting, so the hope is that they will soon help us get up and running a bit in continuing to fund this crazy backyard Urban Garden project!
First we started with an incubator, the “Little Giant” and had to buy the quail egg rails separately. My husband landed on this one because it has built-in temp and humidity monitoring and turns up to 120 quail eggs regularly, to get the best hatch rate possible. At the end of the day, the unit worked well (we got about a 60% hatch rate) and we’ll use it again the next time we need to hatch a large batch of quail. The only thing we had to be careful of was removing the eggs from the rails when they were about to hatch so the baby birds wouldn’t get caught in the rails coming out of their eggs. Of course this happened at night so I got my feet wet by experiencing my first long night of quail midwifery! (Half asleep on the couch, hear a peep, go remove a baby from the incubator...repeat). Of course we had created the problem by having two separate batches going, so when the first one hatched we had to be on-duty to remove the birds as soon as they hatched because we couldn’t take out all of the rails that were still turning the other eggs. Next time we’ll incubate everything at the same time so we can remove the rails and place the eggs on the bottom of the incubator and the birds will hatch on their own without help. Another note to self...don’t start incubating eggs right before bed. This is the time of day they will hatch...and start peeping. Ok, got it.
We started with about 70 eggs (from two different sources) and more than 40 of them hatched. I keep being vague about exact numbers because I honestly don’t think I’ve ever counted them all successfully (though I think my husband has) - you try counting a squirming box of birds and let me know how it goes!
Watching the babies hatch was a really fun experience for our boys (3 and 5). Before my long night of hatch-sitting, we had a few born throughout the day. First we saw little peck marks in the shell, then a complete ring around the top would form, and finally the baby would force his way out of his new escape hatch! How many egg tooth marks can you see in the eggs below? I think almost all of these hatched, so you can see them starting to crack here. I think the most amazing thing to me was how egg-shaped the little birds were when they first came out. I know I shouldn’t be surprised at that, but that’s what I found fascinating for some reason. They just barely fit right in there, all folded up, and still look a bit like an egg when they come rolling out!
By the end of the second hatching, we had a cardboard box full of cute, (and once they dry out) adorably fluffy teeny tiny baby birds under the heat lamp...and one surprise! One of the quail was almost completely yellow, just like a mini chicken chick.
We named her Lucky (she has more recently been seen sitting atop a just-laid egg, so we now know she’s a girl), and I think she must have some Texas A&M breed in her. Lucky is the only quail of the entire group who has a name, because, to be honest, she’s the only recognizable one. And boy was that lucky for Lucky a couple of times in her early life, because she seems to have the daring adventures all the other 40+ quail chicks successfully avoided. But I’ll tell you more about the story of Lucky the Aptly Named Quail next time!
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