The Basics of Hatching and Raising Quail

To hatch and keep quail, you will need the following:

– Fertile quail eggs
– Incubator
– Brooder
– Food/feeder
– Water/waterer
– Hutch
– Bedding
– Dust bath container
– Dust bath medium
– Food grade diatomaceous earth (optional)

These are general instructions for hatching and raising quail. There can be variations, depending on personal preference and the type of quail you intend to raise, so it would be worthwhile to look into the specifics of the variety of quail you choose, and to weigh out your options within your own context. That said, this guide should serve as a useful tool, regardless of how you go about things.

Buying Eggs

When purchasing quail eggs, it’s important to look at a few different things.

  • How far will the eggs have to travel and over what time frame? The longer the shipping, as a general rule, the worse your hatch rate will likely be. Eggs can be damaged in travel, and even just the time alone can have a negative impact on your hatch rate. Try to find something close by with a quick shipping option (preferably 1-2 days).
  • Does the company have good reviews? We received some eggs from a company, where only 1 out of 25 (or so) hatched. They sent us a replacement batch, and none of those hatched. We switched to another company with good reviews, and we had much better luck. If you see a majority of reviews boasting of good hatch rates and/or low disease, that will probably be your best bet!
  • Does the company offer any recourse for poor hatch rates? This is a tough one, because part of me doesn’t expect the company to take responsibility for poor hatch rates. After all, who’s to say it was their fault that your eggs didn’t hatch? There are plenty of missteps that can cause poor hatch rates, that have little to do with the egg supplier. That said, if a company knows you typically have good hatch rates and have done everything properly, sometimes they will reassure you that, if you have no luck, they will make things right. This may be a tenuous agreement, but it’s better than nothing, and could save you a little trouble in the end, and may also help them keep you as a customer. I wouldn’t say this is a deal breaker, but it’s something to consider.
  • How does the price compare to other companies? In farming, it’s important to be efficient with money and resources, so be sure that you are getting the best price you can, without sacrificing too much in other areas, such as close shipping and good reviews/hatch rates. It may be worth it to pay more money, if you believe you will be receiving a better product, but if you can find what appears to be an equally good product for less money, then that makes the decision easy!
  • NPIP certification. According to the Washington State Department of Agriculture, “NPIP provides certification that poultry and poultry products destined for interstate and international shipments are disease free.” It may be important to you to know that your egg supplier is NPIP certified. To read more about that, and decide for yourself, I recommend reading about it on the USDA website. Here’s a link: National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP)

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Choosing an Incubator

This process can be however complicated you want it to be, and I won’t pretend to be more knowledgeable than I am on this topic. There are substantial rabbit holes to navigate, that appear to require an advanced degree in physics, if you so wish to do that level of research. All I will say here is that we use the Magicfly incubator, which has given us up to an 85% hatch rate, just following the provided instructions, and we are happy with that. When you look at different options, consider how much work you want to put into it. Do you want to manually turn your quail eggs, or would you rather have an automatic egg turner? The Magicfly has an automatic egg turner, and the size is adjustable, making it great for quail eggs, which are substantially smaller than chicken eggs. Like anything else, read reviews, watch videos, and make sure the incubator you choose is the best option for your situation and your pocketbook!
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Picking or Building a Brooder

A brooder is simply a warm place to keep baby chicks until they are fully feathered and ready to go outside into their hutch (usually 2-3 weeks). There are various options for heating, but the most common option is the heat lamp. At Mayetta Farms, we went all-out on our brooder. We plan on hatching all sorts of birds for decades to come, so we decided to get a professional grade brooder right from the get-go. This offers a built-in feeding and watering system, adjustable thermostat, and a pull-out tray for easy waste disposal. It’s very sturdy, and has worked great for us. That said, it was very expensive, and unless you are confident that this is something you want to do for a long time, there is really no reason to spend that much money. You can buy a large metal stock tank, or even a large Rubbermaid container, and attach a heat lamp to it. Make sure there is ample space for the birds to move away from the heat lamp, should they become overheated. The rule of thumb is this: if your chicks are all huddled together under the heat lamp, they are too cold. If they are all trying to get away from the heat lamp, they are too hot. If they are evenly spaced throughout the brooder, the temperature is likely just right. So, adjust your lamp accordingly, and be sure to keep a close eye on them. As they get older and have more feathers and body mass (after a week or so), you can start decreasing the amount of heat you are providing – just be careful to monitor their behavior. Quail often pant when they are too hot, and shiver when they are too cold, so that is another indicator to look for. Note: be sure to read up on your heat lamp of choice, and keep it an adequate distance from flammable materials.

I recommend also keeping a thermometer in your brooder, so that you know how hot it really is in there. If you read online, you will find that the general rule of thumb is to set the brooder at 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer or 95 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, and then decrease the temperature by 5 degrees every week, until week 5, when they are released outside. However, my experience has been quite different. I cannot imagine keeping quail in a brooder for 5 weeks, even in the winter. They are itching to get out after only a couple of weeks, and by the end of week 3, they are looking longingly out the window of our brooder, and trying to fly out, whenever the lid is opened. My (less scientific) technique is to start at the 90/95 degree mark, and then start turning the thermostat down a little bit at a time every few days, until it’s turned all the way off at the 2 (summer) or 3 (winter) week mark. Then, I leave them in an unheated brooder for 2 days before releasing them outside. That said, there is nothing concrete about this technique. If the birds appear cold after I turn down the brooder, I increase the temperature slightly. Similarly, if it’s brutally cold outside the day I was slated to place the quail in the hutch, I will wait for a more tolerable day.
In your brooder, you will (of course) also need to have food and water. Continue reading for our recommendations.
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Choosing a Feed and a Feeder

When looking for quail feed, you want a wild game bird feed with 20-30% protein. Some people will recommend grinding up their feed for the first week, to make the food particles smaller and easier for them to eat. You can do this if you want, but we find it to be a waste of time. If you give the feed as it comes, the quail will eat the smaller particles when they are younger, and start eating the larger particles when they are able. You will occasionally hear stories about quail chicks choking on feed and dying, but these stories are rare and usually unsubstantiated, and for every one person with a story like this, you can find several people who have never ground their feed and never had a problem – us included. However, it doesn’t hurt to play it safe, if that’s what you want to do. As for feeders, you generally want to find something that the quail can get their beaks into, but not their feet. When quail are able to get their feet into their feed, they scratch a lot of the feed out, wasting it. For a few bucks, you can find a circular feeder that attaches to a standard mason jar, which you fill with feed. For snacks, we recommend mealworms, black soldier fly larvae (BSFL), and fresh fruits, such as blueberries. If you mix the meal worms and BSFL into the bedding and/or dust bath, you can entertain your birds, by giving them something to forage for.

 

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Choosing a Waterer

I have a couple very important recommendations here. For the first couple weeks of life, be very sure to have a waterer that is made specifically for quail. Quail chicks commonly die from drowning in their water, so there are waterers that attach to mason jars, that are made specifically for quail. They have a narrow channel that holds the water. This makes it so that the quail can only get their beaks into the water, preventing them from getting stuck and drowning. My second very important recommendation, if you do use the mason jar attachment waterer, is to make certain that you loosen the attachment (about a half turn) after putting it on. If you don’t, the water will not readily come out. At Mayetta Farms, we lost 3 quail chicks this way. We assumed that, since there was a hole for the water to come out, that it would indeed come out. However, probably due to some law of physics, that is not the case. So, loosen the base a half turn, and until you get a feel for what works, keep an eye on the birds for the first couple of days to make sure they are really getting water.
Note in this photo: the jar is full of water, and yet there is no water in the base for the quail to drink. This is an example of a base that has not yet been loosened to allow water flow.
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For the winter, if you live in a place that gets below freezing, as we do, you will either need to refresh the water a couple times a day, or get your quail a waterer with a heat component. We use the K&H Electric Poultry Waterer, and have so far had good luck.
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Note: We recently learned that hot water freezes faster than cold water (more physics for you), so filling a waterer with hot water may not be as effective as you might imagine.

Choosing or Building a Hutch

When building or buying a hutch, there are a few things to consider.

One consideration, is space. Opinions on the proper amount of space per bird, vary significantly. I will let you decide what is right for yourself. Our hutch is about 16 square feet, and it seems entirely reasonable to us to have 16 quail in the hutch. That ratio (1 bird per square foot) is the one I see mentioned the most. However, some people fit more birds than that into their space.
Another thing to consider is the type of flooring. Many people use wire flooring, allowing quail manure to fall through the floor to the ground, for easy cleaning. At Mayetta Farms, we keep our quail on pine shavings. Wire floors can give quail foot problems, such as bumble foot. It also creates a conundrum, where if the openings in the wire floor are big enough for manure to fall through easily, they are also big enough for predators to get to your birds. Again, you will have to decide what is best for your context.
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Preferably, quail hutches should have a nesting box with solid walls and a solid floor, where they can go if the weather gets too bad.

To secure your coop, we recommend 1/4 inch hardware cloth around the outside. Prior to hardware cloth, we had a wire with larger openings, similar to chicken wire, and we lost 8 quail to a raccoon in a single night. Since applying the 1/4 inch hardware cloth, we have lost no birds to predators. Having a hutch that is raised off the ground is helpful at keeping predators away, but refrain from putting anything near the hutch that predators can climb on to, giving them better access. The raccoon that killed 8 of our quail, was also helped by a stack of 5-gallon buckets next to the hutch that acted as a ladder, giving him easy access to the birds.Lastly, learn from our mistake, and make sure your hutch has a large door. Adding a door like this to our hutch is on my to-do list, because our current door, which is very small, makes everything more difficult. For example, cleaning would be much easier with better access. Also, larger feeders and waterers could fit into the hutch more easily.

Dust Baths

The container used for a dust bath, can be just about anything that can hold dirt and that the birds can get into. In the brooder, I have used plastic salad mix boxes. In the hutch, I currently use a 2 inch deep metal tray that I picked up at a thrift store. There are various options for dust bath contents. Quail really seem to enjoy sand. They also enjoy peat moss, or just straight up dirt. If you are going to use dirt from your own property, first be sure that it’s not contaminated. Living in the city, I opt for store bought sand or peat moss, because I don’t trust the soil around my house (which is also why I garden in raised beds). Just be sure the medium is dry and dusty. Wet sand/mud doesn’t do much to help them. Dust baths help keep quail clean and mite-free. If you want to do more to prevent mites, you can buy a bag of food grade diatomaceous earth, and sprinkle it in, according to the instructions. When the dust bath becomes soiled and full of manure, empty it into the compost bin and freshen it up.

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Final Thoughts

So, that is our advice on getting into quail keeping. When we got interested in quail, we did a ton of research, and read advice from several different sources. We recommend that you do the same. See what other quail keepers are recommending out there. Look at all your different options, and pick what is best for you. Whatever you end up doing, have fun! Raising quail is a fulfilling endeavor. We hope you enjoy it as well.
-Mayetta Farms