Coturnix quail, also known as Japanese quail, are one of the most widely raised species of quail. Originally domesticated and bred in Japan as early as the 12th century, Coturnix quail are most often raised for meat but they are prolific egg layers, with each hen laying as many as 300 eggs per year. This abundance of eggs often makes it necessary to hatch Coturnix quail eggs in an incubator to produce the highest number of live chicks.
To hatch Coturnix quail eggs, you need a good supply of fresh, fertile quail eggs, a good incubator with steady temperature and humidity control, and some patience. Always buy your eggs from a reputable, local source. If you plan to buy eggs online, from a local source, or from a distributor in another state, make sure your distributor has a good supply of laying hens and fertile roosters, the eggs are shipped fresh, and most importantly they are shipped fast and with proper protection against temperature variations and rough handling.
A day or two before you receive your quail eggs start your incubator and test it for temperature and humidity stability. If you have a new incubator, or are running your incubator after more than a month of inactivity, run it for 12 hours and check your temperature and humidity levels about every 30 minutes. Write down your results and indicate the time for each reading. Your temperature and humidity should remain steady between 99 and 101 degrees Fahrenheit and at 50-55% humidity. Temperatures above 102 will kill majority of the developing chicks. Anything below 98 will cause prolonged incubation period which can again cause high mortality rate. Humidity control is as important as temperature. For the first 14 days eggs should be in 50-55% humidity. During the last three days however, you should increase the humidity by 10% to about 60-65%.
Once you have set your incubator at the proper levels, you are ready to proceed. When you receive your eggs, let them sit at room temperature for approximately 24 hours. This will allow the eggs to rest and adapt to the environment. After this “wait” period, check every egg for cracks, and any other defect. Set aside any eggs that have cracks. These eggs will not hatch and most likely will spoil during the incubation period. You do not want to take a chance of having one of these eggs go bad and explode in your incubator!
My homemade incubator has very good temperature and humidity control, but I do not leave it alone. It is important that you check your incubator’s temperature and humidity at least twice a day.
Once you have checked all your eggs for cracks, you can place the good eggs in the incubator. Make sure you lay eggs with about half inch space between them. Once you have placed all eggs in the incubator, replace the lid and let them sit for an hour or two. At this time, check your temperature and humidity levels and adjust it as necessary.
If your incubator has an automatic turner, turn it on and make sure it is working properly. If your incubator does not have an automatic turner, you’ll need to turn the eggs at least 4 times a day, ¼ turn each time. I suggest you place a small X with either a pencil or a thin tip marker so you can verify the eggs are turned properly. If you are new to hatching eggs, you might want to place an O on the other side of the egg from the X so you can tell how far each egg is turned.
After 14 days of incubation, you can stop turning the eggs. From here on, you need to increase the humidity to 60-65% and let the eggs go through their final stage of development. This is usually when I candle my eggs to ensure proper development of the chicks inside. I take the eggs out of the incubator one at a time to check them against a bright flashlight. If all is well, I place the egg back in the incubator in the same position as they had been before being removed. If I see any development issues, or lack thereof, I take the egg out and toss it. Now all you have to do is wait another three to four days and watch your new guests arrive.
If you think you’re done, think again. Now you are ready to raise a clutch of very demanding babies. I hope this article has given you enough information to get you through the process. If you have any questions, please send me an email or post your question and I will do my best to answer them.
Next, how to set up your brooder box.