I have decided to try my hand at incubating poultry eggs in my home. Why?
Scroll down for a summary of a list of instructions!
For the quail, I’d ordered some eggs back at the end of March, because 1) I want quail in my life, and 2) if you order baby day-old quail the general minimum is 50 of them, well beyond what I wanted to have here, and 3) I didn’t know I’d find a local supplier who sold me a dozen day old quail babies. And 4) since I lost a few of these through some really dumb events – such as when you go down to refill the water for the babies in the middle of the night PLEASE wear your glasses so you don’t inadvertently set the water saucer down atop one of them… — I thus decided NOT to cancel the quail egg order. (There was a worse incident, but I’m not ready to post here about it quite yet… heat lamps can be dangerous things, just to note.)
For the chickens, I have ordered day-olds that will arrive today or tomorrow, but in case I have a chicken failure or anything, and also because I want to test out in-home incubation anyway, I set 10 eggs into an incubator to see what would happen. (My goal with the ordered chicks here is to start up a breeding program using Plymouth barred rocks, of which currently I only have one rooster. WHY this breed? Because he’s a “NICE” rooster. And I have no PBR hens here at the moment. I don’t guarantee all the roos from this breed will be nice, but it is a START. Anyway, being a retired scientist, I was also curious as to how in-home incubation might work, or not, for me. So, I took five eggs over a three day period from both the main chicken house and from the chicken tractor (a different rooster father), and set them into an incubator. To time out the chicken hatching to match within a day or two the arrival of the ordered chicks (so they can be raised together without getting, ahem, peck-ish…)
I first tried Little Giant – It was inexpensive, and you can find them at your Tractor Supply . Parts were missing. So I went back to get a replacement. MORE parts were missing, including the electric cord to attach to the outlet. Maybe you’ll have better luck with this brand, but I’ll also note the shell of the unit is Styrofoam. In the case of incubators, you do get what you pay for.
Okay, TBH last summer I bought an incubator – I am SURE I did. I don’t know where it went and could not find it when the quail eggs arrived. The Little Giant trash unit(s) weren’t going to cut it, so I ended up going to Premier One Supplies, where I ordered the unit I used. (If and when I find the original unit, I’ll test it out and report back… Although I am hoping not to incubate and raise more chicks this year, so you may have to wait for 2021.)
At any rate as noted, I ended up ordering an incubator from Premier 1, with the capacity for 16 chicken (or duck/turkey) eggs as an emergency need. The manufacturer is Borotto, an Italian concern. (They also sell an 8-egg unit, and a larger unit than what I think I’d ever need.) As for quail eggs, the unit I bought could hold 4 x 16 eggs, if I ever get that ambitious. The price for what I bought was in the three digit area, but it also came with an automatic humidifier should you want to use this. (More below.) The unit is SOLID. No Styro-sheesh here! Because the quail eggs were already here, I paid a little extra to expedite shipping.
The incubator arrived, and I added ten chicken eggs Five were from my main hen house coop (probable father being a Plymouth Barred Rock, although it is of a very minor possibility Lentil, my Silver Laced Wyandotte x black Australorpe F1 cross could have been a father… but more on that.) Five were from the chicken tractor grouping, where the father was either a speckled Sussex or a Rhode Island white – the latter being mis-diagnosed when I picked pullets up from TSC last September. I suspect the Sussex, though, as he’s made himself clear as the dominant chicken there, in many ways.
The quail eggs had arrived a week earlier. I didn’t have any place to put them, so that’s when I tried the Little Giant fiasco, and then Premier One. I have actually seen things online where people have bought quail eggs from the grocery and got two or three out of the dozen to hatch, so I figured… hey, those eggs may have been there for a few days, perhaps… let’s try anyway. Even if they were sitting here at my home without an incubator for around a week… I even ended up putting them in the fridge (which as it turns out is not recommended). Simply because perhaps…
So…. 10 chicken eggs, and 18 quail eggs. (I had been shipped 24 quail eggs, but because I really thought none of the quail could hatch, I decided to cut my losses a little, and boiled up 6 of those eggs for breakfast…)
The instructions for the Borotto work like a charm. I opted not to use the automatic humidifier when I started because they want a certain minimum home temperature before running the unit. I am unwilling to heat my house that high – even though it was only a couple degrees above the house set point – so I opted to check the water levels each day and re-top as indicated, manually. If I were to start up eggs now, yes, I’d use it. (I don’t have A/C yet.)
The unit will automatically turn your eggs for you, While the unit runs quietly, you can hear it when it shifts the eggs. Originally a bit startling, but one adapts.
On Day 18 (for both quail and chicken) stop the rotating feature of your unit, and set your eggs out so they can hatch. Other species may have other parameters. My quail actually started hatching out early – maybe a result of not knowing what to do for a week?
Oh, this is so much fun! Around Day 18 you want to stop the rotating mechanism on your brooder from… rotating. Right now the little fellers need to rest. They’ll hatch, apparently 99% of the time on their own. It is not advised to help them out, although I do know a couple of people who did so, successfully. But overall, let nature take her course. If you have children, the hatching is a wonderful thing for them to watch. Hey, I’m 66, and I STILL find it wonderful!
Prepare a brooding space for your poultry. Note that you need to keep your chickens separate in a different brooder than your quail. The size difference will not spell well for the quail. The brooder needs a heat lamp adjusted to deliver over 90 degrees F, and situated such that is not a fire hazard. You’ll also need to provide water and food.
You don’t need to feed your poultry for the first 24 or so hours (this is why the Post Office can ship day old chicks to you!) They are still absorbing their egg sacks.
When you do move your quail and chickens to their brooders – check them often. I have yet to find a good infant quail watering system, so I am using a coffee saucer that I wet down ever so many hours. I use chick starter feed for both species – but I grind this to a finer grain for the baby quail.
NOTES and SUMMARY for Your Incubations!
- If you are going to incubate your own poultry eggs, you need a ROOSTER to fertilize them. (You do not need a rooster to have your hens lay eggs – these however won’t be fertile.) He may well not fertilize all your eggs, either.
- You can store chicken eggs at a cool but not refrigerator-cold temperature for up to a week before placing them in an incubator. But the sooner the better.
- Although hatching rate went down with time, quail eggs appear to be a bit hardier than chicken eggs prior to incubation. (The case mentioned above with supermarket-obtained quail eggs that hatched – those eggs had been found under refrigeration.) My hatching rate was 8 out of 18, although one of those died before I woke up that morning. (Successful hatching rate of 7 / 18 = roughly 40%.) Due to the incubator issues as mentioned above I am glad I got what I got.
- Make sure you have your incubator in place and ready to go prior to obtaining your eggs. (I failed this with regards to the quail.)
- Read and follow the instructions on your incubator prior to use. They may differ. Do be sure to find a unit that will shift your eggs automatically – this keeps the embryo from adhering to the wall of the shell. Foster mama in nature does this automatically, herself.
- The automatic humidifier unit that came with my incubator had a minimum set temperature of 68 F. Since I didn’t want to raise my heat to 68 F, I opted for the manual method of a little daily water.
- Quail and chicken eggs are optimized to incubate at 97.7 degrees F (36.5 C.)
- Optionally you can “candle” the eggs during the process. Quail eggs may be difficult because of the color and shell thickness. Chicken eggs are easier. In a dark room, take the eggs and shine a GOOD flashlight at them, starting around Day 8 or 10. You can find good visualizations online to compare your eggs to. I did not bother to candle.
- On Day 18, you should turn the rotation arm of your incubator OFF. This allows the embryo to settle down into a position from which it can eventually be able to hatch through the shell. It was recommended to drop the incubator temperature to 97.2 F (36.2 C) at this time. I also removed the rack so the birds could hatch out on a flat surface.
- Chickens will take approximately 21 days to hatch. Quail will take 22 or 23, typically.
- Since the quail started and finished hatching before the chickens started, I removed the former to the brooder. I didn’t want any interspecies rivalry games.
- Don’t attempt to help the chick out. I do have a local friend who did rescue a chick that was taking an hour and more to hatch out – the chick no longer had the energy to struggle any more. But that’s an exception. And perhaps at that point it comes down to a use it or lose it anyway scenario. Your call.
- Have housing in a brooder ready for your chicks when they hatch. I left them in the incubator overnight, then transferred them to a brooder. Brooders need: heat source, water source, food source. I have been using cardboard boxes I line with shelfing liner, and then cover with pine shavings. Not the super small pine fragments but actual shavings (so the stuff doesn’t go down chick lungs). You can give chicken starter feed to baby quail – but I grind this lightly so they can swallow better. I’ll discuss more in a future post.
- I’m marking the feet of chicks that came from different coops (ie different breed of parentage) with a Sharpie, which I will have to renew every couple days or so. This is simply for tracking purposes. When the chicks are old enough, they’ll get leg bands.
My Own Results Here:
Quail: 18 eggs, 8 hatched. One I found dead when I awoke that morning, but the seven others are doing fine. I smashed open the remaining quail eggs a couple hours ago – there were no embryos to be seen within. It is noted that under ideal circumstances, most suppliers of quail eggs for hatching will tell you 70-80% should do so. Mine were less but for the reasons mentioned above, I was glad to get as many as I did.
Chicken: 5 eggs from the main coop, 3 hatched. Father is presumably the Plymouth Barred Rock, as Lentil, the F1 Silver-Laced Wyandotte x black Australorpe rooster was caught by a predator earlier. Results: 1 buff Orpington, 1 black Australorpe, 1 uncertain, which I hope is Buckeye. Two eggs remain – I will open them Wednesday if nothing happens between now and then.
Chicken: 5 eggs from the tractor, 5 hatched. Father is likely the speckled Sussex as he is dominant, but one never knows what goes behind closed doors! The other roo is the inadvertent mis-sexed Rhode Island white. Phenotype results: 4 buff Orpingtons, and one brown chick of uncertain future phenotype. (There is one Rhode Island red here.)
I am using a Sharpie to mark feet, to track what may happen.
I like using this incubator. I don’t yet know if this is really better than using the hens themselves, but with the incubator you surely can set up a hatching time, rather than waiting for someone to go broody. I also had difficulties last summer with Idril deciding she’d shift nesting boxes to brood in, whether there were eggs or not. I don’t know what is “best” yet, as the rooster from last summer had to be put down for aggressive behavior at end of season. Maybe he didn’t have enough shots in him to fertilize enough eggs… and perhaps that ended up being why he was such a cranky rooster?
More research next summer.
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