Cheers Everyone.. bozie, you shouldn't encourage me !
Hmmm... thinking out loud here about some of the other stuff...FEEDING FOR BREEDING
I feed the flock decent chook layer feed if I ever plan ahead far enough before the "Maybe I'll stick some eggs in the incubator" moment. Generally I give them Country Heritage Layer Mash (for chooks) commencing a couple of weeks before I collect eggs. I find that they gobble up dry mash feeds much more enthusiastically than crumble, pellets, or grain mixes. Being such tiny birds compared to chooks it makes logical sense really. I once fed them a Game Bird Breeder feed (one of the Barastoc feeds) but it didn't give me better results than the Country Heritage Layer Mash. I prefer no coccidiostat in my feeds for all my birds, instead monitoring closely in case of potential problems & using husbandry methods & quick actions to treat with Baycox if I think they need it. I can't recall having ever treated a batch of quail chicks for signs of coccidiosis... if I have it would have been unusual. EGG COLLECTION FOR HATCHING THE LITTLE CUTIES
In my experience most of my quail's eggs are of similar shape all year round. Size seems to be a bigger variable between hens, and colour & pattern of the eggshells, too. I always select larger eggs for hatching, however someone on BYP (I apologise to whomever it was as I've forgotten only through my own memory issues, nothing personal) finds that the larger quail for eating that they hatch come from smaller eggs, and not from the larger eggs as some might anticipate. EGG STORAGE BEFORE INCUBATING
When collecting eggs for hatching, due to research on the magical interweb telling me that it was a good idea (and it's turned out to be precisely that), I store them in a sealed plastic zip-lock bag to keep the humidity level high until I'm ready to set them. No added water, and not sprayed with a mist of water or anything like that, just placed in a little zip-lock bag & the zip zipped... zippity zip ! Each day I only open the bag to add new eggs, and just plonk the bag down again "upside down" compared to the last time I opened it. Plonk might be too strong a word... placed carefully to avoid breakages is more accurate. I leave the bag on the kitchen benchtop if it's not mid-summer (we rent a lovely old house that stays fairly cool due to high ceilings & lack of modern "sealed in" materials in its construction). Remember to tell any other people in the house that they're for hatching & not eating. History tells us that failure to notify others in the house of the potential setting of eggs will result in them suddenly disappearing. You will then be asked at some point, as you hunt around to see where you're SURE you put the bag last time, "What are you looking for?" & the ensuing conversation will result in you realising that your incubation plans will be starting several days later than originally planned. Turning was something I used to do several times a day but experience has taught me that if I forget to turn them it's no big deal, and I've successfully hatched after several days of collecting where I've not even remembered to turn the bag over.. just the picking up of the bag, opening it, and adding new eggs, has been enough to "turn" them.READY ! SET !
After no more than a week, often only 3 or 4 days, I open the zip lock bag & have a good sniff of the eggs before I incubate. Why? Well, one time I collected for just over a week, and it was very hot in the middle of summer... mould had formed on the eggs in their little closed plastic palace. Peee-ew ! The smell just about knocked me out as I unzipped the bag. Threw those eggs out & started again. Now I always have a big sniff to ensure no signs of mould starting. No problems since, but it's a habit I'll continue with "just in case".
I've hatched quail in a foam incubator, with fan & auto turner, but no auto humidity. Lots of pre-incubation reading in the Incubation & Rearing section of BYP gave me the tools to get quail hatching in it with a better result than one would expect given the copious threads about how terrible such incubators are. Not a brilliant hatch compared to what I get now in our King Suro incubator **sigh** (that's my sigh of contentment... I love our King Suro with auto everything), but certainly a very good hatch for someone who took most of the info. I need from threads in BYP & from the person we purchased the incubator from. The most useful thread I found was one written by chookyinoz specifically about foam incubators... (link to that thread to be added when I go looking some time).
With our magical, marvellous King Suro (can you tell I like it yet?) I use the good ol' chook incubation settings.. nothing special for hatching quail there. I did a hatch or two or three with marginally higher temperature (maybe a few tenths of a degree higher) but it didn't make a difference for the hatch rates I was getting or the health of the chicks. Nothing adverse, but no benefit, so not worth it for me to muck around with the settings between quail & chooks (as hatching both is fun). Humidity I pay little heed to. I used to carefully make sure that I raised the humidity for both chook & quail incubation in the last few days. Now I just leave it at around 55% (ish) throughout. I've played with the humidity level a bit for both chook & quail hatches, and anywhere from 50% to 60% seems to work fine where we live. I often hatch both quail & chooks in the same setting, with the quail eggs set at the same time, or a few days after, or stuff up timing & put them in mid-chook incubation. Quail eggs take from 15 to 18 days to hatch, and chook eggs around 21 days, with the count starting at zero when you put them in, and Day 1 occurring approximately 24 hours after the core of the egg reaches incubation temperature. Pre-heating the incubator is a given, by the way.. with the foam one I used to give it a full day & with the King Suro a couple of hours has been plenty to get it up & running.GO, GO, GO !!
Keeping the incubator closed throughout any incubation is always preferred, other than when you must open it to turn eggs or adjust humidity through addition of water, or when you want to candle eggs. The King Suro & other fully automatic incubators avoid the need to open them except for candling. If you can resist opening it, then RESIST ! Although I candle chook eggs at least twice when incubating, I never bother candling quail eggs. I can't see a thing anyway, so I don't bother... I wonder if that's one of the things that helps with my quail hatches & the chicks being pretty hardy, now that I've thought that out loud.
I am however a complete sucker if I haven't hatched for a while & can't help but open the incubator probably more times than I should once the first ones start hatching. I use the excuse that I want to stick the quail into their brooder as soon as they're dry.
Letting them run roughshod over the unhatched eggs in the incubator does wonders for their unhatched siblings. Letting them roughhouse all over each other stimulates the unhatched ones to get on with coming into the world, and gets their muscles & tendons working after being cramped in an egg for their entire lives ! I used to think of them as fragile, and get them out of the brooder in batches to protect the later hatched chicks from their older, earlier hatched buddies. Not anymore. The quicker they're all getting roughed about the better. Japanese quail tend to all hatch in a short window from the one setting, in comparison to chooks. Rarely does anyone hatch outside about a 24 hour window in my experience. This seems to be the general rule of thumb that others on BYP have occur in their experiences, too. EAT, DRINK..
Unlike for chooks, who I don't bother giving food or water to until they're in a brooder, I put a small shallow container of water in the incubator... yes, you heard that right.. so that early hatched chicks can get to water if they want it. I put a small piece of non-slip mat in the container so that they can sip at the little bits of water in the "holes"... it's just to get them those early birds through the first day if they need a drink... I never make them drink, but just give them the option. Humidity goes all over the place once the first egg pips, which I pay no attention to. I also scatter a bit of feed for those early birds that fancy giving it a go. Always Country Heritage Organic Chick Starter / Grower feed at our place now... again, I've tried Game Bird Chick Starter feed & frankly they did better on the lower protein Country Heritage stuff... probably because they eat it constantly (unlike the Game Bird stuff which I've had several hatches struggle on) so they have a permanently full belly. I've also found that having a hearty appetite also has them drinking plenty of water. The full bellies & plenty of hydration seem to suit their early lives well here.
I started putting water & feed in the incubator for quail hatches for a few reasons. Firstly, observing them in the incubator, I noticed that quail chicks peck at the latest hatched chicks a lot. At first I thought it was a "have a go at the youngest" thing, but watching closely I soon worked out that they weren't so much pecking the younger chicks, but trying to grab at their wet down. Secondly, somewhere in the magical land of the interweb I read about the first 24 hours of quail life being a significant factor in their ongoing vigour & vitality... the earlier they have access to feed & water, the better they do. Lastly.. um.. what was it again? Oh, I remember.. I figure that they're such tiny birds, that if you exponentially alter time to allow for their tiny bodies & relatively short life, then the first 24 hours of a quail chick's life is several day of a chook chick's. Now, chook chicks will often not eat or drink in the first 48 hours of life, as they're under mum's feathery skirt & she won't let the poor desperate things go exploring until she's good & ready to take them out there. They have enough yolk after hatching to get them safely through those first couple of days. Quail don't have as long as that, I figured. In our parallel chook / quail universe, I figure 48 hours in a chook's life after hatch is maybe 12 hours at most in a quail's. Add to that that a quail's metabolism is much faster than a chook's, and I reckon it's safe to reduce that 12 hours even further. So... that's why I started doing it, and it works for me. AND BE MERRY !
My brooder is usually set up with the following careful planning.
1. Forget that it's coming up to hatching day, and wake up to see a little quail chick in the incubator.
2. Arrange eating & drinking as listed at "Eat, Drink" & head to work.
3. Get out of work exactly on time (a rare occurrence for me) so I can get home watch the quail chicks !
4. Arrive home & tip all the litter out the brooder because I haven't got around to it since the last lot were shifted out of it (sometimes months prior).
5. Realise that it really needs a proper wash out & scrub, but don't have time for it to dry (it's mostly wood) if I hose it out.
6. Get some hot water, add a smidge of soap, and locate a scrubbing brush (we have a couple especially for poultry purposes).
7. Try not to get distracted by the rapidly hatching & very chirpy quail whilst trying to set up the brooder... this bit's the hardest part !
8. Dip the scrubbing brush (it's one of those 99 cent ones from Ikea... bless you Ikea) into the hot, soapy water & scrub away until the brooder looks passable.... no poop visible on wood & perspex at front is fully transparent again (ie. shiny & clean).
9. Set the hose attachment to "fan" or flat" & hose off the soapy water, making sure to not point it near / towards the electric lightbulb holder.
10. If hot enough, leave brooder in the sunshine to dry... if not, get a towel & press on the wood to get the easily shiftable moisture out of it & then consider if the hairdryer needs to come out.
11. DRY the brooder like the quail lives depend on it... which they may well do.... dry it to within an inch of its life.
12. Realise I've no hope of getting it as dry as I want it to be before the quail need to go in, and remember that I have a really hot bulb that dries the interior of the brooder to within an inch of its life in just a couple of hours.
13. Plug the brooder in, with said hot bulb in, and then remember that I have to watch carefully so that the wood doesn't catch alight.
14. Figure a few minutes to check on the quail will be safe.
15. Smell burning ! Jog back to the brooder & notice some newly blackened wood on the inside of the brooder near the bulb.
16. Smile that the brooder is getting dry so quickly, but open the lid to avoid the wood reaching ignition temperature, and stay MUCH closer to the brooder until it's dry.
17. Collect all other items required for the brooder setup... the much safer, less hot, "normal" bulb / fresh woodshavings / a glazed pottery plant pot with hole in the base (scrubbed clean if not already clean) / a few bricks (there are always some reasonably clean ones lying about the place here) / a freshly cleaned chick waterer.
18. Go count how many quail have hatched... tell Mr Winglet every time a new one pips, or hatches, or dries, or does something funny (very often for quail chicks).
19. Ignore Mr Winglet's protestations at hearing about the chicks... shortly followed up with having to listen to all of his updates every time a new one pips, or hatches, or dries, or does something funny.
20. With brooder now dry inside put a few bricks inside "flat" & another one or two sideways so that quail can run through the holes, add wood shavings to half the height of the "flat" bricks & jam wood shavings inside any holes that would otherwise be deathtraps to young quail falling down into them like unused wells, fill waterer & put on top of the bricks in the middle (I used to put marbles in the moat, but no longer bother), scatter chick feed on the wood shavings (big pile between heat source & bricks that waterer sits on, and plenty more scattered around the edge of the bricks.. on the shavings... and some almost direct under the heat source), and put the pot onto its side & side-on to the heat/light source... close enough to warm up from the heat & positioned so that the quail can go inside & keep warm (not overheat) but keep out of the light if they choose to do so.
21. Fetch quail in handfuls & put in the brooder directly under the heat source, regardless of how long since they hatched. Continue to fetch handfuls of quail & move them to the brooder until all hatched quail have been shifted. Put back the last few quail that hatched, from the brooder to the incubator, as you realise this will help the last few hatch & will give the ones you moved a little more time to build up strength (they're probably less than an hour hatched !).
Have the brooder set up ahead of time if you're organised.
bozie, I blame you for the length of this addendum.. I did say you shouldn't encourage me.