If you follow me over on Instagram, you’ll know Gareth and I recently took our first venture in to hatching and raising button quail chicks. (And if you don’t follow me, do so and please make sure to say hi so I know to follow you back! I’m @yasminedaisy)
I have never hatched a bird in an incubator before, although as I keep a large quantity of birds I have experience of my own birds hatching out chicks. For the most part though, you just leave them to it – asides from providing them a nest, some material and maybe some egg crumb, they’ll do the rest.
Anyway, we have a very broody button quail (Sugarpuff) – her and her partner (Popcorn) were adamant on having chicks. Sugarpuff was so dedicated to the cause that she sat on a nest for months. Alas she was only ever able to hatch one chick and it died soon after birth. So we thought we’d step in and give hatching chicks a go ourselves. Here’s how we did it and what we discovered along the way…
I like to think I’m pretty good with animals, and I certainly have a lot of experience with keeping them. I currently have a whole aviary full of finches, six Japanese quail, two button quail and a hedgehog named Nibbles. That said there are some things I really have little-to-no knowledge on; hatching and raising chicks being one of them. I figured it couldn’t really be that hard though, and Gareth was also very keen to give our Sugarpuff the babies she so badly wanted.
We did a quick google search and purchased a cheap incubator on Amazon. We opted for something small because button quails are tiny and their chicks even more so. We spent around £30 quid on a 10 eggs mini incubator – it’s out of stock on Amazon now but there are lots of similarly priced ones that do the same job.
Gareth set it up. We couldn’t really find any exact details on required temperature and humidity for button quails, with most articles wildly varying. In the end we set the incubator at 37 degrees with a humidity of 70% – the latter being really tough to work out. We decided to just add what seemed to be the right amount of water. Obviously there is a science to hatching chicks – but from our experience going with our guts seemed to work for the most part. Finally we placed the fertile eggs in the incubator marking the top with an X and the bottom with an O.
Every morning and evening in the lead up to hatch day we turned the eggs. 14 days after they were first placed in the incubator they began to hatch -it was the 17th of September. We started out with one tiny little chick. Gareth got home from work to discover the ball of fluff stumbling in the bottom of the incubator. Just hours later he was lucky enough to watch the second one hatch, and a day later came our third chick – the little white/grey one.
When chicks hatch they need time to dry out – around 24 hours. So they spent around 3-4 days in the incubator, collectively drying out. They don’t need to eat or drink immediately (for around 24 hours) but we did place a little bit of chick crumb in anyway – which they instinctively started pecking up soon after.
At day 3-4 when they had all dried and were fluffy little yellow specks zooming around the incubator and peeping, we thought we would introduce them to mama quail, Sugarpuff. Unfortunately Sugarpuff was not at all the loving mother we had anticipated. We had read previously that button quail can become aggressive with chicks hatched in an incubator, not recognising them as their own. But because we knew how desperately broody Sugarpuff was we thought we’d chance it. Sadly she and Popcorn were immediately aggressive towards the chicks and started pecking and pulling at their wings. So plan A was off the table and plan B was sprung in to action.
We purchased a heat plate from the Incubator Shop website for around £30, then made a homemade brooder following instructions and advice we read online. Creating a brooder was easy enough – we bought a big plastic storage tub, lined it with a tea towel and sawdust, then placed the heat plate in. As the chicks were roughly the size of a large bumble bee we had to place their water in a water bottle lid (so they wouldn’t drown) and we placed a bowl of crushed up chick crumb in too.
The chicks spent most of their time keeping warm under the heat plate, with very minimal interference from us. I suppose if we had planned to keep them as indoor pets we might have tried a bit more at hand-taming them. But as such they are destined to live in the outdoors aviary with their parents when they are old enough to do so. (You can read my aviary tour here! )
By day 13 the chicks had begun growing their adult feathers and we were able to get some kind of indication on the colours they would be. The smallest was white like its father Popcorn, the other two a nice grey colour like their mother Sugarpuff – with just a hint of brown. At this stage the chicks still had funny yellow heads and fluff peeking through their feathers. They had also become more adventurous and spent more time away from the heat plate.
By four weeks, (as of the 14th October) the chicks had grown to almost adult size (though they may grow a few inches bigger in the coming weeks) and have most of their adult feathers – a hint of yellow fluff remaining around their faces. They’re different colours now too. The smallest and youngest is more of a grey, whilst the older two are a lot browner than we first anticipated. They’re a gorgeous brindle type with splashes of grey. Who knows if their colourings will change as they get older still?
We also can’t currently tell if they are male or female, due to them being unusual colourings. However, I have witnessed one stand on its legs and attempt to crow – so I can only assume we have at least one male! In the coming weeks we’ll look out for any eggs as that’s obviously the biggest indicator of sex.
They button quails will be able to move out from their brooder and in to something more spacious in around two more weeks! They probably won’t go straight in to the aviary though because with the cold winter coming up it’s not the best time to introduce them.
Do you keep any unusual pets?