There just Isn't much that can compare to the joy of watching a Chinese Blue Breasted Quail "Button Quail" chick hatch. Being the smallest quail in the world, they are about the size of a Bumble Bee when they first emerge from their shell, and just about as active. As soon as they hatch and dry off, they are ready to explore their world and they do it with much enthusiasm. They are charming, adorable and delightful.
While you can use any type of incubator, the best hatch will occur when using a forced air (fan) rather than a still air (no fan) incubator. Forced air incubators give a much more even heat, and since Chinese Blue Breasted Quail are so small, they just do better under those conditions.
Turning the Eggs:
You will also get a much better hatch if your incubator is equipped with an automatic egg turner. Turning or rotating of eggs in your incubator is critical. When a hen incubates her own eggs, she turns them approximately every eighteen to thirty minutes. The reason turning is so important is that at the start of incubation the embryo (called a germ at this stage) appears in a small white spot (called the germinal disc) on the upper side of the yolk. It tends to float upward each time the egg is turned. The embryo takes its nutrients from the yolk. Each time the egg is turned the embryo is exposed to a new portion of the yolk, and thus has a continual supply of nutrients. Failure to turn the eggs deprives the embryo of the necessary nutrients and and can cause serious malnutrition, weak chicks and can even cause an embryo to die in the shell.
Using an incubator with an automatic turner will greatly increase your hatches, and will also help to produce healthier chicks. Most automatic turners rotate the eggs about once an hour, which is sufficient for a healthy hatch.
If your incubator does not have an automatic turner, and you cannot retrofit one to it, you will have to turn the eggs by hand at least twice a day. The more often the eggs are turned the better. When turning eggs by hand, you can simply roll them from one side to the other in a half turn. It is helpful to mark an X on one side of the egg with a felt tip ink pen so you will know how far to turn the eggs. It is important to not roll the eggs in the same direction every time. Improper rolling can cause the chalazae that holds the yolk in place to tear and set the yolk free. If this happens the embryo will die.
Caring For Eggs During Incubation:
incubators do not have a 100% hatch rate. It is important to understand your incubator and give it a trial run before placing fertile eggs in it.
If your incubator has an egg rack, place the egg into it with the small, narrow end pointing down and the large blunt end facing upward. If your incubator does not have an egg rack, the eggs should be carefully laid on their side, leaving a narrow gap between them. Do not overcrowd them.
As soon as the eggs warm to the temperature inside the incubator the tiny germ cell (embryo) starts to develop. Once the eggs are placed in the incubator try not to open it more than is absolutely necessary.
Chinese Blue Breasted Quail eggs should be incubated at a constant temperature of 99.5 to 99.9 degrees F. (37.5 to 37.7 C) in a forced air incubator If you are using a still air incubator the temperature should be adjusted to 100 degrees F. (37.7 C).
Proper humidity is also essential for a good hatch. Humidity in incubators is regulated by the amount of water in the water reservoir. For a good hatch the humidity should average 50-60 percent. Still air incubators because they lack a fan, create minimal air movement so humidity tends to build up faster in them. Still air incubators may require much less water in their reservoir than forced air ones do.
Chinese Blue Breasted quail hatch in 16 days if conditions are correct, but because of human and incubator error, give them a few extra days if they don't hatch right on schedule. For the most part though, if everything has gone off without a hitch, they will hatch in exactly 16 days, almost to the hour they were placed in the incubator.
When To Stop Turning Eggs and Why It is Important:
After the eggs have been in the incubator for 13 days, it is time to stop turning them. If you are using an incubator with an egg rack, shut down the turning mechanism and if possible remove it from the incubator. Next remove the eggs from the rack and carefully lay them on their side on the wire bottom of the incubator. If you do not have an incubator with an automatic turner, simply stop turning them on the 13th day and let them lay still for the next 3 days.
It is important that you do not move the eggs during the last 3 days of incubation. This is the time when the chick needs to move itself into hatching position inside the egg.
Caring for Newly Hatched Chicks:
Once the chicks hatch and dry off in the incubator, they will need to be moved to a Brooder, where they will remain until they are feathered out and able to produce sufficient body heat on their own.
It is important to realize that not all chicks that hatch will survive. Under the very best of conditions, it is normal to lose about 2 to 3 % of a hatch.
The brooder should be set up about 8-12 hours prior to an expected hatch to insure it is warm enough to receive the chicks. Never place them in a cold brooder.
Commercial brooders are available on the market, but unfortunately they were not designed for tiny "Button Quail" Chicks. An easy and effective brooder can be made from a 10 gallon fish aquarium or similar container.
Newly hatched chicks have very soft and delicate bones. During the first 48 hours they their hips can become dislocated ( A problem called Straddle leg) if they are kept on a slippery surface or handled.
Using a nonskid rubber shelf liner on the bottom of your brooder will help prevent this problem.
For heat, place a shop type lamp with a 60 watt clear light bulb, and metal deflector on top of 2 bricks that have been set on end (as shown in photo.) If bricks are not available, the lamp can be suspended approximately 6-8 inches above the floor of the brooder.
Be sure the lamp is place at one end of the brooder so the chicks can huddle under it if they are cold and move away if they become too warm.
When the chicks are first placed in the brooder they should be checked every half hour or so to be sure conditions are right for them. In cold climates, placing a piece of cardboard or a towel that partially covers the top of the brooder may be necessary to help hold the heat in.
What Do The Chicks Eat:
Because Chinese Blue Breasted Chick are so tiny, they are not able to fit large pieces of food into their beaks. To provide the right size food, place a good quality Game Bird Starter Crumble or non-medicated Turkey Starter crumble (Available from Most Feed Stores, Pet shops do not generally carry this type of feed) that is no less than 18 to 20 percent protein, in a food blender and grind it to the consistency of corn meal.
They also need calcium to develop bones and feathers, so finely ground oyster shell can be added to their food mixture.
By the time they are about 3 weeks of age, Finch seed mix should be added to their diet. They can also be given small amounts of hard boiled egg at that time.
BE SURE TO SPREAD GENEROUS AMOUNTS OF FOOD ON THE FLOOR OF THEIR BROODER AS WELL AS IN A SMALL FOOD DISH (plastic jar lids work well.) The chicks instinctively start pecking at the ground looking for food within an hours after they hatch. They will find it faster if it is spread on the brooder floor. Once they are seen eating regularly from the dish, it will no longer be necessary to spread it on the floor.
Approximately 85% of a newly hatched chick's weight is water. They drink approximately twice as much as they eat. For the first 3 or 4 days the water can be placed in a shallow container such as a plastic jar lid (see photo above) with marbles. The chicks peck at the shinny marbles and find the water... the marbles also help prevent the chicks from walking tough the water, getting wet, and taking a chill.
By the time the chicks are 4 or 5 days old the jar lid can be replaced with a standard chick drinker which can be purchased at most feed store. They are generally made of red plastic and screw onto a pint or quart canning jar.