bobwhite quail

How To Incubate Bobwhite Quail Eggs

In another article, we talked about how to incubate coturnix quail eggs and some of the advantages of choosing that breed of quail, but they aren’t the only type of domesticated quail commonly kept by quail breeders. Bobwhite quail are another breed commonly kept, but most quail breeders find that they aren’t an optimized bird for egg and meat production. In this article, we’ll talk about the pros and cons of Bobwhite quail and how to incubate Bobwhite quail eggs.

Pros and cons of Bobwhite quail

Bobwhite quail have their place in a homestead environment, but if you’re looking to keep a quail that will be good meat and egg layers, they aren’t the bird for you. My recommendation would be to instead keep Coturnix quail. Their eggs and meat are comparable, they’re easier to keep, and they mature fast. If you do decide to proceed with Bobwhite quail, there are some pros and cons to consider.

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Pros:

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  • Bobwhite quail are good flyers (this is perhaps a con unless you’re raising them for sport)
  • More weight for meat production
  • Ideal for wild release scenarios
  • Some report their meat has a better flavor
  • Better for training hunting dogs

Cons:

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  • Bobwhite quail are difficult to raise
  • Slower incubation time
  • Slower to mature
  • Difficult to keep in a flock setting
  • Can be more aggressive

How to incubate Bobwhite quail eggs

If you’re certain you’re ready to proceed with incubating Bobwhite quail eggs, let’s get down to learning how to incubate Bobwhite quail eggs! First, some fast facts about incubating Bobwhite quail:

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  • Incubation time: 23-24 days
  • Incubation temperature: 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Relative humidity: 60 percent
  • Lockdown: Day 21
  • Lockdown humidity: 75 percent

First, you will need to obtain fertile Bobwhite quail eggs. My recommendation is to always try to source them locally. Shipped fertile quail eggs are more likely to experience internal and external damage and fail to hatch. Eggs sourced locally are much less likely to have this damage. Check local ecommerce sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace to find local quail eggs.

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Setting up your incubator

Once you have your eggs, you will need to set up an incubator. The incubation temperature for Bobwhite quail eggs is 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit. You will need to achieve a humidity level of 60 percent as well. The incubator’s temperature and humidity will need to be stable throughout the first 21 days of incubation. If it gets too hot or too cold, the embryos may die or develop improperly. If the humidity is off for two long, your chicks may suffer a similar fate.

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Once you have these two factors established and your incubator is stabilized, you can set your hatching eggs.

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Setting Bobwhite quail eggs

Before setting your eggs, take a soft lead pencil and mark an X on one side of the egg and an O on the other. We do this because it helps to properly turn the eggs. Quail eggs will need to be turned a minimum of three times a day to ensure proper embryonic development. Not turning the eggs will potentially steeply reduce hatchability. If you are using an automatic egg turner (which we recommend), there’s no need to mark the eggs.

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When your incubator is stabilized and you’re confident that it’s ready, you can set your eggs. If setting in an automatic egg turner, all you need to do is check a few times a day to make sure that temperature and humidity are stabilized.

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Candling Bobwhite quail eggs

Partway through the incubation process, usually around day 12-15, you should candle your quail eggs to ensure that each one is developing. Eggs that have not developed may be harboring dangerous bacteria. Bacteria-filled eggs, if left alone long enough, can explode, spreading infected egg material all over your incubator. This can be extraordinarily difficult to clean out of your incubator and it can spread the bacteria to all of the eggs, potentially killing everyone inside. It also tends to smell pretty bad.

It should be pretty apparent which eggs have developed and which have not. Eggs with development will be darker, and you may be able to see movement and veins inside of the egg. Eggs which did not develop will light up and appear clear.

You will also likely have eggs that started developing but quit at some point during incubation. Bobwhite quail eggs are usually white, cream colored eggs and are very easy to candle.

If your chick is alive, at 15 days you should see the embryo, a dark, mostly formless mass, rocking back and forth in the egg. You should also see a network of veins spreading outward from the embryo. The veins may also be in motion. The signs of life should be pretty clear.

If your chick has died, there will be no movement. When an embryo dies, the veins may quickly break down or settle on one side of the egg, leaving only a motionless dark mass inside of the egg. Dead embryos stop growing, which means they will often be smaller than other, live embryos that have incubated the same length of time.

If you aren’t sure, mark the egg with a soft lead pencil and candle again at a later time, maybe the next day or so. Candling is a largely imperfect science and it can sometimes be difficult to tell. A dead egg left for an extra day or two won’t likely hurt anything.

Lockdown

Lockdown is the name given to the final period of egg incubation. You’ll hear it mentioned in articles that cover incubating pretty much any poultry egg. Lockdown is when you stop turning the eggs, increase the humidity, and prepare to…wait. It is during lockdown that you will want to ensure that you have the food and housing necessary to raise your baby Bobwhite quail.

For Bobwhite quail, lockdown starts on day 21 of incubation. During lockdown, you will need to increase the humidity. Your new incubator settings are:

  • Temperature: 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Humidity: 75 percent

Increasing the humidity is essential to a healthy hatch. Ensure that your humidity levels are right around 75% before proceeding with lockdown. If the humidity is too low, your chicks may not be able to hatch. If it’s too high, they may have excess fluid inside their eggs and drown in it when they begin breathing.

Once your humidity is stable, remove your eggs from the automatic egg turner (if you are using one.) Otherwise, simply stop turning the eggs.

Between the 21st and 22nd day, your chicks will internally pip. This is the process where your chick will penetrate the air cell of the egg and begin breathing. Between the 22nd and the 23rd day, your quail chicks will likely externally pip, where they crack the outside of the shell and begin breathing outside air.

During this period, the chick will begin absorbing the remaining yolk inside of the egg into their bodies. Chicks will survive on this yolk for a day or so after hatching, at which point they begin to eat and drink.

The general rule of thumb is once you see a pip in the shell, which may appear like a crack or a bump, your chick should hatch within a day or two. As it prepares to hatch from the egg, it will slowly rotate, breaking the egg shell in a process called unzipping. This is the final stage of hatching. Once they have begun to unzip themselves, hatching is imminent. This part can be difficult for excited quail hatchers. It can be slow, but don’t interfere.

Note: If you get impatient and try to help a chick hatch, you may accidentally kill it. If the yolk isn’t fully absorbed and you pull the chick from the shell, this radically increases the odds that the chick will not survive.

The period of time from pip to zip can vary pretty widely. In my experience, once you see an external pip, the chick will fully hatch within 24 hours. The eggs may not all hatch at once. Or they might. It really depends on a number of factors that are nearly impossible to account for. I’ve had hatches where every single egg hatches at the exact same time and some where chicks hatch a few days late. You just have to be patient.

The important thing is to be patient and not mess with the eggs. Hatching eggs can be taxing if you’re emotionally invested. Some eggs won’t pip and hatch. Some will internally pip but not externally pip. Some will externally pip but never unzip. Some will unzip but won’t be able to push out of their shell. Some will fully hatch and then die.

If you think a chick is struggling to hatch, don’t intervene. It sounds callous, but if a chick can’t hatch on its own, it means it wasn’t strong enough to do so. Some chicks are also slow hatchers. Intervening too early can kill them. Let nature take its course.

If you help an chick that can’t hatch on its own, any offspring they have may also be predisposed to having difficulty hatching. This is something to consider if you plan to continue breeding that line of quail.

We hope this guide on how to incubate Bobwhite quail eggs has been helpful! Happy hatching.

More incubation guides:

Thomas Nelson
Environmental Advocate
Thomas is an environmental advocate currently residing in the Pacific Northwest. In his spare time, he enjoys experiencing the outdoors, raising chickens and ducks, and reading about current environmental issues. Despite slight colorblindness, his favorite color is green.
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