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Operation Bob White

 
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Behold, my media rich thread on our family's clandestine Christmas operation.

Against the explicit pet ban in our apartment, I have built a hidden home made quail incubator for my children to hatch some quail for Christmas. As part of this operation I need to keep it hidden from both the landlord and the children until at least Christmas. I chose quail because they are smaller and quieter than chickens and grow quicker. If the landlord finds out and I have to throw them away, it wont break my heart too bad. We will be moving to a new house hopefully in the spring anyway.

I built the incubator roughly based on the following instructional Youtube Video.



The incubator has been running empty all night to get the temp and humidity stabilized. The eggs have also arrived yesterday and need to sit for a period to equalize temp and the air sac inside.

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Nicholas Green
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Some more notes:
In first post I when said I would throw them away I meant the unhatched eggs. If they were grown I’m sure I could find someone on CL to adopt them. Ultimately I want them to grow big enough to eat, quail should reach harvest weight in up to 8 weeks. That’s enough time for my kids to get a little tired of taking care of them.

I have 12 eggs to to incubate starting later today which would put the hatch date around New Years.

The incubator sits on the back porch which is drastically colder than the rest of the house. It seems to be holding temp/heating up fine so far.

The door is about a third of the height of the front wall. It’s harder to get things in and out but I would hope this helps to not spill all the hot air out each time it is opened. A small USB desk fan blows air up toward the light bulbs. I installed a small plexiglass window on the top to look down into the incubator. I placed cardboard over the top so the children can’t tell what is inside if they found it while snooping for Christmas presents.
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Nicholas Green
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Today is Day 14 of incubation and I believe I have ten viable eggs. Two were cracked in the packaging so I did not bother incubating them with the others. They have been hand turned 2-4 times per day. I candled a random sample of the eggs this morning and they seemed good.

After tomorrow’s turning we will “lock down” the incubator until all are hatched. This means we will need to have the brooder set up by today or tomorrow.
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Nicholas Green
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Day 17: We are locked down and getting anxious. No movement or developments this morning before I left for work. Reports on the internet range from hatching on day 16 up to maybe day 20.

The medium brooder is assembled and warmed up. It’s a large rubber-made type tote with large shavings and ventilation.

When/if the first batch is out I will probably start them off in an old fish tank lined with paper towels. I could even keep them in the incubator an extra day or two if I feel like it.

And if nothing happens and none of the eggs hatch I will try a new batch ASAP.
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Medium brooder
Medium brooder
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ten eggs day 17
ten eggs day 17
 
Nicholas Green
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Day 19: no activity
Let the record show I am bummed but not discouraged. I’m giving them 24-36 hrs to decide to hatch or not before I start the egg autopsies to determine what may have gone wrong.

In the mean time I have important decisions to make on going forward.

Through a stroke of fortune/misfortune, by the end of today I will be receiving +40 additional quail hatching eggs via the USPS. The problem lies in a late January family vacation which would put me hundreds of miles away during the hatching window.

So here’s the plan as of right now. Half of the eggs are already more than two weeks old due to being lost in the mail for a while. I do not have high expectations for these eggs. So these eggs will be incubated starting tomorrow and I wish them luck.

The other eggs should have a better chance so I will let them wait and plan the lockdown for the days we are gone and hatch day for when we return.

I am also considering setting up an old Android phone with a security camera app to function as a 24/7 long distance video monitor system to keep an eye on their progress while I’m at work or out of town.
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2 weeks old
2 weeks old
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Don’t X-ray me either
Don’t X-ray me either
 
Nicholas Green
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Day 21: Dissection
As it turns out, I need more experience candling quail eggs. An inspection of the ten unhatched eggs from ‘Batch A’ revealed mostly yolks and a few containing a booger of quail embryo. Whatever went wrong happened early in the incubation period. Additional notes to follow for the next batches.
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boogey
boogey
 
Nicholas Green
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Jan 10: Day 2 of ‘Batch B’ which consists of 24 fertile quail eggs.

The next time I’m in a store I will be buying another thermometer for the incubator. I’m not sure what went wrong for ‘Batch A’ but I aim to triple check my temps with a third thermometer in there.

Secondly, I devised a new tray system which I hope helps as well. With a needle and a little string I believe I have improved the egg carton as my egg rack. The strings are just taut enough to suspend the quail eggs in the air inside the little egg cups. This should not only improve airflow around the eggs, but should also improve turning consistency. The eggs are obviously much smaller than the chicken eggs that came with the carton and the little guys tended to roll around a bit when handled. Maybe if I patent this invention Elon Musk will buy it off of me and eat some zero gravity quail on his trip to Mars.
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Nicholas Green
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Day 16: Batch B
We locked down the incubator and left on our trip for several days. We returned today, Day 16 of this batch, to find no movement in our two dozen quail eggs. I am considering both a redesign of the current incubator and the purchase of a small scale self-contained model. Although I am willing to wait several more days to continue observing the eggs, this is the first time I have been officially discouraged during this process.

We unpacked and I went to pick up our dog from my fathers house. When bringing the heavy dog kennel back inside I heard a strange squeaking noise. In the time it took me to fetch the canine, two birds had hatched inside the incubator. Two more have hatched in the last hour or two and the children managed to see each step of the hatching process (pipping, zipping, and hatching) through the viewing window. I am once again excited about this experiment. I do not know what the hatch rate/survival rate will ultimately be. My uneducated guess is around 50%.

More photos and videos to follow.
 
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