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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.
 
Nicholas Green
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Yesterday Jan 25, Christmas arrived one month late. 16 hatched eggs minus two fatalities means 14 live birds out of 24 eggs. The rest of the eggs are still in the incubator in case they are running late.



If after hatching the newborn chicks wiggled off the paper towel onto the slick floor of the incubator, they quickly developed splayed leg.
The paper towel floor was adequate but next time I will use the textured drawer liner that I had already purchased for the project but just did not use.
The splayed leg condition consists of the bird being unable to bring their feet underneath them and instead being stuck doing the splits constantly. The condition does not seem to fix itself. But by using a thin strip of medical tape as a splint to affix their legs together a reasonable distance from each other (think of tying their shoelaces together) the condition was permanently removed after a few hours. The tape also happened to lose its stickiness at the same time and they would manage to run out of their splints like Forrest Gump.

 
Nicholas Green
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In an attempt to follow the advice of not naming livestock you intend on harvesting, I identify the quail by designation only. B1 was the first chick hatched from Batch B. He is differentiated by being the only all brown chick. He was also the first to discover how to drink water and peck at food. The others then learned from watching B1. My children failed to follow the above advice and have named him/her ‘Ari’. The majority of the birds are all indistinguishable brown with black stripes. Two of them are solid yellow, they are both named ‘Sunshine’.

I crush the pelletized food down to crumb sized so can be more easily consumed by the tiny chicks. I crush them by hand in small batches. This is a bad idea and I suggest you use a blender or grinder of some kind.

The water system is an upside-down water bottle glued to a small dish. Holes were drilled
Into the cap which fills the dish. To teach them how to drink I placed pebbles in the dish to attract their attention. When pecking at the pebbles they discover their source of drinking water.

The sixteenth hatched egg (B16, but fourteenth living quail) hatched after all the others had been removed from the incubator. As a result he was alone for the first several hours of life. When alone, he stands tall, lifts his head up high, and chirps loudly as if searching for a hen or other chicks. However, when placed with the other quail chicks he immediately begins to chase them and peck their feet and bite at their feathers and eyes.
Appearing to react to this behavior, the other quail in the flock began to become more aggressive with each other, pecking and biting each other. B16 is currently quarantined back in the incubator with food and water. With B16  removed, the others go back to normal flock behavior. B16 will have to learn to eat and drink on its own. If behavior does not improve I may offer him up on CL; however, I worry a chick so young may not survive a transition while still so susceptible to temperature changes. B16 may have to be culled for the good of the group.
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Nicholas Green
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These birds are quickly outgrowing (and out-pooping) their fish tank brooder. Cleanings occur more than daily. I have begun introducing the bedding material in their tank to acclimate them and to catch the waste a bit better.

B16 is getting supervised family visits. He is not on his best behavior but he is improving. He does best when he is tired or chilly. He realizes his siblings are not food or enemies but sources of fluffy warmth to huddle together with.

The bedding also gives B16 something to peck at and occupy his attention.

The majority of the birds are brown with black stripes, some are yellow with black stripes, two are solid yellow, and B1 is nearly solid brown. B16 is distinct from the others because he is markedly smaller, clearly the runt of the litter. I weighed a small sample of the birds and results were between 12g - 14g. B16 weighed 8g on the same weigh-in day.
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Nicholas Green
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B16 has fully integrated into the flock with no evidence of destructive or aggressive behavior.

I tested an alternative to grinding the pelletized food which seems to work. In small batches, sprinkle water on the pellets or briefly soak and drain them. As they absorb the water they become softer and the chicks are able to break them apart into sizable pieces. I would not leave wet food out for long so I only do small batches that they can consume in one sitting.

I will be transferring them to the medium brooder today. I was worried about it being too cold but it seems to be holding heat sufficiently. The next challenge will be to get the food and water off of the ground or at least minimizing contact with the bedding material. Suspending the food and water in the air would be ideal but I am also considering different kinds of stilts or supports to lift them off the ground.

My conclusions for this phase of the project are as follows:
1. Quail production in an apartment/urban/indoor setting is very possible
2. Apartment quail production can be an excellent learning experience and a step toward self-sufficiency.
3. Based on this experience so far, I don’t believe the goal of a small scale self-sufficient quail production operation would be reasonable based on the time and labor inputs. However, I certainly challenge anyone to prove me wrong.

This will be my last direct update until the birds are more grown. I will now open the floor to any comments or questions. I check permies all the time but not exactly everyday. Thanks for reading!
 
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Glad to hear B16 is fully integrated to the flock
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