Breeding Guidelines

Successful breeding of any type of bird consists of a number of very important steps.If one or more of these stages are missed it will affect the hach rate to a lesser or greater degree.

The egg

The beginning of life...

Fowl, bantam & Jumbo quail eggsFowl, bantam & Jumbo quail eggsYour eggs must be collected at least once a day. Your hands must be dry and clean to prevent bacteria spreading through the porous shell & infecting the embryo. Use only the uniform sized egg, discarding dirty, deformed or very small eggs. Do not wash a dirty egg as this dissolves the natural coating on the shell, allowing bacteria to enter the yolk. Discard it. Conditions inside an incubator are ideal for growth. Growth of the embryo and bacteria!

Eggs must be kept in a cool room out of sunlight & wind. Between 12 & 25 degrees Celsius is acceptable. The ideal temperature being 12C. Do not refrigerate! The eggs need to be turned a few times a day before incubation starts. Or if you are using one of our egg trays, tilt them at different angles. If you have collected fertile eggs from us or we have shipped them to to you they must be kept for a period of 24 hours to settle before incubating. During this time they must be tilted in their box, in different directions, top facing up. This allows them to "recover" from the vibrations of travel which will lessen hatch-ability. We always include extra eggs at no cost to offset possible losses due to shipping.

Do not keep incubator eggs for longer than between 7 to 10 days maximum as the viability drops off as they age. Those that are a older can be safely used for the table as they are still fresh enough for eating for 3 weeks or longer, depending on storage conditions.The incubator must be disinfected, switched on and set up a few days before the eggs are set. They need to be disinfected just before setting. It is important to buy an avian safe product for this purpose. We can supply it, or it can be purchased from some pet shops or farmers co-op.

A reliable power supply is of the utmost importance. Power failures can wipe out or decimate a whole incubator of eggs! We designed and manufacture "The Power Alert." This little device triggers an alarm when the electricity goes off, allowing you to connect a generator or inverter...No generator? No inverter? No problem...

Totally cover your incubator with blankets, 3 or 4 blankets till the power returns. We have had clients reporting high hatch rates even after more than 6 powerless hours. The humidity rises with the blankets covering the air vents but will normally recover when they are removed, but it is advisable to monitor and adjust if necessary. It is very important to check your incubator settings after a power outage or an electrical storm as these can play havoc with the thermostats or controllers in the unit.


 

"Help" a chick hatch?

This is a debatable subject with both positive & negative aspects. Large breeding companies will simply discard the piped or half hatched eggs a few days after the due hatching date. Piped is a term used for a chick that starts to break out leaving a little hole in the shell but is too weak to continue the process. Hatching can take many hours and most breeders will tell you that it is a waste of time breaking the shell to help a chick which is anyway too weak to survive. I disagree with this statement, let me explain...Some of these assisted chicks do die and before deciding if you want to go down that road weigh up the pros and cons. These chickens often have parts of their organs outside their bodies. Others are deformed, some are bloody, or the shell is filled with mucus. They are always weak, some dying within minutes of been broken out, others die a few hours or a few days later. Some survive and appear normal but develop skew necks, a result of taking too long to hatch. These have to be culled as the neck carries on twisting with time until its head is facing upward and the bird cannot eat or drink. They can also be stunted, the runts of the litter. These are the negative aspects.Here comes the part I like. You can increase your hatch rate by helping weak chicks exit their shells. Here's how.

When the chicks start hatching they basically come in 2 "waves." The first is the biggest and is also an indication of what is to follow. If the first wave is a big percentage of the total number of eggs the subsequent hatch will be smaller, but the overall hatch rate will be high. The second wave will occasionally come hours later but usually the next day. After the second wave the stragglers will arrive in dribs and drabs. Check for pipped eggs after the first wave and note their position. After the second wave has finished hatching, break the the pipped eggs, carefully ensuring that you tear the membrane with the shell. You might find that this membrane has dried and stuck to the chicks fluff. Do not try to pull this off as it only stresses the chick more and further reduces the possibility of survival. Using scissors cut it off the shell and leave the rest of it on the chick, it will fall off within a few days. Sometimes this dried membrane will cover a wing or neck and prevent normal movement. It then needs to be carefully cut in such a way as to release the trapped limb.


 

The brooder

Brooder is set too coolBrooder is set too coolAwwww cute! Those are happy chicks? No. This is not the way to do it!

These half fledged chicks are bunching together in the brooder for warmth. In addition they are hugely overcrowded, plus their feeder is placed too close to the side of the brooder restricting access to their food. Any one of these factors will stress the bird and if conditions persist it can lead to a compromised immune systems, stunting and general weakness.

It is safe to stop turning the eggs 2 days before due hatch date. Turning till hatch day – day 16 for quails or day 21 for chickens (We can give you other species hatch times if needed) will not harm the unborn embryo. The eggs can also be removed from the incubator at this time and put in a hatcher if one is available. Open the incubator as little as possible. This is especially important when the chicks are hatching and one is tempted to see how they are progressing! Instead take them out once or twice a day in batches. This delay will not harm the chick as they still have enough nutrients in their bodies to sustain them for many hours after hatching.

When dry place them in the brooder, reducing the temperature gradually from around the 4th or 5th day. Spread some starter mash lightly all over the floor for the first few days to encourage eating then introduce the feeders to reduce wastage. A contented chick will run around actively eating and drinking happily, if they start bunching up together in a corner they are cold, if this condition continues unchecked the weaker chicks with be trampled and smothered. If they move to the sides of the brooder, away from the heat source they are too hot. Once fully fledged (between 3 & 4 weeks) the heating elements can be turned off and they can be moved to a permanent cage. A few words of caution...

Safe economical chick warmingSafe economical chick warmingThey are very vulnerable to weather changes at this age especially in the winter months. It is a good practice to hang one of our infra red heating lights in one section of their cage during cold spells and especially at night time.


 

Chick care

Never place chicks of different ages in the same brooder. This can spread disease to the younger ones that the older birds are immune to, plus the older chicks will trample them and dominate the feed containers thus forcing the younger chicks to go hungry.

Do not place newly hatched chicks on a smooth surface like a brooder floor without litter, as this causes splayed legs which is an irreversible condition.

It is very important to remember that like the incubator, the brooder, feeders and water containers must be washed with soap and water then disinfected thoroughly before the arrival of new chicks. It is also a good practice to leave these items in the sun for a day or two as sunlight kills bacteria too.

Greens are readily accepted by both quail and chickens and are especially important to our guinea fowl as they form a major part of their natural diet. Greens are an excellent source of additional nutrients and can reduce your feed bill too. Lawn grass is excellent and readily available, but pull it up by hand and feed it to them, don't use mowed grass as this is heated & wilts almost immediately Fresh leafy vegetable trimmings can usually be obtained free from green grocers, food processing businesses and our kitchen cuttings. The farmers among us can utilize crops like Lucerne and wheat, fresh or dry, or even the sweepings off the floor from storage sheds housing these products. Wild grass, especially when seeded is readily accepted as a feed supplement by both chicks and adult birds. Bulks up your compost heap too.


 

Litter

Fresh litter, feed & water must be put in the brooder a few hours before placing the chicks to allow the heat to build up to the required temperature. It is advisable to use a quality digital thermometer to set the correct temperature for the hatchlings. (Please go to our products page)

If you choose to use wood products as litter, make sure it is wood shavings and not sawdust, as this dust can cause respiratory problems in your chickens. Care must be taken not to allow the litter to get wet. Overstocking brooders, or spillage from drinking fonts, or incorrect water containers are usually the main culprits. The litter starts to smell which attracts flies. Bacteria develops and ammonia forms. A recipe for disaster! The ammonia fumes can quickly affect the birds lungs and sinuses stunting the chicks growth and development and causing a range of diseases throughout the flock.

Please be very aware that wet or even damp litter will generate heat. This heat in the confines of a brooder or badly ventilated chicken shed can kill chicks and even fully grown birds more effectively than all the above conditions collectively!

The used litter, whether chicken or quail is a cash bonus to your enterprise many breeders overlook. It is one of the finest fertilizers for agricultural use and highly sought after by farmers, nurseries and flower growers. It is either spread directly onto pastures or lawns or added to a compost heap which then acts as an accelerator breaking down the vegetable matter and enhancing the quality of the compost. A word of warning, never add "raw" litter directly to a vegetable or any garden as this will burn the plants & kill them. Instead spread it thinly in full sunlight for a few weeks till dry & "cured"

Quail & chicken litter is also used to feed pigs. Another bonus to breeders!

One of South Africa's leading agricultural magazines recently published a study showing that free range chickens reduced the fly population on a cattle feed-lot by an amazing 80% Makes one think, doesn't it?

You are more than welcome to contact us for assistance with pipped eggs or indeed any other aspect of raising quail, guinea fowl, show chickens or laying hens.