Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Yesterday I woke to hear the sound I had been waiting for. It sounded like someone shutting a tiny, squeaky door hinge. I knew it could only mean one thing: my quail had hatched.

For years I've wanted to keep poultry. I corresponded with the Medford animal control guy to no avail. I dreamed of the day we could move to somewhere with a yard to keep chickens in. And last month I learned a critical fact: you can keep quail indoors. They're small and quiet, and they're prolific layers.

So I ordered eighteen eggs - you really can get anything on the internet. Jeff built me an incubator, and for seventeen days I anxiously monitored the temperature and turned the eggs. I read up on quail maladies like spraddle-leg and pasty-butt (assuring Jeff that neither were contagious to humans).

I didn't entirely believe it was going to work. For one thing, our homemade incubator varied wildly in temperature. Maybe the eggs had already been baked into oblivion during shipping. Maybe the humidity was wrong, or the temperature had spiked too high. Anyway, it seemed improbable that these little rock-looking things were going to turn into animals that would breathe and run around.

That's why it was so magical at 4 am when I heard the first peeps. It was like Santa Claus had come. I knelt at the incubator and saw the four damp babies inside the incubator. They looked exhausted. Sometimes they'd get up and stagger around the incubator, but mostly they flopped down in awkward positions - on top of each other, on top of the unhatched eggs. I considered what they'd just been through: in order to be born, each chick had to break through a calcium wall. With its face. And then it was able to get up and begin walking on its siblings.

If you've never hung out with a newborn creature, I recommend it. Any way you look at it, new life is amazing. A hen in Indiana laid an egg that would go through the mail to me, develop with the aid of a lightbulb but without food or water, and three weeks later become another quail. I knew the facts, but seeing it happen is a completely different experience. Also, baby birds and mammals are designed to be attractive. Their survival depends on adults wanting to take care of them, so being cute helps them survive.

For reference, that's a juice bottle lid. The chicks are about two inches long.


Andrew said...

Oh wow, that's really cool...

Can you tell me where you ordered them from? Also, how much space do they end up needing to have a reasonable life? I am afraid they wouldn't fit in our apartment and we have no outdoor spaces.

I loved your post on the tomatoes too. I have long wanted to try that, but have been afraid that I might over-water.

Anonymous said...

Just looking at your quail and seeing the incubator and reading about them makes me want to raise quail too.


Julia Wise said...

I got my eggs on Ebay. Also try

In terms of information, pen designs, etc:

Ours are definitely indoor birds - we live in a small apartment. They're in a double-decker pen in our kitchen. Different people say different things about how much space they need, but 16" square seems to be a common figure. I understand the biggest problem with keeping them indoors is the smell, so we have trays under the pens that should make cleaning fast and easy.

Your tomato problem: punch a drainage hole in the reservoir at the point you don't want the water to rise above.

Julia Wise said...

Also, the easiest type of quail to raise are called coturnix. Search for that, and it makes it easier. Also, if you order eggs, be sure they're called fertile or hatching eggs, not eating eggs.