Hatching and Raising Quail Organically with a Hen Part 2 - Taking you through the first few days

Polly and the quail at three days old and already something of a handful! I kept them in the nest for the first three days, letting them gain in strength and size and because Polly is so trusting and so understanding she complied. This would be against her better judgement because, normally once her eggs have hatched and all the chicks are on their feet a mother hen will be ready to leave the nest and take the chicks out to forage.

To make it easier for Polly to comply, I made sure there was a continual supply of varied foodstuffs and water and of course continued to take her off the nest twice a day. When I took the above photograph they were still all in the nest but sitting in the doorway in full sunlight - getting some rays!

Sitting is easy it's after hatching that the fun starts!

My problem has always been in obtaining organic hatching eggs, so I have had to take what I could get. Most quail are hatched in incubators and to some extent a poor quality shell, due to inadequate diet and lack of Vitamin D from sunlight, isn't that much of an issue. However, an egg that is turned by a hen several times a day and may be trod on as she gets in and out of the nest is a problem. To counter this, I lift my hen on and off the nest, twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. I'm amazed, though I shouldn't be, how careful most hens are with quail eggs and it's usually when I have flustered the hen that I have had broken eggs. With Polly because of the experience with her Mother, who didn't take to the eggs immediately, I put a hen's egg into the nest as well and had an extra broody standing by to take over with it once the quail eggs hatched at 19 days. Seeing them together in the nest really illustrates the difficult task the hen has been given!

I took this shot later when the quail and Polly moved out into the warmest of the Greenhouses (recycled glass and pallet wood). From it you can see the relative size of the Ardenner and my adult quail (behind the compost bag). I had hoped to keep this female quail in the Greenhouse at the same time as Polly so she could integrate with the baby quail but Polly was having none of that and I had to separate them.

Some thoughts about choosing a broody for quail

I couldn't have asked for a better hen to sit quail than Polly our Ardenner bantam but she certainly had her work cut out. If you haven't come across the Ardenner before, as the name suggests, it is an ancient and very rare breed from Southern Belgium.  The larger version had existed for centuries but along with the bantam was almost extinct after the two World Wars, in fact, I have never come across the Standard size Ardenner. The Breed are known for being great foragers, good layers and excellent mothers and I can vouch for all three of those qualities, they are also, in my experience hyperactive, which makes them totally suitable as surrogate Mothers for quail.  At the other end of the scale, as possibly the worst bantam Mother is the Sebright, a race which is reputed for only staying with chicks for four weeks after hatching and I have had experience of this too. However, the Sebright cross bantams make excellent Mothers and the Sebright/Ardenner crosses are fantastic with quail. In particular they are lighter than the Ardenner and also have finer feathering both of which characteristics are a plus when raising quail. 

This is Lucky and her favourite quail chick Pip, they were inseparable and I could free-range Pip with Lucky and know he would always be within a few centimetres of her. As a Sebright/Ardenner cross Lucky was probably half the weight and certainly half the size of an Ardenner. Weight can be a big issue with rising quail, in particular if your hen does not realise how delicate quail are in the first few days of life. Both Polly and Lucky were really good at understanding this, don't ask me how they knew to be very much more careful with quail, they just did. As an example of how incredible mother hens can be, I once had a hen called Dorothy whose chicks use to sit on her back even when she was walking about. One night when they were going to bed, two chicks were still standing on her back as she entered their little house. Before I could intervene, she actually got down and walked in on her hocks because she realised that the chicks would be knocked off her back if she didn't - how did she work that out? This sort of consciousness, which tells her that the chicks were higher than her head, which was level with the height of the door, is quite abstract. Moreover, it was the speed with which she realised what she needed to do, which quite astounded me.

Problems with hatching eggs 

Unless you can not do otherwise, it is best to go and fetch your eggs if you live more than a day's posting from the seller. I have never found eggs which come by post to have a high hatching rate and I have read that after four days the fertility of the eggs starts to diminish significantly. If you think about quails in the wild they can lay and sit very large clutches so the first eggs in a clutch may be over a fortnight older than the last egg laid but that wild quail will be on an optimum diet and living in an optimum environment.

Nutritional problems to watch out for in the first few days

If you've been lucky enough to get hold of certified organic hatching eggs or eggs from a smallholding where the quail are kept outside and on a good natural diet then you won't come across nutritional problems. Eggs reflect totally the health of the bird who laid them. The main deficiencies I have come across are Vitamin B and Selenium, the latter seems most prevalent in domesticated commercial gamebirds in particular quail and peafowl. Vitamin B deficiency is something I've come across before in purchased fertile hens' eggs. A couple of days after hatching the chicks start to go down on one hock, begin to sit down frequently and finally lose the use of their legs and most often their toes curl up, hence the name 'curly toe paralysis'. This condition like many nutritional deficiencies in small growing chicks can be fatal but is easily and quickly remedied by balancing the diet. My thinking is that we are taking a weak chick and giving it a quite energetic and outdoor foraging life, if it was hatching in an incubator and kept in a cage on a chick ration it would probably survive a little longer before the symptoms show. In the life it will have with a Mother hen, these symptoms show quickly. I feed yeast flakes, actually chicks seem to like the flavour but I have gone so far as to sprinkle it onto an egg yolk, another good food for baby quail. Selenium deficiency again affects the nervous system and causes paralysis. The best form of Selenium is the brazil nut, however you only need the tiniest (3-4) fine gratings, as Selenium is actually toxic in large amounts and figuring what that means for a tiny quail is difficult. One way to know when your chicks may be suffering from either of these deficiencies is if you see your mother hen nudging the babies back onto their feet, it means she has noticed they are sitting too long. One of the ways in which hens naturally treat coccidiosis in chicks is to keep them on their feet and moving so that they eliminate the problem as quickly as possible.

A few words about feathers

Sebright crosses have one huge advantage over Ardenners as Mummy Quail in that their feathering is much finer. When a bird goes broody she loses a lot of feathers off the breast so as to be in close contact with the eggs. Some hens, probably due to the added heat involved in brooding and raising chicks may go into a  semi-moult. Even this, however, may still be problematic for quail if the Mother bird is well upholstered with feathers as is the Ardenner. There is a fine line in keeping the quail warm and not getting them dangerously caught up and almost strangled in the feathers. The first couple of days were rather fraught for me when I lifted Polly off the nest in the morning to find the quail entangled in her feathers and hanging by their necks. The problem being, from my observations, is that living amongst the feathers the quail droppings do stick the feathers together is how they get caught as they snuggle into the plumage. With the Sebright-type of smaller, finer feathers this does not occur. However, once I realised this problem could occur I could deal with it. Do be aware however, that this is a serious problem because on one very sad occasion Polly felt the quail dangling at her back and in panic, kicked out and killed it outright before I could release it.

How to avoid those busy hen's feet.

I like to get baby birds outdoors as quickly as possibly, as soon as it hits 16 degrees C. I always tend to start them in a small run, as even at that temperature some baby chicks can still get cold. Sebright chicks in particular feel the cold keenly and they need the mother to be nearby if that happens. A good hen will always sit if a chick starts to try to get underneath her, she instinctively knows it is cold and/or tired. With quail in the past I have bought the outdoors in with a complex set of runs fitted with areas of grass and soil. However since Andy started making Greenhouses, it has given me an ideal place to put the quail in the first few days. The only thing to be aware of is dust baths because that will be the first thing a Mother hen wants to take. If you look at the film at the end of my previous post on quail you will see how I got round this by creating a run within the greenhouse so that the quail and Polly could still see each other whilst she was dust bathing. 

In those first few days in the Greenhouse I still supervised Polly and the quail and they needed to be brought back indoors into their nest as soon as they showed any signs of getting cold. You'll know when this is as baby quail are not shy and retiring when it comes to wanting something, they make an insistent whining noise when they are cold!

They also have an amazing ability to draw attention to themselves by extending themselves to their full height and making a piercing noise.

Something the males use to full effect in adulthood:

Part Three of Hatching and Raising Quail Organically with a Mother Hen can be found here

If you enjoyed this post, then think about sharing it and feel free to comment ask,  questions and/or relate your own experiences of keeping quail organically.

All the very best,


Organic quail chick and mother henWhy and how? Getting started.

I had read that for centuries in Japan and China quail eggs had been used in  the treatment of various respiratory diseases and allergies.  Finding no organic eggs on the market, I decided to raise them myself...read more

Organic quail chick and hen free-rangingHow your hen can bring out the best in baby quail.

Years of selective breeding have not only bred the broodiness out of domesticated quail but also their ability to identify and seek out their own food. read more

A comprehensive guide into the history & use of quail eggs in medicine Part 1

How we cured Andy's hay fever and eczema with a dip into Ancient Egypt and 60's France...read more

A comprehensive guide into the history & use of quail eggs in medicine  Part 2

Now we eat quail eggs for pleasure..here I look in depth at the clinical trials in the 1960s and the posology used then and by us...read more

©Sue Cross 2012


  1. A great article...really enjoyed reading this and love how u take such good care of your birds..

    1. Hi there, Thank-you so much for your kind comments and I'm really glad you enjoyed the article. I haven't finished writing up last year's hatch yet, I only have it down on film. We had four unexpected and large hatches of chicks this year - one of the aspects of forest gardening, so many places to hide and sit eggs! So we have been keeping pretty busy.

      All the very best,

  2. Dr. Mercola's website has an article which describes how glyphosate (pesticide) residues in food inhibit Vitamin D activation. He interviews Dr. Seneff who explains how the pesticide interferes with enzymes:
    "Glyphosate disrupts cytochrome p450 enzymes. There are lots of them in the liver [where they] activate vitamin D. We have a vitamin D deficiency epidemic right now. I think a lot of it might be due to the fact that it's not getting activated in the liver because of the disruption from the glyphosate."

    Since I had just read your description of how non-organic quail raised in nesting boxes lack Vitamin D, I wanted to ask whether similar enzymes are needed in bird physiology. If so, this might explain why they have Vitamin D deficiency.

    Thank you for the wonderful stories about the intelligence of mother hens, especially the one who realized her babies might be knocked off her back when she went through the nesting-box door. Those of us who live in cities where people are not allowed to keep any birds have completely lost touch with this world. Probably in the past century our great-grandparents would have known how to take care of brooding hens and chicks.

    I've shared your URL with a younger friend who recently moved to a rural property where she has started raising young chickens including roosters. (I forget which breed she got.) I thought she might really appreciate your insights and information.

  3. Thank-you for your comments on the above article, I really appreciate them. With regard to the article on Dr. Mercola's website, this is a most interesting field of study and the simple answer to your question on cytochrome p450 enzymes and poultry is, yes. I am just gathering together a list of papers on the subject, which look into a whole raft of conditions in birds (and humans) associated with glyphosate. I will publish it here so you can further your research. Given that so many backyard and commercial poultry-keepers feed GMOs and insist there is no harm in them, I think the time is coming when every concerned person, whether in town or country will have to start growing and raising food (again).

    Good luck to your friend and if I can be of any help to her, please do not hesitate to ask. We gave up our careers in 2000 to become 'happy peasants' here in France, we have never once regretted it and we have learned so much.

    All the very best and I will get you the list, shortly,

  4. I live in the U.S. And try to raise my chickens as naturally as possible. I'm disappointed that I haven't had any chicks hatched from naturally broody hens. I love your idea with the quail! I'd love to get some, but it bothers me that they aren't broody. Very good read.
    O, and btw, my daughter is adopted from Russia and her name was Pavlova.

    1. Hi there and thank you for you kind comments! There is I understand a big problem with broody hens in the US, as in Europe. Since the push towards agrochemical or industrial farming in the early 1900s, broodiness was progressively bred out of commercial birds. This is linked with the unhappy fact that heritage breeds were downgraded to exhibition status and thus bred for showing and that so many local races were, here, casualties of two World Wars. The recent genetic modifications have meant that labs have been breeding hybrids where the females can't even lay never mind go broody, so things have seemed pretty bleak. Do not despair though, heritage breeds are coming back and in a big way and maybe you just haven't been able to get hold of the very broody types yet. Could I suggest, Silkies, Cochins, Plymouth Rock, Buff Orpingtons, just for starters but I would also get in touch with local organic farms and see if they can sell you a broody hen. On a couple of occasions, I have sold a broody along with fertile eggs to someone wanting to start up with an organic flock. It's a good way to begin but also to give your own hens a 'wake up call', broodiness is like the common cold, it is catching! You should also check on your young roosters, if you have them in your flock, as they can be a pest to broody hens and put them off brooding. I have articles on broodiness in my quail section here on the blog but you have given me the idea to write a dedicated short piece for both hens and quail - thank-you.

      Pavlova is a beautiful name, always associated with the prima ballerina and the delicious cake that was named after her but it is also the name used in Russian for the Polish hens I love so much. I guess someone called Paul must have raised them first. All the very best, Sue