Monday, April 20, 2009

Quail chicks are hatched!

The eggs in the incubator

They started hatching right on time at the beginning of day 17 and continued through the end of day 18. I can't stress enough how much I enjoy the short incubation of quail chicks. We started with 118 eggs and ended up with 110 going into the final period of incubation. Out of those we hatched 85 baby quail. Because of the large number I couldn't candle all of them, so after the hatch was over and I checked the remaining eggs I realized around 20 infertile/never developed eggs were included in that 110 eggs.

That's rubber drawer-liner on the bottom of the incubator, the quail chicks are so small that their feet could slip through the standard mesh.

I keep the incubator in the pantry as it's the most out of the way place in our very small house. I get so excited (Notice my refraining from using the punny "egg-cited"? You're welcome.) about hatch day that for two nights I slept on the tile floor in the doorway of the kitchen and pantry so I could listen to them hatch and get up every 2 hours and see what was going on. People who incubate will commonly tell you to wait before the entire hatch is over before removing chicks, so you don't mess up the humidity level which can cause birds to not be able to hatch. With quail, at least in this volume, I learned that you can't really do that. They are very aggressive, curious and hungry and after they get mobility figured out, they just run all over the place and peck at the toes of the newly hatching quail (which, to them, look like tiny worms sticking out of the eggs I imagine). So about once every few hours I'd quickly grab all the dried off chicks and move them to the brooder. I felt I could safely do this because my humidity was hovering in the 80% range due to all the wet chicks, so even when I opened the lid it never dipped below 60% (the recommended humidity levels for hatching quail is somewhere around 60-65%). Quail babies also like the temperature a little warmer than baby chickens and ducklings, they seem to prefer the brooder closer to 100 degrees rather than the usual 95. Enough with the statistics, here's more pictures!

Speedy quail chicks in the incubator

It's hard to get over just how small they are. Here's one in my hand, and that's a power-ade bottle cap in the upper left that they're eating out of.

This video illustrates why you want to be the first one to hatch. Actually this chick is relatively lucky the others are just ignoring it instead of pecking at the new shiny thing in the incubator.

I just can't get over how tiny they are. These chicks will be laying eggs themselves in 6-7 weeks!

Edited to add: I forgot to mention that I got eggs mixed from several different color patterns, that's why there are different looking chicks.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mulberry cobbler

Our neighborhood has about one mulberry tree per house, maybe more. We have 7, two males and 5 females. Four females and a male are still pretty small and not really producing much yet. This time of year is one of my favorites, the weather is still nice and every afternoon I go out on my bike riding around the neighborhood picking mulberries off the trees that are close enough to pick from the street. Most people consider them a nuisance because they make such a mess, and don't even bother to eat any. I figure I'm doing the neighborhood a service by keeping a few hundred (thousand?) berries from falling onto the ground. I always freeze some, but I try and use them up as much as possible, but it gets tricky finding new ways to go through a pound a day. (Next year, maybe mulberry wine). For Easter breakfast I modified a berry cobbler recipe I found on Chiots Run

I thought I had taken a picture of the cobbler, but all I can find is one of the mulberries. So here's an image of the berries I used. A mixture of purple and white mulberries (ripe when white).

Mulberry Cobbler
1 cup of all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons regular sugar
2 Tablespoon of course sugar (I use the sugar in the raw/turbinado stuff)
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 cup cold butter
1 egg (I use a duck egg mmmm!)
1/4 cup of milk

6 cups fresh mulberries from your neighborhood trees
1/8 cup lemon juice
1 Tablespoon of sugar
1 Tablespoon of cornstarch

For filling: in a saucepan combine the berries, lemon juice, sugar (or honey) and cornstarch and 1/4 cup of water. Let stand for 10 minutes. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly, keep warm.

For topping: in a medium bowl stir together flour, regular sugar, baking powder and cinnamon. Cut in butter till mixture resembles coarse crumbs, set aside.

In a small bowl stir together egg and milk. Add to flour mixture, stirring just to moisten. Transfer filling to a 2 quart baking dish, or large cast iron skillet. Using spoon, drop topping onto small mounds atop filling. Sprinkle course sugar on top.

Bake cobbler in a 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or till a wooden toothpick inserted into topping comes out clean. Serve warm.

Next time, I would switch out 1/3 of the mulberries for blackberries or raspberries, because the mulberries are very sweet, but I think it would be more flavorful with some other berries mixed in.

Here is the estimated cost breakdown:
Mulberries, duck eggs, lemon juice: $0 (of course not including the cost of duck food)
Organic flour: $ .20
Organic sugar: $ .05
Organic milk: $ .07
cornstarch: $ .02
Organic Butter: $ .80
Cinnamon: $.02
Baking powder: $ .02

Total ingredients cost: $ 1.18
The tiny farm is sticking it to the man once again. :)

P.S. I am sitting on my hands waiting for these quail. If everything goes right, we should start seeing signs of hatching in 24-36 hours!

Coturnix Quail Hatch, day 12

Happy Easter! My favorite holiday second to my birthday. We started the day with an easter egg hunt (my husband is kind enough to hide eggs for me every year) and I made a mulberry cobbler, which I will post about later.

Several weeks ago I had made the decision to go ahead with raising a few Coturnix quail, for egg and probably meat production. These quail will become fully mature at 6-7 weeks, and begin laying or be ready to process (Live weight will be between 11-15 ounces). The females will lay about 6 eggs a week and though the eggs are much smaller, their feed to egg weight ratio is better than chickens or ducks. I went ahead and ordered 100+ eggs from the internet. While I was MIA from my blog, a package of quail eggs arrived! I had a little postal delay that was frustrating... the eggs made it from Pennsylvania to Phoenix in one day, but it took 4 more days for them to get from the main Phoenix postal depot to my house. Five days in the postal system is not great for eggs and will probably decrease my hatch rate some, but hopefully the extra eggs she sent will make up for those losses.

Opening the box

The best egg packaging ever

Ordering eggs (and chicks) in Phoenix can be very tricky since usually by the time it's warm enough in the places the eggs and chicks come from, it's too hot here to receive them and then in October when it finally cools down below 100, it's already freezing in the places the eggs come from. There are a few hatcheries in warmer climates, but it seems like those places hardly ever carry the breeds I'm interested in. So it was nice that there was agreeable weather on both ends of the shipment. After I got them all unpacked, there was only one broken: 119 out of 120... not bad.

All 120 eggs

One really great thing about hatching this breed of quail is that the incubation period is only 17 days, that's only half the time of the Muscovy ducks! Here are the eggs going into the preheated incubator.

Quail eggs are notoriously difficult to candle (when you shine a bright light into the egg to see what's going on in there) because of their size and their really dark shells. I got a 135 lumen headlamp from Target on clearance for $10 and that seems to be the only light that I own that's bright enough to see anything through a quail egg. Because there are so many eggs to check and you don't want to lose the heat/humidity in your incubator you need to take the entire egg turner out and leave the incubator lid closed while you're candling, and even this way you don't want the eggs to cool down much so 10 minutes is the maximum amount of time I have them out. You won't be able to see much before about day 7 or 8, and you also want to leave the eggs alone during the most critical development stages: the first few and the last few says so I checked about 80 of them on day 8 most of them seemed to be progressing normally, some were clear (infertile) and I pulled 3 cracked eggs and a rotten one. (The rotten one stank, so I needed to be sure and get it out of there before it exploded all over my good eggs). I think the few eggs that cracked got cracked in the egg turner because they were too big and hit the turner trays next to them. I marked the clear eggs and put them back in because some of them are just too difficult to judge and I'd hate to throw out a developing egg because of my own candling incompetence. I'll re-check the marked eggs when I'm taking them out of the turner for the hatch, by that point it will be obvious if anything developed because the whole egg (except for the air cell) will be dark if there's a chick in it or clear if there's nothing.

Now we are at day 12 with 5 days to go. I will take the eggs all out of the automatic turner and lay them on the incubator floor 3 days before hatch. This gives them a chance to get situated and get ready to hatch, but it's also important because hatch times can vary anywhere from 14-19 days and you don't want them to try and hatch while they're still turning. Time to sit on my hands and wait. :)