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Over the years I have written extensively about quail keeping and quail breeding. I give talks on the subject up and down the country, and I always finish with a Q&A session. One question that seems to come up at almost every talk I give is ‘Why are my quail eggs not fertile?’
There are a number of different reasons quail eggs may not be fertile and they include because the male is too young, because the male isn’t interested in breeding or because the male isn’t producing viable sperm. Other possible reasons include because the male has too many females to service or because he is being fed a poor quality diet. Any of these issues can cause the eggs to be infertile.
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Why Are My Quail Eggs Not Fertile?
Having spent the last 20 years breeding many birds, including quail, I believe there are fundamentally 5 reasons your quail eggs are not fertile.
The male quail is too young
Although female quail can start to lay eggs at between 6 and 8 weeks old, the males may not fully mature until they reach 10 to 12 weeks old.
A young male may well be seen trying to mate with the females, and his endeavors may appear successful, but that doesn’t mean he is mature enough to fertilize the eggs.
If your male is young, give him a few more weeks before deciding he isn’t going to be good breeding stock. Sometimes the slow developers turn out to be the best birds to breed from.
The male isn’t interested in breeding
Although rare, I do occasionally come across male quail that simply are not interested in breeding. I once kept a male with 6 females and I never once witnessed him servicing any of his girls. We candled dozens of eggs from those females and we never had one which was fertile.
Eventually, someone suggested putting another male in a wire cage in clear sight of the male that wasn’t interested in breeding. The theory being he would ‘man up’ and look after his flock. It worked and within a month we had our first offspring from him.
The male isn’t producing viable sperm
Male quail are usually very fertile, although their fertility can go down as they age or if their diet is poor (see below).
Quail live for between 2 and 4 years. In my experience, a male quail becomes less fertile once he reaches 18 to 24 months old. That isn’t to say he won’t be responsible for any fertile eggs, it just means his success rate will begin to petter off.
When I have been involved in producing large quantities of fertile quail eggs, we would give our males 18 months with a group of females, then swap the male for a younger bird.
The male has too many females to service
Experience and common wisdom tell us that a single male quail can service 4 to 6 females at any one time. If the male has a larger group of females he may not be successfully servicing each of them every day, or he may not have sufficient sperm to fertilize all their eggs.
Keeping the ratio of 1 male quail to 4-6 female quails will increase the chances that all the females are laying fertile eggs.
The males’ diet is poor
As with so many things in life, you only get out what you put in. If we feed our quails a poor quality diet, or worse, expect them to scavenge and survive on scraps, the male may not be producing viable sperm to fertilize the females.
It is extremely important that quail, especially breeding stock, are fed a balanced food that is tailored to their needs. I have had good success using this food I just order from Amazon.com.
How Do You Know If Quail Eggs Are Fertile?
The best way to tell if a quail egg is fertile or not is to ‘candle’ the egg. Candling simply means shining a light through the egg. I use a dedicated egg candler like this one I picked up off Amazon.com. It set me back around $15 and it makes the job really easy.
You can either candle your quail eggs on the day they are laid or after a few days of incubation. Candling after a few days of incubation is a more reliable method, but it does require you to start the incubation process before you know if your eggs are fertile.
Candling when the eggs are laid
The theory behind candling an egg the day it is laid is as follows, a fertile egg has a thinner, clearer shell when candled than an unfertilized egg. If you compare the two eggs, the fertile one will be considerably brighter than the unfertilized one.
Candling after a few days of incubation
This is my preferred method as the results are a lot more accurate. Once your quail eggs have been in the incubator for 3 to 5 days, carefully remove them one at a time and shine the egg candler through them. Fertile eggs which have begun developing will clearly have veins of the new chick developing and there may be an obvious dark ‘mass’.
If the egg is not fertilized the egg will simply appear clear when candled.
The video below has more information about candling eggs.
My Final Thoughts On ‘Why Are My Quail Eggs Not Fertile?’
There can be several reasons your quail eggs are not fertile, but almost all of them can be easily resolved with either time, a change of diet, or setting up the breeding flock differently.
Over the years I have probably bred thousands of quail, and it is very rare to have a male that simply can’t produce fertile eggs.