Livestock Research for Rural Development 22 (1) 2010 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD News

Citation of this paper

Incubation performance of meat type Italian quails in egg laying onset

J M Romao, T G V Moraes, W M Cardoso*, R S C Teixeira*, A A Siqueira*, E E Silva* and C C Buxadé**

Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science, University of Alberta, Canada
* Faculdade de Veterinária, Universidade Estadual do Ceara, Brazil
** Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingenieros Agrónomos, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Spain


This research had the purpose of verifying the main incubation characteristics such as egg laying production, hatchability, egg and hatch weight, and embryo mortality of meat type quails in laying onset. Forty five 8 week old Italian quails were used for serial egg collections, since their egg laying onset during 20 consecutive days. The eggs of each day of collection were incubated at normal conditions (37.5°C and 60%RH), performing a multiple stage incubation. Eggs were weighted before incubation and chicks were weighted at hatch. Unhatched eggs were opened for embryonic mortality classification.


The results showed that egg incubation of meat type quail was suitable after eleven days of egg laying onset when egg production was higher than 80% and total hatchability varied from 62.5% up to 92.5%. Eggs from the first ten days of egg laying onset were not adequate to be used for incubation purpose due to high levels of infertility-early embryo death of eggs and also the poor quality of hatched chicks that presented low body weight.

Key-words: chick quality, embryonic death, hatchability, hatch weight


The quail raising in Brazil has increased through the last years. Japanese quails (Coturnix japonica) are beginning to diverge into meat and egg laying strains (Appleby et al 2004). Quails selected for dual-purpose production, meat and egg laying are commonly called Italian quails in Brazil.


The incubation procedures are important to maintenance and improvement of quail production. Many factors can interfere on the success of incubation or the quality of hatched chicks. Some authors reported the influence of the female age on the progeny characteristics, in broilers (Wilson 1991b), Japanese quails (Yannakopoulos  and Tserveni-Gousi 1987), turkeys (Christensen et al 1996) and ducks (Applegate et al 1998).


The weight of chicks at hatch can be affected by several factors, including species, breed, egg nutrient levels, egg environment, egg size (Wilson 1991 a,b) weight loss during incubation period, weight of shell and other residues at hatch (Tullet and Burton 1982), shell quality and, incubator conditions (Peebles and Brake 1987). The researches reported that the fertility (Woodard  and Alplanalp 1967; Insco et al 1971; Narahari et al 1988) and hatchability of incubated eggs reduced depending on the older parental age in flock (Narahari et al 1988; Elibol et al 2002).


It was reported that the one-day old chick weight has increased due to an observable increase of parental age in Japanese quails (Tserveni-Gousi 1986; Yannakapoulus  and Tservesi- Gousi 1987; Reis et al 1997). Increased embryo mortality (Noble et al 1986) and decreased chick survival (McNaughton et al 1978) are common  in broiler hatching eggs from young breeders, however, similar situation is observed to eggs from old hens, when compared to younger ones (Novo et al 1997).


Comparing to Gallus gallus incubation literature, there are few studies about incubation parameters of meat type quails.  This research had the purpose of verifying the main incubation characteristics such as egg laying production, hatchability, egg and hatch weight, and embryo mortality of meat type quails in laying onset.


Material and methods 

A total number of forty five Italian quails were used for serial egg collections. The birds were reared in experimental cages in the Laboratório de Estudos Ornitológicos da Universidade Estadual do Ceará. Birds were mated at a ratio of two females to one male in each cage. They were lodged at 8 weeks of age with a 17 hours/day light program. Egg laying started 2 weeks later when the egg collections began. All quails were supplied with balanced feed according to National Research Council (1994) and water ad libitum.


Egg collections were performed daily at 5:00pm during 20 days since egg laying onset, totaling 402. After collection, the eggs were submitted to selection according to industrial parameters for egg incubation, verifying egg shape, extreme sizes and eggshell integrity by candling to avoid inadequate eggs for incubation purposes. They were stored after collection until the following day for incubation.


Each egg was individually identified to follow its measurements from incubation up to hatch. All eggs were weighted before incubation and after hatch all quail chicks were weighted with an analytical balance (0.001g).


Eggs were incubated just in the day after collection, performing a multiple stage incubation. They were incubated in horizontal position by automatic hatcheries with temperature of 37.6°C, relative humidity of 60% and egg turning every 30 minutes. Egg turning was stopped in the 15th day of incubation, when the eggs were transferred to the hatcher which maintained the same temperature and humidity conditions.


Eggs that failed to hatch were opened for macroscopically observation, thus they were classified according to time of embryonic mortality. They were staged as infertile-early death embryos, which were the eggs with true infertility, pre-incubation mortality or initial stage mortality. Unhatched eggs classified as late death were the ones with final stage mortality or pipped eggs with dead embryos. This evaluation was similar to the one done by Pedroso et al (2006) that classified embryo mortality in quail chicks as early death embryos (1 up to 4 days), intermediate (5 up to 15) and late death embryo (16 up to 18 days).


All data were analyzed using the Statistix software 1.0 (1996). The results were submitted to Analysis of Variance through general linear model and the means were compared with the test of Tukey. Statements of significance were based on p<0.05.


Results and discussion 

Figure 1 shows the egg production and hatchability of meat type quails eggs during the first 20 days of egg laying onset.

Figure 1.  Percentage of egg production and  hatchability of Meat type quail eggs in production onset

Quails started egg laying two weeks after light stimulus, when they were eight week old. They presented an increasing rate of egg laying production, starting with 30% at the first day of egg laying, they reached more than 80% of production at 10 days and at 20 days they had a 100% egg production. Eggs of the first day of egg laying presented a low hatchability (12.5%). Hatch rate remained below 50% until nine days of egg laying. These results are in agreement with Smith  and Bohren (1975) who found that poor hatchability can be expected from very young pullets. Hatchability increased reaching 70% at 11th day of egg laying production, maintaining rates between 62.5% and 92.5% until 20 days of production, which is according to Smith and Bohren (1975) who found significant increases in hatchability as pullets get older.


Other aspects of incubation are related to breeder age, such as length of the incubation period that shows significant decreases as pullets grow older (Crittenden  Bohren 1962; Smith  Bohren 1975). It is reported that bird age affects internal egg (O’Sullivan et al 1991; Benton  Brake 1996; Latour et al 1998) and eggshell quality (Peebles  Brake 1987) characteristics. Noble et al (1986) attributed the reduced hatchability and livability observed in embryos from young broiler breeder hens to inefficient yolk sac lipid mobilization and assimilation into the embryo. This assertion was based on the lack of disappearance of lipid and its major subclasses from the yolk sac and subsequent deposition into the embryo and liver during 15 to 19 days of incubation of eggs from 25-wk-old hens as compared to 41-wk-old broiler breeder hens (Yaffei  and Noble 1990).


Figure 2 shows egg weight and hatch weight of meat type quail chicks during the first 20 days of egg laying production, considering only eggs that hatched.

Figure 2.  Egg weight and hatch weight of Meat type quails in production onset

Figure 2 shows the great correlation (R2=0.96) between egg weight and hatch weight of meat type quails. Chick weight at hatch is heavily influenced by the weight of the egg from which it hatches (Burke 1992; Suarez et al 1997). There was a great increase of egg weight during the first week of egg laying. Total eggs laid in the first day weighted 10.9±1.49g, in the fourth day they weighted 12.8±0.79g. The eggs of the first three days were statistically lighter than the other eggs. Since the fourth day, total egg weight was more regular with variations between 12.5±1.12g and 13.3±1.54g showing no significant difference (p<0.05) among them.


According to Fletcher et al (1983) egg weight increases with the age of breeders and that can also affects the egg components. The ratio of yolk to white varies widely with the size of eggs (Marion et al 1964). The proportion of yolk is reported to be less in small eggs than in larger ones (Kaminska  and Skraba 1991). Therefore, yolk size increases proportionally with egg size, and solids content of eggs from older or forced molted hens, which lay larger eggs, may be significantly different than those from younger birds (Rose et al 1966). This increased yolk deposition is reflected in the hatchling because poults from older hens have heavier body weights and more residual yolk than poults from younger hens (Applegate  and Lilburn 1996).


Hatch weight of quail chicks increased along the days of egg laying. Like egg weight, the chick weights of the first three days of egg laying were considerably lower than the others.


Small chicks have higher surface area to weight ratios and are therefore more easily dehydrated than larger chicks. Dehydration has been reported to be associated with higher mortality of chicks from young breeders (Wyatt et al 1985). Since the seventh day of egg laying, quail chicks presented a higher hatch weight with variations between 9.09±0.87g and 9.79±0.94g. Similar results were found for another strain of Japanese quail by Seker et al (2004) who verified significant increases between hatch weight of chicks from 10 week old and 20 week old quail breeders. Some researchs showed that increases of hatch weight due to breeder age were not only for increases in egg size.


In domestic poultry species, increasing age of the hen during production can have significant, positive effects on embryonic growth and subsequent hatchling body weight independent of the normal, age-associated increases in egg weight. In other words, embryo and/or hatchling weight from similar weight eggs are increased when progeny from older hens are compared with those from young hens. These maternal effects have been reported for broilers (Wilson 1991a), Japanese quails (Yannakopoulos  and Tserveni-Gousi 1987), and turkey poults (Christensen et al 1996).


Table 1 shows hatchability and classification of eggs that did not hatch as infertile-early embryo death, intermediate embryo death, and final embryo death.

Table 1.  Classification of eggs that did not hatch according to embryonic mortality

Days of egg laying

Unhatched/ Incubated eggs, n

Infertile + early embryo death

(1-4 days), %

Intermediate embryo death

(5-15 days), %

Final embryo death

(16-18 days), %

 1 – 5





6 – 10





11 – 15





16 – 20





Total (1-20)





Table 1 shows that the most important causes of failure to hatch were infertility-early embryo death and the final embryo death. These results are similar to the ones in chickens, in which there are two phases of increased embryonic mortality during incubation: the first phase occurs during the first week of incubation and the second phase during the last week (Jassim et al 1996). Increased embryo mortality (Noble et al 1986) and decreased chick survival (McNaughton et al 1978) are common in broiler hatching eggs from young breeders. The unhatched eggs classified as infertile-early embryo death were the main reason of failure to hatch. This unhatched eggs classification decreased from the 1st day up to the 20th of egg laying.


According to Etches (1996) increased mortality occurs early in embryonic development during vascular formation. Early embryonic mortality has generally been found to be greater in hens earlier in lay where late deaths were more prevalent with older hens (Sunde  and Bird 1959; Christensen 1978; Rahn et al 1981). Brake et al (1993) suggested that early embryonic mortality in young hens could be due to superior albumen quality that may decrease embryonic gas exchange. Intermediate embryo death accounted for a very small portion of embryo mortality in quails. Final embryo death was an important cause of embryo mortality. At the first days of egg laying it accounted for only a small portion of unhatched eggs, while in the last ten days of egg laying, it accounted for more than one third of unhatched eggs. The embryo mortality rates tend to be more equitative when quails get older. Seker et al (2004) verified early, intermediate and late embryonic death for eggs of Japanese quail at 20 weeks old and found 27.5%, 36.3% and 36.2%, respectively.


The results showed that egg incubation of meat type quail was suitable after eleven days of egg laying onset when egg production was higher than 80% and total hatchability was between 62.5% and 92.5%. Eggs from the first ten days of egg laying onset were not adequate to be used for incubation purpose due to high levels of infertility-early embryo death of eggs and also the poor quality of hatched chicks that presented low body weight.



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Received 2 October 2009; Accepted 5 November 2009; Published 1 January 2010

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