Dec 21, 2012
Agriculture (Ostrich Ranching)
Links to Detailed Info
Ostriches can live to 70 years and reproduce for approximately 40 years. Each hen lays between 30 and 90 eggs a year which will produce an average of 20 to 40 chicks. Many factors are involved in determining how many chicks are successfully raised per year. The quality of the breeding stock is important. The number of fertile eggs, quality of the incubation and hatching procedures, attentiveness of the rancher, weather conditions, living environment, and many more factors determine the resulting numbers.
Eggs are laid and gathered every other day during the summer, as early as March and as late as October. The eggs are put in incubators for 42 days. The chicks are very carefully watched for the first twelve weeks. They grow very fast, about one foot per month for the first six or seven months. At six months and older, ostriches require very little daily chores, simply feed and water.
Ostriches reach breeding age at two to four years, with the hen maturing earlier. Ostriches can be bred in single pairs or in colonies of 2 males and 5 females to 5 males and 12 females. A pen of about one eighth acre per bird attached to a barn or shelter with about 100 square feet per bird is all that is required. Large pastures traditional in cattle raising are not needed or desirable.
Ostriches are very adaptable to different climates. In hot weather they need a shaded area. In cold climates they need a shelter to retreat to. Ostriches are raised in South Africa, France, Canada, throughout the United States, and many other parts of the world.
Buildings and Pens
Buildings/pens play an important role in successful ostrich management. Factors influencing building design are cleanliness, ventilation, temperature, humidity, and space requirements per bird.
Eggs are gathered daily, store a weeks worth of eggs, and set the group in the incubator once a week. This way a group of eggs hatches at the same time, rather than eggs hatching everyday. The chicks are placed outside as soon as possible. The fresh air and company of the older chicks is very important.
The incubator room is a “clean room”. Sanitation and cleanliness are of utmost importance. Foot baths of disinfectant are at the door and no one but the designated workers are allowed in. This is the same type of precautions other livestock production facilities use, including hogs.
All the birds need fresh air and exercise. The outside runs are long and narrow, providing space to stretch those long legs.
Ostriches require fencing that is suitable for their needs. Ostriches have very powerful legs. If a bird decides to argue with a fence, that fence better be able to argue back. Six feet high chain link or other netting fence is best. It needs to be strong and long lasting. Ostriches are very curious animals. If there is a hole big enough to put their head or foot through, they will do it, but they may not be able to get it out, thus exciting them to panic. This of course can result in tragedy.
Ostriches are grazers, eating grass continually. Pastures should be planted with nutritious grasses appropriate for the local climate. Their basic food is grasses, so chopped alfalfa is the staple. Commercial pellets (like Purina Ostrich Chow) is available from many manufacturers. Commercially prepared feed is more expensive than feed prepared on site. Chopped alfalfa, corn, vitamin supplement, etc mixed, is the standard feed. Adult birds eat about 3 pounds per day. Ostriches are very efficient eaters, utilizing nearly all that they eat.
Class: Aves (Birds)
– camelus (North African)
– molybdophanes (Somali)
– massaicus (Masai)
– australis (South African)
Height: males 6 to 9 feet and females 5 to 8 feet
Weight: males 230 to 400 pounds and females 200 to 300 pounds
Life span: 30 to 70 years
Egg: about 5 or 6 inches and about 3 pounds (that’s about 24 chicken eggs)
Incubation: 42 days
In the wild multiple hens lay up to 25 eggs in the same nest.
Maturity at: 3 to 4 years
The ostrich is the largest and heaviest living bird. It cannot fly because it does not have a keeled sternum (breastbone), common to most birds. But an ostrich can run. Up to 45 mph. With this speed they can outrun many predators. They can also kick with much force. They kick forward. They have only two toes on each foot, but the big toe has a large claw. Their kick pack a lot of punch. Enough to kill a lion, and also us if we get in the way.
There are two varieties of wild ostrich, Red Neck and Blue Neck. The color of their necks and legs is where the names came from. The Red Neck is the largest. The South Africans developed a domestic strain almost 200 years ago. They developed it for better feathers and leather, and in the process, the bird became more docile and easier to handle. In the USA all three varieties are raised, along with crosses of all three. The ‘African Black’ (the variety developed in South Africa) is smaller. There is much discussion on which is better for farming. Docile is good for handling, but bigger birds have more meat. A cross of Blue Neck and African Black is a good bird. The discussion continues.
The males are black and white and the hens are gray brown. During courtship, the male get down on the ground, spreads his large wings, and rocks back and forth. As he rocks he bumps his head onto his body, on alternating sides. He is hoping the his chosen female will like his show and want to mate. Many times when you approach an ostrich pen, the male will do his displaying. This is most true when a woman approaches. He likes to show off to anyone that will look.
Ostriches do not make any vocal sounds. The most they can do is hiss. The male also ‘booms’. This is also a mating thing. He inflates his neck to three times its normal size, and uses that air to make a sound like he is blowing a horn. This is a very low pitch and very loud sound, and can be heard for a great distance.
Ostrich feathers are different than most birds. Most birds have feathers that have hooks on the individual ‘hairs’. This keeps the feather together as a solid unit, enabling them to fly. Ostrich feathers do not have these hooks so their feathers are very fluffy and light. They are used very effectively as dusters because they attract the dust.
Through the years, ostrich feathers have been used as accents in fashion. Women’s hats was very popular. Ostrich farming started basically because of the use in fashion.
The leather from an ostrich is very unique. It has bumps on the leather every half inch. These are where the feathers were in the skin. Boots, jackets, hats, and purses are popular items made of ostrich leather. The fibers in the leather criss-cross making it one of the most durable leathers.
Ostriches are omnivores, and they eat whatever is available in their habitat and at different times of the year. They mostly eat plants, mainly grass, roots, leaves, and seeds, but they also munch on insects like locusts and small animals like lizards.
Ostriches are very effeciant eaters. Their nutrient usage is higher than most animals. This means that they use almost all of the nutrients in the food. The feed conversion ratio with ostriches is much better, saving money and resources. It takes 1.7 pounds of feed to produce one pound of ostrich meat
In the wild:
Ostriches like to live in groups, which helps with defense. With their long necks and keen vision, they can see long distances, so in a group at least one of them is likely to see danger coming. Ostriches sometimes gather in large groups of 100 or more, but most groups are smaller, usually about 10 birds, or just a male and female pair. The groups have a pecking order, with a dominant male that establishes and defends a territory, a dominant female called the ‘main hen’, and several other females. Lone males may also come and go during breeding season.
The dominant or ‘alpha’ hen mates with the territorial male, and they share the tasks of incubating the eggs and caring for the chicks. The other females may mate with that male or other wandering males, then lay their eggs in the same nest as the main hen’s eggs.
The main hen puts her eggs in the center of the nest to make sure they have the best chance of hatching, but many of the other eggs may also be incubated. Usually the main hen takes incubation duty during the day, then the male takes over and incubates during the night. The nest is simply an indentation in the ground that the male has dug. It is about 4-6 feet in diameter and about a foot deep. The male lays his cheek on the sand of the nest to the temperature. If is is too hot he covers the eggs a little. If is it too cool, he exposes the eggs to the sun to warm them. A few days after the chicks hatch, they leave the nest to travel with their parents. The adults shelter them under their wings to protect them from sun and rain, and they defend the chicks against predators.