Overcoming challenges of raising ostriches in a farm

Ostriches in a farm

The relatively low mentality of ostriches often presents some problems when farming with them.

For example: A male may take four or five females with him, sectioning off a portion of the veld.

However, with so many females, about 35 to 40 eggs will lie scattered about the nest, some inside, others outside.

During the day, each female chooses a few and “covers” them.

By nightfall, the male probably will select just the center position on the nest and cover those eggs.

Hence, many eggs never hatch.

To add to this problem, the male and the female will desert the nest three or four days after the first chicks have been hatched, regardless of how many eggs remain unhatched.

For these and other reasons, to ensure a reasonable degree of success, incubators are used for hatching the eggs, rather than relying on such irresponsible parents.

Even then care must be exercised.

Once in the morning and once at night, the eggs must be turned manually to simulate what the ostrich does to give movement to the germinating yolk and to prevent it from settling and sticking to the shell membrane.

In the nest the parent birds turn the eggs regularly.

Egg Collection

For incubating purposes, the eggs need to be collected from the field, and for the inexperienced this can be dangerous.

The eggs must be taken from the nests, which are nearly always attended by the birds.

Farmhands go in among the birds with horses and put the eggs in bags packed with straw.

The eggs are heavy, each weighing about three and a half pounds (1.6 kg), and they are about six inches (15 cm) long, with a white, porous shell.

They are easily cracked or broken if knocked together.

Remarkably, though, without breaking, they can take the weight of a human standing on them.

A Look at the Hatching Process

If you want to boil an egg hard—and ostrich eggs provide fine nourishment—it will take about 42 minutes.

But if you want to witness one of the most marvelously intricate pieces of natural machinery going into action for 42 days, follow the farmer as he prepares his incubator.

He packs the ostrich eggs on trays and sets the ventilated heat at approximately 98 degrees Fahrenheit (37° C).

This simple application of heat to the germ life of the egg triggers a process that should humble the wisest of men.

At the end of the gestation period, we find that the unborn chick has filled the shell completely and is ready to emerge.

But how will the thick shell be broken?

The chick itself does this.

With its beak? No, with the claw on the larger of its two toes.

 Why, the large toe is next to the head and beak of the chick!

The toe breaks the shell and the chick begins breathing through its nostrils.

The longer it breathes, the more vigorous its kick becomes, until the shell breaks and the chick is free.
Lining the inside of the shell is a many-layered plastic-like membrane (or, inner shell) housing all the intricate connections through the navel tube.

As the membrane dries while the chick is emerging, so does the tube. Truly a most exciting and delicate function.

The farmer is very careful not overly to hasten these critical movements and break an excessive amount of the shell in an effort to help the emerging chick.

Doing so would expose too much of the membrane, cause it to dry out too fast, and so, by its contracting, it would suffocate the chick.

Several days will pass before the new chick takes in food and water.

During that period, it will be sustained by the yolk, which, shortly before hatching, has slipped through the chick’s navel.

The little creature’s first meal is a very strange one—its mother’s droppings!

Evidently, this gives some kind of stability to the stomach, which is most delicate at this stage and is the cause of great concern to the farmer.

Many fatalities among chicks can occur because of incorrect early feeding.

But in later life the ostrich will greedily satisfy its almost insatiable appetite, swallowing nearly everything it can get.

Since the ostrich lacks teeth, it swallows small pebbles that combine with the muscular movement of the upper stomach to mash its food.

It is standard practice to introduce to a breeding pair the three- or four-day-old chicks that have been hatched in an incubator.

The foster parents accept the chicks happily and bring them up as their own.

After the chicks have been left in the enclosure and the hen catches sight of them, she goes to them and immediately excretes the vital droppings.

The chicks feed just once on them.

Many new chicks can be introduced to the same foster parents, and ultimately the pair may be caring for up to 100 chicks.

Skins and Meat

Ostrich skin makes a tough, soft leather much in demand by manufacturers of shoes, handbags, gloves and other items.

It is light brown in color and is easily recognizable by its evenly spaced nodules.

The dried, raw meat, or biltong, obtained from ostriches is of good quality and is considered a delicacy by some.

Slaughtering used to be done by breaking the neck, but the resulting biltong was of poor quality.

Recently, the slaughterhouses have been bleeding the birds, resulting in a marked improvement in the quality and durability of the biltong.

Local farmers were both delighted and surprised.

Fierce, Foolish, Flightless and Fascinating.

All these words apply to this unusual “mammoth” of the bird world.