How To Raise Ostrich Chicks
In this chapter, we look at how to raise young chicks.
Ok, the chick has hatched, and it is one day old. It is probable that the chick may try to stand, wobble, walk a few steps, and then sit down, or indeed remain seated.
The next steps all depend upon your climate.
The essence is that chicks need warmth. If you live in a warm climate you can take the chick from the hatch directly outdoors under shade clothe, and bring them indoors at night time. However if it isn’t warm, then the chick needs to be kept warm indoors until they are a lot stronger.
Ideally the chicks need to be kept in groups of say 20. They like company but they also should not be overcrowded.
A heat lamp as a source of heat should be placed above the chicks. If the chick feels cold, then the chick can place himself under the lamp. Equally important, if the chick feels hot, then the chick should be able to move away from the lamp. Close observation should help you decide if it is too hot or too cold for the chicks. All chicks huddled tightly under the lamp indicates they are cold, whereas all the chicks walking well away from the lamp would indicate they are too hot.
We do not recommend ground floor heating as this causes chicks to sit down and be more lethargic. An active chick that walks around picks here and there, and then sits under the heat source at night time is what you want.
Chicks also can make a trilling sound. This generally is an indication that they are not happy.
You need some sort of surface that permits the chick to keep dry, a mat that will allow the urine and dirt to pass through so the belly of the chick keeps warm. A wet belly will cause a chill, which can lead to death. Yet you also need a light flow of air so that the ammonia of the urine does not overpower them. I have seen pig matting been used.
First and foremost, keep your chicks warm and dry, and then you should be well away to keeping them alive.
Place feed in the indoor pen too, so if they are hungry, they can eat. You want your chicks to eat so they grow faster.
With regards supplying the chicks with water at night-time, there are two schools of thought on this. One believes in that water should be restricted, so they urine less and are therefore kept drier and the risk of falling into the water is also eliminated, whilst the other school of thought believes that chicks should have access to water at all times.
Water consumption is directly related to feed consumption and by restricting water you would therefore be restricting feed intake, and therefore growth. You decide !
Over the period of two weeks, raise the height of the heat lamp so the intensity of the heat is less. At the end of the two weeks, remove the heat lamp all together, except for exceptional circumstances. In colder climates you may need heat lamps for a longer period.
During the day time, let them out into a small pen so they can exercise to get fresh air and sun. Obviously if it is raining, bring the chicks inside.
In the duck industry, duckling mortality as an industry standard is 8%. If you have 8% chick mortality in ostriches, you are doing exceptionally well. If you have chick mortality of under 20% you are doing well, and the industry average is anything around 40% and upwards.
In the first days of a chicks life, I am a great believer that its survival is dependent upon what nutrients have been passed on to it by their parents, which depends on the feeding program of the breeders. A poorly fed hen will produce a weak chick, whilst a hen on a proper breeder ration should provide a healthy chick.
When the chick is born it has a yolk sac. The chick absorbs this yolk sac over the following three days, and therefore may not eat much during its first week days. Some ostrich farmers prefer not to give the chick any feed during these days, so that the chick is forced to use up its yolk sac first before starting on chick feed rations. I prefer to offer feed. If the chick is hungry it will eat, if not, it won’t. Moreover all the chicks do not hatch at the same time. When one chick is at day 2, another may be at day 4.
One thing to watch out for are stress factors. Chicks easily get stressed from any loud action such as a tractor, building works, a dog barking. Try to limit the stress factors as much as possible.
Trying to sort out an adequate chick feed container can be problematic. We used plastic dog bowls. Chicks will run into them, walk on them, tip them over. It is best to have something that they cannot tip over. For adult ostriches I have seen for example bowls placed in rubber tyres. Another solution for growing chicks could be a plastic pipe cut in half, held against the wall. If this is complicated for chick feed, it is just as complicated for water. Remembering that the very young chicks need to be kept dry, your water source also needs to be securely placed.
TIP: To increase fed consumption, do not fill your plastic bowl with feed. Instead, only fill it half full. Chicks love to have a solid surface from which they can get their feed.
They enjoy the sound, I am sure they do. In this way if you always have some feed just covering the hard service (or the plastic bowl) consumption will increase significantly.
Many farmers just fill the bowl to the top and that’s it. That is poor feed management. It is better to offer a little many times, than a large amount only once.
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