Rhea Brooding For Beginners
Early chick management of ratites is similar to that of chickens, turkeys, or game birds. Like most birds, ratite chicks are cold-blooded; they cannot sustain their body temperature from metabolism alone. They need supplemental heat for up to 4 months, depending on conditions.
Heat can be supplied from above with lights or heaters, or from below with heated mats or floors. Many growers use heat lamps.
It is imperative that the birds be given an area with a range of temperatures so they can select the temperature they require. If they get cold, they can move to a warmer area and vice versa.
As the chicks age, their metabolism catches up and they become warm-blooded, i.e., able to maintain body temperature. This change takes several weeks.
It is important to help this process along by reducing supplemental heat gradually. Avoid abrupt changes. Many growers believe inside pens with outside runs are required for proper growth in ratite chicks. This system allows protection from inclement weather as well as outside access for exercise, which may promote good leg formation and strength.
Some growers brood chicks inside for only a few days before placing them outside with supplemental heat for cool nights.
Ratites usually are brooded on solid flooring, although wirefloored brooding areas also can be used. If using wire floors, take care to avoid drafts and to ensure that the birds’ legs do not become stuck in the wire. Halfinch wire probably is sufficient.
Litter floors (sawdust shavings, straw, etc.) can be a problem, especially for ostrich chicks.
Young ostriches and possibly rhea will eat almost anything, especially litter, which can block the intestines, usually resulting in death. The problem may be reduced if chicks are placed on litter immediately after hatching instead of several days later.
Work at Oregon State University suggests that emu chicks perform well on wood shavings as litter or on chopped grass straw. Absorbent litter reduces labor by decreasing the time required to clean pens.
Solid surfaces, such as concrete overlaid with rubber mats, are becoming increasingly popular. Packed dirt or sand that is free of foreign material such as stones, wire, string, nails, etc. seems to be adequate.
However, hard floors are difficult to clean, and as the birds age, pen floors become heavily soiled and virtually uncleanable.
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