When Do Rheas Begin To Reproduce?
Ratites usually begin to reproduce between 2 and 3 years of age. However, some birds lay as early as 18 months. Early layers typically lay few eggs the first year.
Average egg production is about 40 to 60 eggs per year for ostriches and 20 to 50 eggs for emu and rheas. Some layers may produce many more or less eggs than these numbers suggest. We cannot predict future egg production in these birds.
The productive life may be as long as 40 years for ostriches and 20 years for emu. Using low estimates, these birds could produce between 500 and 1,600 offspring in a lifetime.
The exact stimulus for the seasonal beginning and cessation of egg production is not well understood.
Ratites usually are paired during the breeding season, but some growers have been successful with trios (two females with one male), or with mass mating (groups of several males and females). Elaborate courtship displays and pair bonding seem to be necessary for proper breeding.
Breeding season varies, depending on species. Ostriches and rheas usually breed between about March and October, while emu lay eggs from early November through April. Laying seasons vary from year to year, depending on climatic conditions and location.
Breeding pens are similar to growing pens, perhaps a little larger. Ideal pen size for breeders is not known for certain. The nesting area must be easily accessible to the grower.
Ratites are ground nesters; they make a depression in soft soil, sand, or straw, which acts as a nest. You can provide these materials in the nesting area. Gather eggs soon after they are laid. Most birds lay about every second or third day.
Be careful when gathering eggs. Some of these birds, especially ostrich males, can become quite aggressive during the breeding season, diligently protecting the nest. In some cases, two people are required to collect eggs—one to distract the birds and the other to remove the egg from the nest. Egg collection is easier if the nesting area is placed where gates can keep the birds away.
Once the eggs are gathered, keep them cool, probably between 55 and 65°F. Much interest has developed in dipping eggs in disinfectant and/or antibiotic solutions. Although these procedures may be of some benefit, they are used sparingly in the poultry industry, with a great deal of quality control.
They have not been proven to be safe and effective for ratite eggs, and should not be used. Allow eggs to rest and cool for at least a day before setting them in the incubator. Most growers store ratite eggs at high humidity during the period between lay and set. Again, there is no solid evidence for this requirement, but chicken and turkey eggs hatch best when stored this way.
Ratite eggs can be stored for at least 7 days and probably longer. Most growers do not exceed 7 days of storage, however. Weekly settings make hatch scheduling easier and more efficient.
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