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animal behaviour
hens
trial and error
maturity
farming
Animal Behaviour – Working With Ostriches
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Animal Behaviour – Working With Ostriches

I was, in the past, blessed with the chore of raising ostriches for a mining company with which I had a contract. Prior to this contract I had no experience in this line of work, and proceeded to make a quick study. My experience in farming with animals certainly assisted with the basics, but the rest came from trial and error. Fortunately, gaining this experience was a pleasant and amusing one.

The feeding and control of the adults, was not difficult. They look after themselves. The raising, or rearing, of the young, not so easy. The adults required de-worming once a year, for their health and to prepare for the egg laying, and apart from that feeding was all. There were three cocks or male ostrich, two mature, and one not so mature, and five hens of varying maturity. These birds were my amusing teachers, and the young a core of pleasure. The problem always arose at breeding time, the two mature cocks would do battle to see which would have the pleasure of producing the yearly egg laying. Once the victor identified, the other two cocks needed moving to another camp, this is where the fun started.

The males show their preparedness to breed by becoming, cantankerous aggressive birds, ready to attack anything considered competition, including me. The mature males firstly ensuring the immature male knows his status in this hierarchy, and then compete with one another by chasing all over the camp. This camp was 12,5 hectare in size, so they had plenty of space to run. Whilst these two amused themselves in the battle for supremacy, they tended to ignore my presence, but it was incumbent on me to capture the immature male and move him to safety in a second camp.

Now this is not as easy as it sounds, he needs to be cornered, the neck captured with a hook, and a bag placed over his head, at which time he becomes placid and easily led. In my inexperienced first year, I spent hours sitting and studying their behaviour, at certain times of the day the dominant males would gang up on the immature male, and force him to hide as best he could in a corner of the camp, where the grass was long enough for him to hide. They would then proceed with the battle between themselves, ignoring me.

Whilst watching, and learning, I saw an opportunity to capture the younger male, as he had taken up refuge not far from me, and was concentrating more on the others. I crept up on him from his un-sighted side, and sprang on his back, my 110 kg weight was enough to hold him prone, but the basics of “what comes next?” had eluded me. I had a big bird under my control, but no bag to place over his head.

This was an unprecedented position to find myself in, if he got up and beyond my control, due to the breeding season, he would undoubtedly attack me. (the capture and move was normally performed by a team of four) I needed to react quickly, either release and run for the hills, or make a plan. I made a plan, I removed my “bush hat” and placed this over his head, and held on tight. It worked. I alighted from my seat and allowed him to rise, holding on tightly, I lead him to the second camp. How proud I was of myself, until we reached the new camp, this was to easy, like an idiot, I decided to see how blinded he had become with my hat over his eyes.

A fundamental mistake when working with a bird of this stature, do not get directly in front of him, he has huge toes, adorned with nails, that no beautician would want to manicure. He kicks directly forward with and can rip you wide open, an extremely strong bird. What did I do? I bent forward and looked under the hat to see what he and I could see.

Guess what? He could see me, and decided that I required a wake up call. He kick forward, I jumped back, and naturally release the grip on my hat. He found his new freedom and at speed, made for the hills. Now an ostrich at full tilt is capable of speeds of 70 kilometres per hour, I far less. An ostrich, when running, is capable of maintaining a perfectly balanced head, the hat remained steadfast.

This second camp was a meagre 6 hectare in size, lightly covered with trees, and on the one side the access road to the factory. This fiasco took place right when the employees were going home. The result? An audience, amused by the antics of an ostrich, wearing a hat, being chased by an irate contractor. You see, every time the bird felt he had acquired a safe distance from his pursuer, he sat down, and I, instead of creeping up on him continued to run, gasping for breath, giving fare warning of my approach. All this resulted in, was the scaring of the bird into a further dash of speed, hat on head, again leaving me dust encrusted, with the encouraging shouts of the audience enjoying my demise.

Suffice it to say, this never happened again, but more amusing incidents did, some of which I will write about.


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