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egg count
mortality rate
inexperience
hens
predators
Rearing Young Ostrich
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Rearing Young Ostrich

I mentioned in a previous article that I'd been blessed with the chore of looking after Ostriches, and rearing their young, as part of a contract. The rearing of the young was the most difficult task to execute.

In the wild, Ostriches have a low success rate of rearing their young, this is because they have many predators that succeed in evading the flying kicks of parental birds that would otherwise kill them. But in captivity where the camps shared with other animals and Ostriches, it is better to hand rear. This is where the fun begins, as the male will mate with between 2 and 5 of the resident hens, and they all lay in the same nest, the egg count could reach 30. This, the senior female, would lessen by rejecting between 5 and 10. The senior female and the male shared the nesting duties until the eggs hatch. The young are left with the parents for 3 or 4 days, then caught, and in grave danger to ourselves, taken to small pens for rearing by hand.

This collection of young, seemed so cruel, yet within days the batch was forgotten and the mating dances began again. This allowed us to harvest between 20 and 40 young birds per year.

My first year, inexperience as I was, found me spending nights at the pens keeping the young warm. In the wild, this duty would have befallen upon both parents and the young would snuggle under their wings. I had no wings, and substituted using Hessian bags, as ignorant as these birds are, I could not fool them, I was not a parental figure. A cold night would claim the life of the weakest bird, unable to get a much sort after warmer spot when huddled together. Having very little feather covering they are susceptible to cold and my mortality rate was climbing by the day, or should I say night.

I had an idea, a stoker stove, I filled Hessian bags with straw, and constructed wings from the same material. These placed close to an iron shield, to protect the chicks from direct contact with the heater. It worked and the deaths ceased. These birds grow at a rate of 20 to 25 cm per month, and the most difficult chore is teaching them to feed. I created an imitation neck and head which fitted over my arm, and I acted out the feeding of an adult, after all they learn from example. Teaching them which stones to ingest, (a necessary part of their diet) the feed pellets, grass cuttings, leaves of certain shrubs, fruit and flowers of certain trees. This was learnt from observation of the adults.

These birds, sold when they reached the age of 6 months. Now by this time I had a “one on one” attachment to these chicks, it was like my dog's puppies, I wanted to keep them all, and prospective purchasers, found themselves being interview for being allowed to buy. I undertook visits to farms, to see my babies, ensuring that they had a good life and growing up correctly.

But my most favourite chick, one that I had saved from drowning, remained with me till the age of a year. The mine, finally convinced me she had to go, I knew it was a female as I had taught myself to sex the birds. I sought a home for her as though she was my daughter, and some young punk, was asking her hand in marriage. I finally found an acceptable home, on a farm where the only other Ostrich was a fine specimen, an adult male, magnificently marked, in prime condition, large as ever, who I knew would protect her till she reached a mature age to breed herself

No one else could deliver her to the farm, I would take her there myself. On arrival I off loaded my pet at the watering hole, so that she would be able to find her way back to it when requiring refreshment. I lit a cigarette and waited with her while she shuffled around, checking the feed and grasses available, knowing that the male would arrive to partake in a drink, feed and dust bath at any given moment.

The new owner had joined me, and we enjoyed the arrival of the magnificent male. His entrance, second to none, noticed his owner and I awaiting him at the feed trough, pushed out his chest and start to make his proud way over to us. This was the moment my young female Ostrich decided to make her appearance from behind my vehicle, where she'd been eating. The pause as the two looked at each other, would they bond immediately? Would this brute of a male attack my yearling? Well I had nothing to worry about, she hesitated a moment, looked him up and down, and charged. The male turned tail and sprinted off, never seen by his owner again.

He later purchased a male bird, to replace the loss he suffered, at the feet of a magnificent hen.


Street Talk

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