The Ostrich (Struthio camelus) is the largest bird in the world. The ostrich cannot fly but has strong, long and powerful legs which enable it to run very fast at an approximate speed of 70km/hr.
It can maintain this speed for 20-30 minutes. Its foot has only two toes, with the large toe having a sharp claw which is used for defence. The head is small and has a long naked neck which adds to its defence mechanism.
The male ostrich has a black plumage with white plumes on the wings and the tail, while the female has greyish plumage. The Ostrich can withstand extreme weather condition and can survive very well in the ASALs.
They are mainly found in the open woodlands or range grasslands. They tend to avoid thick bushes and dense tree covers. The ostrich lays up to 45 eggs and each egg weighs between 1.5 to 2 kg.
Why Ostrich farming?
- Ostrich oil, produced from ostrich fat, is used to help treat asthma and other chest complaints
- The demand for ostrich and its meat has increased in the global market.
- Its meat is low in cholesterol.
- Broadening protein sources.
- Alternative source of income
- Ostrich skin is a premium product in leather industry.
- Source of revenue through tourism.
- Conservation of genetic resource.
- Maasai Ostrich (S.camelus massaicus). It is Pink Necked with more quills. It’s the largest and can lay up to 40 eggs in one laying season.
- Somali Ostrich (S. camelus molybdophanes). It is Blue Necked with fewer quills that are far apart. Lays fewer eggs in two seasons/ March & August about 30 eggs. The have smaller carcass.
- Black necked Ostrich (S. camelus camelus.) Smaller in size and mainly found in temperate regions in Europe & South Africa.
- Crosses of Maasai & Somali Ostrich. Have a faster growth rate, higher mature weight, better quill spacing than the Somali ostrich.
- Arabian Ostrich (S.camelus syriacus).
- Southern Ostrich (S. camelus australus). This is the black necked ostrich. Found mainly in temperate regions especially South Africa.
Sources breeding stock
Currently the main suppliers in Kenya are:
- Maasai Ostrich Resort Farm in Kitengela.
- Kenya Wildlife services
- Ostrich Farm in Naivasha.
Ostriches become sexually mature when they are 2 to 3 years old; with hens maturing about six months earlier than cocks. Egg numbers increase with successive years.
They only breed during particulars seasons of the year as per the breed. The Maasai ostrich have one breeding season, while the Somali ostrich have two seasons per year
The birds exhibit a characteristic mating behaviors. The cock will typically use hisses and other sounds to fight for hens. It will then attract hens by performing with his wings, alternating wing beats, until he attract a mate.
The hen opens her wings, bends the neck with circular head movements and kneels down ready to be mated. It crouches on the ground and is mounted from behind by the male.
Mating takes place on a daily basis mainly early in the morning and late in the evening. The cock prepares the nest on the ground where the hens will lay her eggs. Eggs are laid on alternate days for up to 90 days.
The mating ratio should be ideally 1one male (cock) to three females (hens) . To synchronize brooding the males are withdrawn to stop the hens from laying any more eggs.
The Ostrich Egg
Ostriches are oviparous. The hens will lay their fertilized eggs in a nest. The first female to lay her eggs will be the dominant female. The hen will lay between 15-45 eggs per season depending on the species.
Ostrich eggs are the largest of all eggs (and by extension, the yolk is the largest single cell though they are actually the smallest eggs relative to the size of the bird which are, on average, 15 centimeters (5.9 in) long, 13 centimeters (5.1 in) wide, and weigh 1.4-2 kilograms. They are glossy and cream in color, with thick shells marked by small pits.
Handling of Eggs
- Eggs are collected twice daily, early in the morning and late in the evening.
- Caution should be taken by driving the birds to a safe distance while they are picked. This done to avoid reprisals from the female bird. Preferably two persons should be involved such that one person distracts the birds while the other person collects the eggs.
- The collector should put on hand gloves because contact between the handler’s body and the eggs may lead to embryo mortality due to contamination.
- Dirty eggs should be cleaned with damp warm cloth.
- The eggs should be fumigated for 30 minutes with formalin and potassium permanganate.
- Store eggs in a cold room at 15 degrees Celsius for not more than 10 days.
- The top side should be marked with a pencil and then the eggs should be turned twice daily so that the yolk remains at the centre.
- Place eggs at room temperature before incubating to regulate the temperature gradually.
The eggs are incubated by the females by day and by the male by night this uses the coloration of the two sexes to escape detection of the nest, as the drab female blends in with the sand, while the black male is nearly undetectable in the night. The incubation period is 42 days.
However under Natural hatching an ostrich has a capacity of covering effectively 20 eggs. Therefore extra eggs are likely to be wasted if it is allowed to incubate without controlled management. The male will defend the hatchlings, and teach them how and on what to feed.
The female cleans the area to prevent the young ones from eating indigestible materials like stones. These materials cause impaction and sudden death of chicks. The survival rate is low for the eggs with an average of one per nest surviving. Predators are mainly hyenas, jackals, and vultures.
Candle the eggs to identify the air sac and place the eggs with the air sac side facing up. The bulb used should be 250 watts due to the thickness of the egg shell. The eggs are placed in an incubator under controlled temperature of 36degree Celsius and regulated humidity of 35 percent-50 percent.
Some incubators will turn the eggs automatically to an angle of 45 degrees. This could also be done manually. Turning the eggs should be twice daily at an angle of 45 degrees.
Hatching starts after 42 days. Egg shells for birds supplemented with calcium are thick and hard. After 12hours shells of unhatched eggs are perforated to assist chicks to hatch.
After hatching the chicks are kept warm for two months at regulated temperatures .Infra red bulbs can be used. The stocking density for brooding chicks is 60 chicks per 25 sq. meters. At three months the heat should be reduced till the chicks are four months old. At four months birds are then moved to the open paddock without shade to scavenge.
Sexing of Birds
At 14 months sexing of the birds can be accurately done. At this age the colours become distinct. The males’ feathers become black and white while the hens feathers become greyish.The males and the females are separated at this age.
- Due to deformities.
- Old or unproductive age, females are culled at 17 years.
- Males with weak back
Factors Affecting Hatchability of Eggs
Hatching of eggs is affected by several factors:
- Age of breeding birds : Young birds Eggs lay fewer eggs with low fertility. This increases with subsequent seasons reaching their potential in the third lay. After 17 years of age, the production of females’ declines.
- Herd ratio : High number of female against males is likely to result into birds laying infertile eggs. Ideally one male should serve 3 females.
- Nutrition of the female : Nutritional deficiencies especially calcium leads to birds laying eggs with weak shells. Such a shell is porous allowing penetration of microorganisms that kill the embryo. Therefore Calcium supplementation is recommend for laying birds.
- Poor handling of eggs : Contact between the collector body and the eggs may lead to embryo mortality due to contamination. During transportation care should be taken to avoid excessive shaking of the eggs.
- Worm infestation : The Tape worms are the most common in ostriches due to their feeding habits. The worms compete with the birds for the essential nutrients.
- Free Range or extensive : The birds are enclosed and allowed to fend for themselves without any supplementation. This system of production is preferred for aesthetic reasons/values. It requires large area of land over 500 acres of land.
- Semi intensive : Chicks are housed from day old to 4 months before being released in to the open paddocks. The birds are provided with supplemtation at all stages of their life period. The system requires on average 50 to 150 acres of land. In this system pastures are established for the birds. In a brooder 60 chick per 25sq m is recommended. Provide adequate walking area for the chicks. The stocking density can be 40 birds per acre.
- Intensive system : The birds are in full diet of concentrates with minimal grazing. The numbers of birds kept are few in a small area of land approximately 2 acre. In a brooder 60 chick per 25sq m is recommended. Provide adequate walking area for the chicks.
Ostrich is an omnivorous bird and feeds almost on all types of feeds.
Feeds types depend on the age birds. Day old chicks are fed on chick mash adlib for the first 4 months. Each chick consumes up to a minimum of 0.5kgs of chick mash.
Four to 10 months old birds are allowed to graze and receive supplementary feeds. Supplementation with growers mash is at the rate of 2kg /bird/day.
Birds in lay are given feeds rich in calcium which enhances hard shell formation. Green feed (Lucerne) is used to control pecking and cannibalism. It is also used as a protein supplement.
Provide water adlib to the birds. For the chicks vitamins may be added to boost the appetite.
Green color is preferred for the feed and water equipment.
Farming as a business dictates that the farmer diligently keeps records of all farming activities. The records will assist in finding out whether the business is viable or not. They mainly consist of:
- Breeding records : A chip can be planted below the skin to keep information that can be used to track parental lineage. This information is used to controls inbreeding amongst closely related birds.
- Health records : Vaccination records, Number of deformed birds, Spraying records, Diseases treatment and deworming records, Chick mortality rate at four months.
- Laying Records : Includes number of eggs laid per bird per season & Eggs collected per day.
- Production records : Chicks’ production records, Weekly slaughter figures in tonnes, Parts condemned and reasons why.
- Marketing records : Skins sold and value, Number and value of live birds sold.
During the first three months mortality rates can be as high as 30-40 percent and disease control measures should be put in place. In semi intensive system of production, care should be taken to reduce vulnerability by;
- Improved hygiene trough disinfection through use foot baths.
- Control of human traffic.
- Routine vaccination.
- Observation and early treatment of diseases
However, even with control measure in place diseases may occur. The common ones being:
- Ecto parasites : The main types include: Mites, Ticks, Large flies.
Spraying is done once a year using recommended acaricides. Frequent spraying is not encouraged because of residual effects of the acaricides.
- Endo Parasites : Tapeworms are prevalent in birds under semi intensive system of production.
Routine and regular deworming
Cannibalism and pecking
- Provision of adequate nutrient supplementation
- Treatment of injuries using antibiotic sprays.
- Live birds
- Egg shell
- Ostrich oil
Note: However, in an attempt to control poaching of wild ostrich eggs, sales of eggshells are prohibited in shops.
- The thigh gives steak
- Fillet is obtained from the back. Various recipes/cuts are produced
Average product prices
- Ostrich leather fetch between 7500- 10,000. Ksh
- Mixed meat is Ksh 2000/kg
- Eggs is 1,500.00 Ksh
- Egg shell is 800.00 Ksh
- Ostrich meat is being served locally in hotels.
- Export Market for Ostrich meat is mainly the Far East.
- Live birds are exported to Europe and Asia.
Aesthetic Value of Ostriches
- Ostriches are used for sport racing.
- Ostrich riding.
- Draught animal
- Tourist attraction
- Start up stock 1 male to 3 females
- Each bird consumes 2kgs of concentrate feed per day
- Average cold dressed weight of yearlings -36 kgs
- Price meat per kg -1,400.00
The policy on Ostrich farming in Kenya is at the draft stage. Ostrich farming is under the Kenya Wildlife Service and a permit from them is required. Before issuance of the permit a game ranger has to inspect the farm.
- Ministry of Livestock Development.
- Ministry of Tourism.
- Ministry of Environment.
- Ministry of Forest Services.
- Kenya wildlife services.
- Maasai Ostrich Farm
- Other Ostrich Farmers.