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Just before the ostrich chick hatches the egg sac is drawn through the navel into the abdomen. The weight of the yolk may amount to up to one third of the hatching weight of the chick. The yolk sac forms an initial reserve of food, which allows the chick to spend its first 4-6 days without food or liquid intake. A loss of live weight would be normal at this time. Despite this fact chicks should be offered food and water as soon as they are able to stand up which happens after one or two days. I now give my chicks 3-5ml (1-2 teaspoons) of a fresh plain acidopholus yoghurt as their first two feeds usually on days two and three. I use a syringe and care must be taken to put it far enough down the chicks throat so it is over the tongue and air way.
Ostrich chicks have to learn to feed. They do search for food instinctively but will not be able to recognise the feed in the trough. In extreme cases and without sufficient care it may happen that birds either starve to death or gobble up all kinds of objects and die of impaction in the stomach or intestine. Litter like straw, sand or saw dust forms a similar hazard and in order to overcome these risks the chicks should he kept without litter on concrete floors, rubber mats or on fabric (e.g. hessian). Fabrics used for this purpose must be without loose threads, otherwise the birds may pull threads and swallow them. Floors and floor covers must be cleaned and washed regularly. Mats that are reused with each batch of chicks should be wash in a commercial solution that kills all bacteria,fungii and viral strains. This is essential. As the young chicks readily ingest each others droppings( this is normal behaviour) infections will quickly spread. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
I have successfully allowed chicks to play on sandy floors from ten days old and they quickly adapt to this change. I leave their familiar sleeping mats under the heat lamp.
( After 4 years of trialing different materials I now use untreated timber shavings on the floor of my chick runs. They go onto this at two weeks of age after their feet / toes have had a chance to harden up and become firm and straight. I have this at least 100mm thick and this keeps them dry and clean. New shavings can be sprinkled on top each day and the total changed every three weeks or so depending on chick numbers. I have had no problems with chicks eating the shavings and becoming compacted.)
In order to accustom the birds to their food, the chick run area of the (heated) shelter should be kept small (0.3Om' per chick). Shallow food containers should be arranged all over the floor to make the food easy to find(depending on numbers). It is also possible to use long narrow troughs or to spread the food initially on canvas (no loose threads!) or empty hessian bags.
As chicks are nosey, tapping a finger in the food can arouse their interest in food. An optical incentive is the spreading or mixing of chopped greens (cabbage leaves, lettuce, clover, Lucerne etc.), grated carrots and/or chopped hard-boiled eggs (with shells) on or in the dry feed ration. Even colouring the food green is supposed to have a positive effect on the birds feeding. Some farmers place an elder chick or a chicken with the young chicks to show them how to feed.
Young chicks prefer roughly ground meal to pellets. Generally the birds like moistened feed better than dry meal. Please note that moistened feed will go off more easily and will then cause indigestion in the chicks. Food containers should be cleaned daily and leftover food should be removed and fed to elder birds. After the first feed intake the faeces of the chicks have to be watched carefully for the next 3-5 days. At the first indications of diarrhoea the birds should he given antibiotics in their food or drinking water. (or colloidal silver)
During the first five days the chicks' feed intake is low as the birds still use the stored yolk. Contrary to the former practice of offering chicks feed freely (ad libitum) the case for limited feeding is now being argued. Yolk sac inflammation is the most common cause for the death in chicks. By feeding limited rations the yolk can he broken down faster. Try 1.5-3% of the live weight in dry feed daily. (Tablespoon) These quantities should he increased gradually and in accordance with the development of the chicks (health, vitality and growth). Feed twice daily, with food limited to the quantity the chicks can eat within two hours.
Chopped stinging nettle leaves can he given as a supplement and without limitation.I use fresh chopped dandelion leaves mixed with clover. Introduce new greens a little at a time to allow the chicks digestive system to adopt to the new feed. Even clover from a new paddock can cause faster bowels.
Chicks are not very active at night so there is no need for night feeding. Growth and feed intake should be monitored continuously in order to detect deviations from normal development as early as possible. Excessive weight gains can be compensated by reducing the rations or by increasing the ratio of crude fibre. Just as two brothers can be totally different so too can ostrich chicks. There will always be ones that bloom and ones that look stunted but by and large they should all be about the same size at three months.(30-40 kg's) They grow about 7 cm per week and from two months on can put on 5 kg's/week or more. There are two crucial periods. First getting them to 3 weeks. Then getting them to two months.
Once the chicks are used to feeding, they like fresh greens. Since fresh greens stimulate appetite, chopped greens like stinging nettles, clover, Lucerne or cabbage should he given three to four times a day in addition to the chick meal. As there is still a danger of impaction it is important to feed only leaves, not stalks, during the first month. Bunched, freshly mown Lucerne or clover can be hung at the chicks head height. The birds pluck the leaves off the bunches and the remaining stalks can be removed later. Wilted food also causes digestion problems and greens should he offered only in quantities that can he eaten within one to two hours.
Where it is difficult to obtain greens it is possible to use clover or Lucerne hay(dont feed to birds under 6 weeks) as an alternative. Such roughage, whether fresh or dried, must be ground or finely chopped. For young chicks the length of chaff should be approx. 6mm but always less than the length of the small toe of the birds. The quantity of roughage in the ration can be increased with the age of the birds, and at the age of ten weeks may amount to up to 20% of the dry feed mass.
Three situations that predispose a bird to impaction are:
Together with the first food on their second or third day the chicks should be offered drinking water. Like feeding, the birds have to learn to take water. Placing small pieces of clover that float on top of the water or sticking a shiny object into the water container helps to attract the birds. The containers should not be placed too high and should be secured by a heavy object (e.g. a stone) against toppling over. There should be one water container for every three food containers. The half size Agee preserving jar is a good size for the first two weeks.Care must be taken to ensure chicks cant "trip" into the bowl so the height should be above their body when standing and below their head so they can scoop up water.
Whether the chicks are kept in a shelter or in a paddock, water intake, faeces and urine should be monitored closely. The urine should be white.
Water containers for chicks must be cleaned daily and refilled with fresh water. Chicks and growers should never drink stale, warm water. Although there is no scientific explanation, this leads to illness and loss. Accordingly, water containers should not be exposed to direct sunlight and birds should not be kept on poorly drained range and enclosures.
In order to grind their food in the gizzard, ostriches require small stones. Until the chicks have access to such materials by grazing or from an extended run, grit must be added to the feed. The grit particles should be half the size of the toenail of the birds. For newly born chicks this is approximately the size of a round grain of rice.
Some ostrich farmers offer grit or coarse sand freely to their chicks; other farmers fear possible losses by stomach or intestine impaction and strongly reject this practice. They prefer to add suitable materials to the chicks feed. A number of 4-5 small pebbles per chick a day are considered sufficient. I introduce grit once the chicks are feeding themselves about day 4 or 5.
In order to increase the resistance against diseases, the addition of soluble vitamins to the drinking water according to manufacturer instructions is recommended during the first two to three weeks.
The microbial flora required for digestion in the appendices and large intestine of the chicks is formed during the first days of their life. In the wild this process is assisted by the ingestion of their parents manure as first food. The manure contains the required population of bacteria. For this reason some farmers offer the fresh manure of adult birds to their chicks.
There is, of course, the danger that intestinal parasites and diseases are then passed to the chicks directly.
The good bacteria dies after 20 minutes of being exposed to the air so fresh manure should be used and broken open to make a Pea size pellet from the centre of the manure. (This may be required more than once. Talk to successful chick rearers.) To avoid at least the parasites and diseases peculiar to ostriches, some farmers prefer to offer fresh cow manure. These methods are highly controversial and are categorically rejected by other ostrich farmers.
During their first days the chicks eat their own droppings, causing the same hygienic problems as the above practices. To avoid over ingestion, the chicks faeces should he collected regularly. In some breeding enterprises in the USA the chicks are kept initially on wire mesh through which the droppings can fall.
There are a number of Probiotic products coming onto the market that may solve this problem. Using an older chick as a "nurse" may be an option for some breeders as the chicks will pick up the good bacteria from its droppings and she will teach the new ones how to eat and drink. (A big time saver)