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Commercial Emu and Ostrich rearing

A. Rajashekher Reddy
Poultry Experimental Station, Livestock Research Institute
Acharya N.G.Ranga Agricultural University, Hyderabad-500 030

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ABSTRACT

Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) and ostrich (Struthio camelus) birds belong to ratite group have high economic value for their meat, eggs, oil, skin and feathers. These birds are adoptable to varied climatic conditions. Although emu and ostrich were introduced in India, emu farming has gained much importance. Emu and ostrich features, management of these birds during chick, growing, fattening, breeding and non-breeding stages were covered. Care and hatching of eggs, nutrient requirements, healthcare and products of emu and ostrich were also covered. Economics of emu rearing with reference to the cost of maintaining breeders cost of production of eggs and chick were covered. Future research on nutritional requirements, incubation and healthcare management, and development of products for better marketing needs to be addressed.

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Ratite birds have poorly developed wings and include emu, ostrich, rhea, cassowary and kiwi. Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) and ostrich (Struthio camelus) are reared commercially in many parts of the world for their meat, oil, skin and feathers, which are of high economic value. The anatomical and physiological features of these birds appear to be suitable for temperate and tropical climatic conditions. These birds can be well maintained on extensive (ranches) and semi intensive rearing systems with reasonably high fibrous diets. United State, Australia and China are leading in emu and of America ostrich farming. Emu and ostrich were introduced recently into India. Compared to ostrich, emu rearing is picking up. At present there are more than 10000 emus and only small numbers of ostrich are available in India. Of these 80% are in Andhra Pradesh (Rao, 2004). Emu birds are well adapted to Indian climatic conditions. Although emu farming is economical so far none of the farmers have entered in to the marketing of emu products. Commercial aspects of rearing emu and ostrich are dealt here.

Features of Emu and Ostrich

Emu has long neck, relatively small naked head, three toes and body covered with feathers (Fig.1). Birds initially have longitudinal stripes on body (0-3 months age) then gradually turn to brown by 4-12 months age. Mature birds have bare blue neck and mottled body feathers. Adult bird height is about 6 feet with a weight of 45-60 kg. There are no definite emu breeds but are captive bred (Peter O’Malley, 2003). Legs are long covered with scaly skin adoptable to hardy and dry soil. Birds sit on their haunch and also walk frequently along the fence. Natural food of emu is on insects, tender leaves of plant and forages on different grasses, eats different kinds of vegetables and fruits like carrot, cucumber, papaya etc. Air sac hangs down loosely in females and is prominent during breeding season gives booming sound where as males do grunting sound. Often sex of the bird can be identified by these sounds during breeding season. Female is the larger of the two especially during breeding season when the male may fast. The female is the dominant member of the pair. The male emu sits on the nest. Emus live for about 30 years may produce eggs for more than 16 years. Birds can be maintained as flock or pair. The birds require fencing made of link chain of 2 x 4 inches with a height of 6 feet for adults. Sexes can be identified by tattooing on the skin of shank or by placing microchip under the skin (Jefferey, 2001).

Adult ostrich is of 2.4-2.8 meters height, fleshy thighs, rounded body; long legs with 2 toes weigh about 70-160kg. Thighs and legs are bare, uncovered by feathers (Fig.2). Males have black feathers with white rim on tail and wings. Females are brown or gray. Commercial varieties are blue neck (largest ostrich), hybrid blue (better egg layer) and red neck (smaller ostrich). Ostrich has long large intestine with long colon and developed caecum for digesting crude fiber. It has no gall bladder. Ostrich is reared for meat purpose. Rearing ostrich requires large facilities, greens or quality hay for better economic returns. Emu farm established at Acharya N.G.Ranga Agricultural University, Hyderabad in the year 1997 and studied various aspects of chick rearing, breeding, incubation and hatching and feeding management

Management of the emu and ostrich was covered in this paper during starter, grower, fattening/finishing, breeding and non-breeding stages.

 Management of Chicks

Emu chicks weigh about 370 to 450 g (about 67% of egg weight) depending on the size of egg. First 48-72 hours, emu chicks are restricted to incubator for quick absorption of the yolk and proper drying (Rao, 2004). Like chicken Emu needs brooding during their early life. Clean and disinfect brooding shed thoroughly well in advance of receiving chicks, spread litter (paddy husk) cover new gunny bags or burlap over the litter. Arrange a set of brooder for about 25-40 chicks giving 4 sft per chick for first 3 weeks. Provide brooding temperature of 90 0F at first 10 days and 85 0F till 3-4 weeks. Proper temperature makes the brood successful. Provide sufficient (5) water mugs of a liter capacity and equal number of feeder troughs under the brooder. A chick guard must be 2.5 feet height to avoid jumping and straying of chicks. Provide 24 hours of one foot candle light i.e 40 watt bulb for every 100 sft area. Offer small pieces of carrot to the emu chicks since the birds readily catch and also are attracted. After 3 weeks of age, slowly extend the brooder area by widening the chick guard circle and later remove it by the time chicks attain 6 weeks. Feed starter mash for the first 14 weeks or till attaining standard body weight of 10 kg. Ensure proper floor space for the birds housed as these birds require run space for their healthy life. 30 ft run space is required; hence floor space of 40ft x 30ft is required for about 40 chicks if out door space is provided. Floor must be easily drained and free from dampness. Periodical body weights on 10% of birds will give a scope for correction of management defects.

Ostrich facilities differ from emu in which the chicks can be exposed to ranging outside during day time as early as 8 weeks age to adapt to fiber digestion. At 4 months of age chicks are fairly hardy can be ranged outside with less danger of intestinal obstruction problem. Up to 3 months age bird require floor space about 0.3-1.5 and 5-10 square meters as shelter and run.

 Do’s:

 Never make over crowd in the pen, first few days provide sanitized water and anti-stress agents

  • Clean the waters daily, otherwise automatic waters are preferable
  • Monitor the birds daily for their comfort, feed intake, water intake, litter condition etc for making immediate corrections if any.
  • Ensure proper mineral and vitamins in the feed for healthy growth of chicks and to avoid leg deformities.
  • Spraddle condition of legs that are seen commonly can be managed by holding the legs together during the first 72 hours of chicks. This can be done particularly in the incubator
  • Practice all- in -all -out rearing to maintain better biosecurity

Don’ts:

  • Never handle the birds during hot hours. Birds easily excite, hence calm and quite environment in the pen is required
  • Birds easily grab any item, so avoid certain objects like nails, pebbles etc in the vicinity of birds
  • Avoid unauthorized persons, material into the farm. Proper biosecurity must be ensured
  • Never keep the birds on smooth and paddy husk spread surface as the young chicks easily excite, run and break their legs due to slipperiness.

Grower management

As Emu chicks grow, they require a bigger size of waters and feeders and increased floor space. Identify sexes and rear them separately. If necessary, place sufficient paddy husk in the pen to manage the litter in good and dry condition. Feed the birds on grower mash till birds attain 34 weeks age or 25 kg body weight. Offer greens about 10% of diet particularly different kinds of leaf meals for making the birds eat adopt to fibrous diets. Provide clean water all the time and offer feed as much as they want. Ensure dry litter condition through out the grower stage. If necessary add required quantity of paddy husk to the pen. Provide 40ft x 100 ft space for 40 birds if out door space is considered. Floor must be easily drained and avoid dampness. Restrain the younger birds by securing the body by side ways and hold the body firmly. Sub adults and adults can be secured by holding the wing by side way and held the bird by grabbing both the wings and place by dragging closely to a persons legs. Never allow bird to kick. Bird can kick side ways and front ways. Hence, better securing and firm holding is necessary to avoid harming the bird as well as person.

Ostrich requires larger facilities for better exercise. Floor space requirements 2-2.5, 3.5-4.0 and 5 square meters per bird are required at 4-6, 7-14 and over 14 months age respectively. Run space is also required at 50-400 square meters per bird depending on age.

Do’s:

  • Monitor flock at least once daily for alertness of birds, feeding and watering troughs.
  • Notice leg deformities, droppings. Identify and isolate ailing birds
  • Practice all- in –all- out system. Never keep in the vicinity of the adult birds.

Don’ts:

  • Never keep the sharp objects, pebbles in the vicinity of the birds. Birds are mischievous and grab any thing that comes in their vicinity.
  • Never handle or disturb the birds for restraining or vaccination during the hot weather conditions.
  • Provide cool and clean water through out the day.

Fattening/ Finishing stage:

Growing emu need to be fattened to improve body weight (40kg) and FCR (5:1) at the time of marketing for table purpose. Offer finisher ration from 35 weeks age to slaughter or up to 12-18 months age. Bird yield 53% dressed meat and 3-4 liters of fat. Inclusion of vegetable fat at 3-5% in Emu diet will fetch better FCR and net returns since the birds at this age utilizes fat in an efficient way compared to the chicks of young age of less than 15 weeks. The sub-adults kept for breeding purpose need to be fed on maintenance feed specifically made for this purpose from 35 th week age to sexual maturity by 18-24 months (Jefferey, 2001).

Do’s

  • Offer fresh required feed balance in respect of all the dietary nutrients for Emu birds.
  • Ensure proper floor space 100 sft per bird in terms of shelter and run.
  • Fencing must be at a height of 6 ft made of link mesh 2 x 4 inches to avoid jumping out of the pen
  • House separately male and female birds to avoid fighting

Don’ts:

  • Do not store feed for more than a month. Such feed is vulnerable to damage the nutrients. Further avoid toxins in feed.
  • Do not mix the fresh bird stock with the existing one
  • Never change feed abruptly

Breeder management

Emu birds attain sexual maturity by 18- 24 months age. Choose flock or pen mating. Keep sex ratio of male to female 1:1. In case of pen mating pairing should be done based on the compatibility. During mating, offer floor space about 2500 sft (100x25) per pair. Trees and shrubs may be provided for privacy and to induce mating. Offer breeder diet well in advance i.e 3- 4 weeks prior to breeding programme, and fortify with minerals & vitamins to ensure better fertility and hatchability in birds. Semen collection and artificial insemination was successful in emu so that the cost of male maintenance could be minimized (Martin, 2002). Its implementation needs skill. Soon after breeding season, separate the sexes and house them in flock and feed on maintenance ration. Normally adult bird consumes 1 kg feed /day but during breeding season feed intake will be drastically reduced hence intake of nutrients must be ensured.

First egg is laid around two and half year age. Eggs will be laid during October to February particularly cooler days of the year. The time of egg laying is around 5.30PM to 7.00PM. Eggs can be collected twice daily to avoid damage in the pen. Normally a hen lays about 15 eggs during first year cycle in subsequent years the egg production increases till it can reach about 30-40 eggs. On an average a hen lays 25 eggs per year. Egg weighs about 475-650 g with an average egg weight of 560 g in a year. Egg appears greenish look like tough marble. The intensity of colour varies from light, medium to dark green. The surface varies from rough to smooth. Majority of eggs (42%) are medium green with rough surface (Rao, 2004).

Feed the breeder ration with sufficient calcium (2.7%) for ensuring proper calcification of egg with strength. Feeding excess calcium to the breeding bird before laying will upset the egg production and also impairs the male fertility (Scheideler, 1997). Provide extra calcium in the form of grit or calcite powder by placing in a separate trough.

Collect eggs frequently from the pen. If eggs are soiled, clean with sand paper and mop up with cotton. Store the eggs in a cooler room providing 60 0F. Never store eggs for more than 10 days to ensure better hatchability. Eggs stored at room temperature can be set every 3 to 4 days for good hatchability.

Ostrich in breeding require 0.25 -0.5 hectare pen area per bird. Birds mature by 2-3 years of age. Infertile eggs from hens of early age are common due to non-mating. Eggs weigh about 1300-2100 g with maximum of 2100 g. Eggs are of light yellow, porous with thick shell. Fertility is about 80%. Fat birds do not mate, avoid over feeding.

Incubation and Hatching

There are few reports available on incubation and hatching of emu and ostrich eggs (Davis, 2003; Rao, 2004). Set the fertile eggs after adjusting to room temperature and place in a horizontal or in slant arranged row-wise in a tray. Keep ready egg incubator by cleaning and disinfecting thoroughly well in advance and switch on the machine for setting the correct incubating temperature i.e dry bulb temperature about 96-97 0 F and wet bulb temperature about 78-80 0F (about 30-40% RH). Place carefully the egg tray in a setter once the incubator is ready with set temperature and relative humidity and place identification slip for date of set and pedigree if required. Fumigate the incubator with 20g potassium permanganate + 40 ml formaline for every 100 cft of incubator space. Turn the eggs every one hour till the 48 th day of incubation. From 49 th day onwards stop turning the eggs and watch for pipping. By 52 nd day the incubation period ends. The chicks need drying. Hold the chicks for at least 24 to 72 hours in the hatcher compartment for reducing the down and to become healthy chicks. Normally hatchability will be 70% or more. There are many reasons for low hatchability. Proper breeder nutrition ensures the healthy chicks.

Ostrich eggs are to be set broad end up. Incubation period is 39-44 days average 42 days. Incubation temperature is 97-98.4 0F (dry bulb) with relative humidity of 20-30% (67-73 0F wet bulb) and increase the relative humidity to 30-40% after the hatch for better drying (Davis, 2005).

Feeding

Emu and ostrich need balanced diet for their proper growth and reproduction. So far the nutrient requirements of these birds were not worked out. Based on the literature (Scheideler, 1997; Mannion et al., 1999; Angel, 2003; Aganga et al., 2003, Rao, 2004, Reddy, 2004; Kocan and Crewford, 2005) and also author’s experience in feeding emu at Acharya N.G.Ranga Agricultural University certain nutrient requirements were suggested (Table 1 and 3). Feed can be prepared by using common poultry feed ingredients (Table 2). Feed alone accounts for 60-70% of the production cost, hence least cost rations will improve the margin of returns over feeding. In commercial farms, feed intake per emu breeding pair per annum varied from 394-632 kg with a mean of 527kg. Cost of feed was Rs.6.50 and 7.50 during non-breeding and breeding season respectively (Rao, 2004).

Healthcare and management

Ratite birds are generally sturdy and live long (80% livability). Mortality and health problems in emu and ostrich are mainly in chicks and juveniles. These include starvation, malnutrition, intestinal obstruction, leg abnormalities, coli infections and clostridial infections. The main causes were improper brooding or nutrition, stress, improper handling and genetic disorders. Other diseases reported were rhinitis, candidiasis, salmonella, aspergillosis, coccidiosis, lice and ascarid infestations (Davis, 2005). Ivermectin can be given to prevent external and internal worms at 1 month interval beginning at 1 month age (Jefferey, 2001).

In emu enteritis and viral eastern equine encephalomyelitis (EEE) were reported (Jefferey, 2001). In India so far few outbreaks of Ranikhet disease were recorded based on gross lesions but were not confirmed. However, the birds vaccinated for R.D at the age of 1 (lasota), 4 (lasota booster) weeks; 8, 15 and 40 weeks by mukteswar strain gave better immunity (Reddy, 2004).

Emu and ostrich products

Meat from emu and ostrich are of high quality in terms of low fat, low cholesterol, gamey flavour. Valued cuts are from thigh and larger muscle of drum or lower leg. Emu skin is fine and strong. Leg skin is of distinctive pattern hence highly valued. Emu fat is rendered to produce oil, which has dietary, therapeutic (anti inflammatory) and cosmetic value (Rao, 2004).

Economics

Emu farm economic survey indicated that cost involved in purchase of breeding stock were expensive (68%). The rest of the investments are on farm (13%) and hatchery (19%). Feeding cost per breeding pair per annum was estimated to be Rs. 3600. Cost of production of hatching egg and day-old chick was Rs.793 and 1232 respectively. Annual feed intake per pair was recorded as 524 kg costing Rs.3578. The cost of salable chick at day-old age was Rs.2500-3000 (Rao, 2004). Better returns from emu and ostrich are possible with good hatchability (more than 80%), lower feeding cost and minimized chick mortality (less than 10%).

Among the emu and ostrich farming emu farming appears to be well manageable. However, further study required on marketing of emu products

References

Aganga AA., Aganga AO and Omphile VJ 2003. Ostrich feeding and nutrition. Pakistan Journal of Nutrition 2 (2); 60-67.

Angel CR 2003. Age changes in digestibility of nutrients in ostrich and nutrient profiles of ostrich and emu eggs as indicators of nutritional status of the hen and chick. www.mazuri.purinamills.com/ostrichdigest.htm. Pp.1-8

Davis GS 2003. Emu production. North Carolina State University www.ces.ncsu.edu/ depts/poulsci/techinfo/4emu548.htm. pp 1-9.

Davis GS 2005. Commercial ostrich production. North Carolina State University www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/poulsci/techinfo. pp 1-6.

Martin G 2002. Emu breeding- Artificial Insemination a new breeding method for the emu. www.agric.uwa.edu.au/animals/emu pp 1-4

Kocan AA and Crawford JA 2005. The Oklahoma State Ostrich Book. Oklahoma State University , Stillwater , Oklahoma . www.cvm.okstate.edu /instruction/ kocan/ostrich/ ostbk2 htm pp 1-27.

Mannion PE , Kent PB., Barram KM., Trappet PC., Blight GW and Sales J 1999. Lysine requirements of growing emu. Br. Poult Sci. 40: 309-311.

Peter O’Malley 2003. Emu Farming. www.gov.au/pub/handbook/emu.html. pp 1-6

Jefferey, J S 2001. Ostrich Production. Texas Agricultural Extension Services bulletin. Texas A&M University, Texas. pp1-4.

Rao N S 2004. A study on the performance of emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) in Andhra Pradesh. MVSc thesis submitted to the Acharya N.G.Ranga AgriculturalUniversity, Hyderabad. pp 1-62.

Reddy AR 2004. Nutrient requirements of emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) – review. Presented at the review committee on emu nutrient requirements of Bureu of Indian Standards, New Delhi . (in press) pp 1-4.

Scheideler SE 1997. Nutrition guidelines for ostrich and emus. Iowa State University , Ames , Iowa . pp 1-3.

Table 1. Nutrient requirements suggested for Emu at different age groups

Parameter

Starter 1

Grower 2

Finisher 3

Breeder 4

Mainte-nance 5

Metabolizable energy(kcal/kg)

2700

2600

2600

2600

2400

Crude Protein%

20

18

16

20

15

Lysine %

1.0

0.8

0.7

0.9

0.63

Methionine%

0.45

0.4

0.35

0.40

0.25

Meth + Cyst %

0.75

0.7

0.60

0.76

0.47

Tryptophan %

0.17

0.15

0.13

0.18

0.12

Threonine %

0.50

0.48

0.42

0.60

0.38

Calcium % mini

1.5

1.5

1.5

2.50

1.6

Total phosphorus %

0.80

0.7

0.6

0.6

0.6

Available phosphorus %

0.55

0.5

0.40

0.4

0.4

Sodium chloride %

0.40

0.3

0.30

0.4

0.3

Crude fiber (max) %

9

10

10

10

10

Vitamin A(IU/kg)

15000

8800

8800

15000

8800

Vitamin D 3 (ICU/kg)

4500

3300

3300

4500

3300

Vitamin E (IU/kg)

100

44

44

100

44

Vitamin B 12 (µ g/kg)

45

22

22

45

22

Choline (mg/kg)

2200

2200

2200

2200

2200

Copper (mg/kg)

30

33

33

30

33

Zinc (mg/kg)

110

110

110

110

110

Manganese (mg/kg)

150

154

154

150

154

Iodine (mg/kg)

1.1

1.1

1.1

1.1

1.1

10-14 week age or up to 10kg body weight, 215-34 wk age or10-25kg body weight, 335wk age to slaughter or 25 to 40 kg body weight, 44-5 wk before breeding, 5non-breeding

 Table 2. Emu Feeds (kg/100kg)

Ingredients

Starter

Grower

Finisher

Breeder

Maintenance

Maize

50

45

60

50

40

Soybean meal

30

25

20

25

25

DORB

10

16.25

16.15

15.50

16.30

Sunflower

6.15

10

0

0

15

Dicalcium phosphate

1.5

1.5

1.5

1.5

1.5

Calcite powder

1.5

1.5

1.5

1.5

1.5

Shell grit

0

0

0

6

0

Salt

0.3

0.3

0.3

0.3

0.3

Trace minerals

0.1

0.1

0.1

0.1

0.1

Vitamins

0.1

0.1

0.1

0.1

0.1

Cociodiostat

0.05

0.05

0.05

0

0

Methionine

0.25

0.15

0.25

0.25

0.15

Choline chloride

0.05

0.05

0.05

0.05

0.05

Table 3. Nutrient requirements suggested for ostrich at different age groups

Parameter

Starter

0-8 weeks

Grower

9-17 months

Breeder

18 months onwards

Metabolizable energy(kcal/kg)

2600

2500

2500

Crude protein,%

18

18

24

Calcium,%

1.35

1.35

2.4

Available phosphorus,%

0.72

0.64

0.70

Crude fiber,%

6

15

17

Salt,%

0.50

0.40

0.40

Nutrients calculated

Lysine,%

1.0

0.85

1.0

Methionine,%

0.36

0.36

0.36

Vitamins and Minerals 1

+

+

+

1Vitamin A 10000 IU/kg, Vitamine D 3 1000 ICU/kg, Vitamin E 120 IU/kg, Vitamin K 1.5 ppm, B 1 3 ppm, B 2 5 ppm, Niacin 90 ppm, B 6 6ppm, pantothenic acid 24 ppm, folic acid 4 ppm, biotin 0.25 ppm, vitamin B 12 0.015ppm, choline 1500 ppm and linoleic acid 1.2 %; Iron 100 ppm, copper 10 ppm, zinc 100ppm manganese 130ppm, iodine 0.4ppm selenium 0.4ppm.

Source : IPSACON-2005