Ostrich farming can be easier and more profitable than raising chickens or cattle. While ostriches are not nearly as widespread as conventional animals, they do offer great opportunities for homesteaders and farmers looking to enter a less saturated market.
You only need around one acre to keep a small flock of ostriches and earn from ostrich products like meat, eggs, feathers, and hides. But you do need some patience, as it takes 2 to 3 years for an ostrich to reach full maturity.
Recently I had the chance to visit an ostrich farm managed by a friend of mine who has been in the business since 1996. I took the opportunity to learn all I could about keeping ostriches and took a lot of notes. This article summarizes our hour-long conversation. I hope you will find it as enlightening as I did.
Table of Contents
What Kind of Ostrich Should I Keep?
Ostriches are the largest birds in the world. While native to Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and some parts of Asia, extensive hunting and the destruction of their habitats have wiped out most of the wild ostrich population. Today, wild ostriches are found mostly in Africa.
However, farmed ostriches are sprouting all over the world. While there are many ostrich varieties, the black African ostriches are most commonly raised in farms because they are less aggressive. Some profitable ostrich products are:
- Meat: Many people assume that ostrich meat will taste like chicken, but it is actually closer to beef in taste and texture. It is called the “healthy red meat” because it has lower fat, cholesterol and calories, while still bring rich in protein and iron. One adult ostrich can yield about 100 kilos of meat.
- Eggs: Ostriches lay the largest eggs in the world. Aside from its high yield (a single egg can weigh as much as 2 kilograms) it also rich in nutrients. Even the shells are valued, and can be used to make accessories and décor.
- Feathers: These magnificent feathers are made into decorations or practical tools like feather dusters. You can harvest feathers without hurting the bird, ideally when it weighs around 60 kilograms or more.
- Leather: Ostrich skin can be made into a thick, high-quality leather for shoes, bags, furniture and carpets. You can get a good price for ostrich leather, not only because it is more difficult to find, but it is much softer and used to make premium products.
How Much Space do Ostriches Need?
Ostriches need less grazing land than cattle and sheep. If you start with a pair of ostriches, you will only need half an acre (0.2 hectare) of land. If you want to keep several birds for breeding, (i.e, one male and two or three females) then add another half acre for every additional bird.
However, you will need to allocate land for sheds and other farming facilities. Depending on the kind of business you want, you will need areas for incubation, raising chicks, and raising ostriches for slaughter. Keeping your ostriches in separate, specially equipped sheds can help lower the risk of disease, and provide the right temperature and conditions for growth.
Your ostrich chicks will also need their own outdoor pens where they can exercise and graze. Initially, you can keep about 20 chicks in a 2×10 meter pen. As they grow older and bigger, they will need more space. By the time they are 12 months old, they will need about 1000 square meters.
How to Handle Ostrich Eggs
A female ostrich will usually start producing eggs when it is two years old. Unlike chickens, it will not lay eggs all around the year. Instead, it follows a breeding season. After mating, an ostrich will lay about one egg every day in a nest. In its first year, it may produce about 10 to 20 eggs, but an older female may produce up to 40 to 50 eggs.
Check out this article, if you want to know how to buy ostrich eggs or live ostriches.
You will need to remove the eggs from the nest, because it increases egg production and enables you to place them in an incubator. While some farmers prefer natural hatching for breeding ostriches because only the strongest chicks survive, this is often impractical for commercial farms.
Transferring eggs to an incubating facility lowers the risk of egg breakage, and also protects the parent ostrich. Sitting on eggs for six weeks can weaken them considerably, since they won’t leave their nest to eat or exercise.
Ideally, you should gather eggs twice a day. Remove any dirt and manure with sandpaper, or wash with a suitable sanitizing agent or water that is at least 10° warmer than the eggs. Never use hot water—unless you feel like having a boiled ostrich egg for lunch.
Store the clean ostrich eggs on a roller tray. Place them on their sides or with their larger end facing up. Turn them at least three times a day. Be sure to place them in egg incubator within 2 to 4 days to for higher chance of hatchability.
How to Hatch Ostrich Eggs
Keep the ostrich eggs in the incubator for 42 days. Maintain the temperature at about 97.5 to 98.5°F (36.4 to 36.9°C) and a humidity level of 35%.
Increase humidity to about 83% after day 40, when the eggs are getting ready to hatch.
How to Care for Newly Hatched Ostrich Chicks
Newly-hatched chicks are very weak and prone to getting sick, so you need to prepare a brooding facility where they can safely grow. This is the most critical time in their growth, so you need to check on them frequently. The ideal temperature of the facility depends on the age of the chicks:
- First 10 days: 88 to 92°F (31.1 to 33.3°C)
- 11 to 21 days: 80 to 85°F (26.7 to 29.4°C)
- After 3 weeks: 70 to 80°F (21.1 to 26.7°C)
Clean the area daily to prevent the spread of disease-causing bacteria. Curious chicks will nibble on anything, so never leave any material that they may eat and then lead to impaction and death. So, if you are using straw or any organic bedding, cover it with burlap or a wire mesh.
Chicks will also need a firm surface to practice their walking skills. Avoid any slippery floor material like newspaper, cardboard, or plastic. This will affect their walking and lead to “spraddle legs” or splayed legs.
Change the litter frequently. When dirty litter becomes wet, it produces ammonia, which can cause ostrich health problems like accumulated urine and feces, as well as eye and nasal irritation.
Once your ostrich chicks are about 6 weeks old, you can keep them outside during the day. You can keep about 25 to 50 birds in one pen. Make sure the area is free of sharp objects, and adjust the height of their feeders and waterers so it reaches their chest. Transfer the chicks back to their sheds at night and bad weather.
At his age, farmers and caretakers should also interact more frequently with the ostriches. This helps them get more accustomed to human beings, and prevents any aggressive attacks when they are older.
Just bear in mind that ostriches can become more excitable in warm weather, so avoid going near them during the hottest hours of the day. Noise and crowds can also increase their territorial instincts, so try to place these pens in a clear and quiet area.
Where to Keep Juvenile Ostriches
When your ostriches are about 3 months old, you can move them from the brooding facility to a larger pen. While they will still need a shed where they can stay during extreme weather, these older birds will likely prefer to spend most of their time outdoors. While it is not a hard and fast rule, most farms prefer to separate male and female ostriches to prevent aggression, fighting, and damage to the skin.
In the wild, ostriches prefer open and short-grass plains, so a grassy field helps mimic their natural habitat. The outdoor pens should have grass, clover, alfalfa, or some other ground cover. Depending on the plant variety and your location, you may need to regularly mow this area to prevent it from becoming too thick and tall.
Aside from the feed you provide, the grass in this area can be a natural source of food. Be sure the area has small stones and sand, which they need to crush and digest their food. If this can not be naturally found in the outdoor pen, accompany their feedings with grit.
Make sure your fence is at least 5 to 6 feet tall and doesn’t have any holes that are large enough for the birds to stick their head through.
Ostriches can stay in this pen until they are 12 to 13 months old, at which point they are considered adults and ready for market.
How To breed Ostriches
Ostriches are seasonal breeders, with each mating season lasting about 6 to 8 months. The month and the duration can depend on your location. In the northern hemisphere, this can start in March and end in August.
In the southern hemisphere, it starts in August and ends in March. However, there are often exceptions. For example, Philippines ostrich breeders reported that mating season can last as long as February to October.
Ostriches reach sexual maturity when they are two or three years old. You can tell their gender (and their readiness for mating) by their plumage and coloring. During mating season, the skin around the male ostrich’s beak turns from light blue into bright red, and the legs become pink.
They will also begin an elaborate courtship ritual: dancing, swaying the head, fluffing up feathers, flapping wings, and even going down on the knees. He will also start mating calls—booming vocalizations, which may become progressively louder as the males compete for the females’ attention.
During mating season, all ostrich farmers need to do is to let Nature take its course. Just leave the male and female ostriches to interact and select their mates. However, you can prepare your birds to increase their chances of producing more eggs by providing nutritional pellets and supplement with fodder, vegetables, apples and root coops.
Do I Need a License to Keep Ostriches?
If your state or country classifies ostriches as exotic animals, you may need a special license to keep and raise them. Contact your local government to find out about the rules regulations, as well as any documents you should submit or requirements you may need.
You may also need a special license or meet certain qualifications to sell ostrich meat or products.
Is it Expensive to Raise and Keep Ostriches?
The most expensive investment you will make is the land. However, if you are converting existing farmland or grazing fields, your biggest cost will be for incubation and brooding facilities
What about the cost of the ostrich itself? A day-old chick is only around $50, but if you are raising them for profit, you may want to start with an adult bird that is about a year and a half or two years old. They are stronger, healthier, and yet still young enough to easily manage and tame.
However, the price of ostriches also depend on their breed and their characteristics. It’s not uncommon for a top-notch breeding pair to cost as much as $90,000.
It’s not cheap to keep ostriches, but for many small farmers, it is more cost-effective than taking care of other livestock. Ostriches also require less expensive food, less space, and are less likely to develop disease. They also mature faster, lay many eggs, and can reproduce fairly quickly.
That doesn’t mean keeping ostriches is a fast-track to success. You may need to wait about 4 to 5 years for your farm to become fully profitable. And during that time, you may have to build your sales network. The market of ostrich meat is lower than chicken, pork, and beef – which does increase your chances for cornering the market and commanding a higher price, but also means that you have to spend time finding the right buyers.
Birds of Another Feather
Ostrich farms are proving to be a very profitable alternative to raising chicken, cattle, and other livestock. As the trend for healthier and organic food increases, food industry experts predict that the demand for ostrich meat will increase.
As more farms provide a steady source of this “healthy red meat” , it is likely only a matter of time before an “ostrich steak” becomes as common as a Big Mac. Now is a good time to start an ostrich farm.
We hope that this guide gave you a good “bird’s eye view” on how to buy, raise, and keep ostriches—and get your business off the ground.