Story: Exotic farm animals

Page 4. Ostriches and emus

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Ostriches (Struthio camelus) were first farmed in New Zealand in the 1880s. Ostrich feathers were a popular fashion accessory for women around 1900, but when the fashion passed, ostrich farming petered out. However, it revived in the 1990s.

In 2007 there were 2,000–3,000 emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae) farmed in New Zealand.

Meat production

The renewed interest in farming ostriches and emus is because of their meat, and in 2008 there were eight slaughter plants. The meat is low in fat and cholesterol, and is mostly used in the hotel and restaurant trade.

Ostrich hens produce about 40 chicks in a breeding season and these are ready for slaughter at 10–14 months, with each bird producing about 30 kilograms of meat. Emus produce around 20 chicks, which take 12–14 months to be ready for slaughter, and average around 10–13 kilograms of meat.

Other products

Ostriches produce high-quality leather, feathers, and a small amount of oil. There is also a market for their eggs. Emus produce 5–7 litres of oil, which is used in cosmetic products.

Ostrich oil

Emu and ostrich oil is produced by rendering down the birds’ fat. The oil helps heal skin problems. Nefertiti, an ancient Egyptian queen, used cosmetics made from ostrich oil to keep her skin looking young.

Management

Ostriches and emus eat grass and a variety of other vegetation, but are also fed pellets to add vitamins and minerals to their diet. Breeding birds can be kept in pairs or in larger groups with 10 males to 20 hens.

The ostrich breeding season runs from about August to March, during which a hen can lay one egg every second day. Often the eggs are removed to an incubator, as hens may sometimes attack their own chicks. In the incubator, eggs are kept at a temperature of 36°C for around 42 days, when they hatch. Newborn chicks weigh about 1 kilogram. After hatching, they are housed in a rearing shed for about 12 weeks and can put on up to half a kilogram each day. When fully grown, at one year old, they can weigh 100 kilograms.

Female emus start laying eggs when they are two to three years old and lay about 25–30 eggs during winter and early spring. Hatching takes about 56 days, and can take place in an incubator but is usually done by the male, who goes without food or drink during this whole period. He then rears the chicks over the next 18 months. The female goes off and mates with another one or two males, and so can have up to three nests each season.

Ostriches live from 30-70 years in captivity and emus up to 30 years.

Fencing

By law, emus and ostriches must be fenced so that they cannot escape. Normally their boundary fences are similar to those for deer, and they need to be at least 2 metres high. The height of internal fences depends on the age of the birds. Higher fences should be used for breeding adults, but 1 metre is high enough for chicks.

How to cite this page:

Jim Esson, 'Exotic farm animals - Ostriches and emus', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/exotic-farm-animals/page-4 (accessed 24 September 2019)

Story by Jim Esson, published 24 Nov 2008