My experience with ostriches... so far
and a basic into their fascinating world
Ostriches are the only birds that only have two toes. Just look at the picture- they're freaking dinosaurs. Anyone who says otherwise is in denial. And look at those long strong four inch nails. They are capable of ninja style kicks (though somewhat more awkward- okay a lot more awkward). But it doesn't matter because these kicks are so strong that they can gash you open and perhaps somewhat more dramatically if they hit you just right they can disembowel you with one blow. They also use their powerful feet and solid nails to break the necks and jaws of lions and other animals.
There isn't much in Africa that messes with ostriches. About the only predator that can take down a mature ostrich is the cheetah, because they're the only thing fast enough to catch one. Otherwise everyone else is too busy getting kicked around by them. Note to African mammals: Find something easier.
Another interesting fact is that ostriches have the largest eye (relative to the size of their tiny heads) of any land animal. They also have long beautiful eyelashes...
Most people think there's only one type of ostrich, but there isn't. There's several different subspecies that developed in different parts of Africa (it is kind of a big place). Some are smaller than others. Usually, considered the most impressive of all is the large 'Red Neck' ostrich. As the name suggests, this ostrich has a bright red neck and legs. They are also generally the most aggressive of all. Other subspecies include, the Somali Ostrich, the Arabian Ostrich, the Southern African Ostrich and several more.
Relatives of the Ostrich, include the Emu, Rhea, Cassowaries (which I would love to have) and Kiwi. They are all in the order of the Struthioniformes and are commonly referred to as Ratites.
Ostriches usually reach a mature weight of about 350 pounds. Usually, they reach around 9 feet tall at the top of their heads, but it seems to vary. Some of the smaller subspecies or females will be slightly smaller. But even so, they are one giant bird. In fact, the biggest there is, since sadly the Moa died out. I'd say I would have wanted one, but can you imagine the feed bill? I just have one ostrich and it feels like I am buying a new 50Ib feed bag every few days. And this is me trying to keep him lean to not stress his growing joints.
The ostrich breeding season begins in March and extends into September. If Sexy Sexy Sniper is to find some friends it's about time to start looking. I do not ever like to keep a single species alone if it can at all be helped. Ostriches live in groups in the wild and to deny them that is unnatural. The Emu are a great substitute though, but they don't quite speak the same language. I will do my best to be able to locate (and afford) some chicks soon. But there is one problem...
Ostrich chicks have an extremely high mortality rate. This is true in captivity and in nature. In fact, it's so high that only around 10% of ostrich chicks even make it to 3 months old. They also cannot be raised alone. Which means even though I am only seeking one companion for Sniper, I must raise two together. Even worse, with only having two chicks, the odds of either one of them making it to maturity are very low. I may consider trying to obtain at least three or ideally four, just to make sure that Sniper gets his companion.
But chicks are very costly. $150 is the average price, which isn't a lot on it's own, but because many die and many chicks are typically needed to end up with at least a couple of adults, it can be very costly. This is why an adult ostrich is usually sold for anywhere between $1,000-$1,500. The large price increase indicates that you are taking a big gamble getting a chick that young and it is much less risky to buy a full sized bird if you can afford it. Though, personally, and in general, buying chicks I feel is better, even with the risk. The chicks grow up around your environment and feels a lot safer being raised around your other animals and any other potential stressors (I'm looking at you UPS man). Finally, they have a much greater respect for the fence they grew up in and this leads to less accidents. Dropping off an adult pair of ostriches in your yard could be a disaster depending upon how they were previously kept or treated.
With that said it is quite impressive that both Sniper and Mormor survived through childhood. With Mormor only passing because of a birth defect that could not have been prevented. I cannot stress enough what hard work it was raising these chicks. It was almost like having an actual human infant. They need constant care and attention and even with the best care in the world, they will often just drop dead. If you are considering getting ostrich chicks this season, just be aware of the huge commitment and possible heart break if the chicks don't make it. Please do not blame yourself, chick loss is natural and the reason why ostriches lay so many eggs is to raise the odds that a couple can make it to sexually maturity and continue the cycle. The chicks are also food for a lot of other animals- if they can make it past their angry parents to get them.
It is a personal theory of mine that ostriches in America are becoming too inbred and therefore suffer from a lot internal complications from birth that they will eventually succumb to. I've noticed a lot of birth defects in young chicks (not just Mormor) and a lot of unexplained deaths that were probably due to organs not developing correctly. This over breeding is certainly not helping to their incredibly high infant mortality rate. I think some fresh blood needs to be imported in from South Africa to help diversify the gene pool. If I had the means and understanding on how to import them, I would do it in a second. Especially after seeing what happened to Mormor. Hopefully, someone else will eventually take on this task. The ostriches we have in America currently are constantly being crossed with each other from way back when they were originally imported here. That doesn't help any species. (Which is essentially why I am raising European Mouflon and crossing them with domesticated sheep).
Sadly, most ostriches in America and otherwise are raised to be slaughtered. I "rescued" Sniper and Mormor from a ranch that was going to butcher them. If I hadn't purchased Sniper, in about a month or so he would be horribly killed, processed, all his feathers plucked from his body, his skin removed for tanning, and finally his meat taken for processing. Mormor with his genetic defect would have likely been killed immediately, as he would have been seen as a defective "product" and a waste of money to raise up to slaughter. The worst part is they are overfeed to speed up their naturally slow rate of development and cut their young lives short, to turn over a profit quicker. They are usually killed at around 1 year. Compared to the 30-40 years an ostrich can live. It is truly sad, but I am so glad that I was able to least save Sniper and Mormor from their inevitable fate. I only hope I can save some more this season from a crowded, stressful short life leading to a violent death.
Despite their difficulty to raise, in general, once ostriches reach around fifteen months or so, they're pretty tough and aren't prone to many illnesses. The most common cause of death of a mature ostrich is usually breaking a leg. Not to insult ostriches, because I love them but- they are very stupid animals. One of the dumbest I have ever worked with. They often break their legs in the most ridiculous ways. Usually from panicking and hitting something, whether it be a tree, a fence-line or even another ostrich. Of course the actual leg break doesn't kill them, it's just nearly impossible to fix the break and since ostriches are all legs with heavy bodies, it nearly, if not always means they will need to be humanely put down.
Knowing this with my chicks, I tried to get them used to different noises and surprising experiences so they would react a little less extreme and not panic too much. But because of their low intelligence, it's nearly impossible to train an ostrich to do anything. They simply don't remember. It's best to give them a lot of room to run, so they have a better chance of not smacking into things.
I think I should probably say some good things about them now, since I just continuously insulted their intelligence. Ostriches have a strong immune system and they rarely become ill. They have a long life span and as long as they reach full maturity ( and don't end up breaking a leg) they can easily make it to 30 years or longer.
Also, like camels they handle dehydration very well. They can live after losing around 25% of their body weight to it. However, when available they seem to really love water. Sniper likes to be sprayed down with the hose and when he was little he liked to climb in his water bowl and make it a huge dirty mess. Same with Kabul and Fig.
People race ostriches, too. You can ride them if you aren't too large. Though I've never seen a happy ostrich with a rider on it, though so I'm not sure how much they're enjoying it. It seems to me that having a person on your back would trigger the instinctual notion that a large predator is about to take them down. Maybe that's what makes them run in the races. I have never seen one in person, so this may be incorrect, but from my personal experience with my birds, I just can't imagine Sniper thinking, "Hey, I just really want you to jump on my back."
I imagine that Mormor was likely a female, because she was about as sweet as they can be. She would often sit with me. If you've watched my videos and you see one of the ostriches near to me, that's Mormor. Though, really ostriches are more of an animal to keep because you love them and want to be around them. I like to watch my birds. If you're looking for a friendly pet to interact with, ostriches are definitely not it. To top it off, they are actually stupid. Even raised from chicks, they don't seem to bond too well with people. It does help to make them used to you, but you can't make them something they aren't. Male ostriches especially are aggressive and unfriendly, especially during certain circumstances. They can be good 'pets' for those that can enjoy an animal without involving yourselves in their lives, but to just sit back and watch them, appreciating their unique behavior, beauty, and intelligence (just kidding, they are actually really dumb).
For more information on how I raised my ostriches, watch my short care view below that I filmed while raising them at around two weeks old.
In short, if you're the type of person that likes to raise an animal for the sake of the animal itself, then an ostrich could be for you.
I think that's enough about ostriches for now! I love mine. What do you think about them?
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Last Updated: May 3rd, 2014
© 2014 Alex Komechak. All Original Material, All Rights Reserved.