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Ratite Owners Protect Your Investment With Fastrack® Mico Feeds By Conklin®.




Larry Roth,Ph.D.
Research and Development
Conklin Co. Inc.


The ratite industry is rapidly growing as producers sell foundation breeding stock for developing meat markets to supplement the current plumage and leather sales. Although there are some similarities to commercial poultry, ratites have many unique characteristics and management requirements that must be understood by people servicing the industry. In addition, there are differences among the ratites. This publication is an introduction to the ratite industry for Fastrack® product distributors, and is not intended as an authoritative source on ratite production. Numerous publications are cited and noted in the bibliography for the education of professional ratite growers. Suggestions from several producers and distributors on Fastrack® direct-fed microbial product usage with ratites are included in this publication.


All species of flightless birds are classified as ratites, including: ostrich, emu, rhea, cassowary and kiwi. The resemblance of the breastbone to a raft inspired the name "ratite". Ostriches possess strong wings for courtship and aggression display. In contrast, emus have poorly developed wings. Ratites will cover themselves with their wings during cold weather, and then move their wings for a gentle breeze during hot conditions. As an interesting sidelight, ostriches have two toes, emus and cassowaries posses three toes and the remaining ratites, like all other birds, have five toes.

In addition to the keel, ratites have several other unusual physical characteristics. The initial segment of the gullet accumulates ingested food until the bird lifts its head to swallow. Without a crop, the gullet expands to become the glandular stomach, or proventriculus, which empties into the pebble-containing gizzard (ventriculus) where digesta is ground by muscular contractions. Unfortunately, ostriches have a thin-walled proventriculus that is prone to impaction.

Including pebbles or grit in ratite rations may increase fiber digestion (Leeson and Summers,1991 ). An ostrich's large intestine is approximately three times the length of the small intestine. Mackie (1987) determined that the volatile fatty acid (VFA) pattern andproduction level in the ostrich's proventriculus and ventriculus were similar to that resulting from rumen fermentation in cattle. Consequently, ostriches appear more efficient at extracting energy from forages than other birds. Mackie (1987) determined that digesta passes through the digestive tract in 48 hours for ostriches weighing approximately 100 lb. The emu's ventriculus is larger than the proventriculus and is not as prone to impaction as with the ostrich. The small and large intestines are proportionally similar to the digestive tracts of commercial poultry. However, considerable fiber fermentation does occur in the emu digestive tract, principally in the small intestine (Herd and Dawson,1984). These researchers calculated that digesta passes through the adult emu's tract in 5.5 hours.

Ratites literally breathe through their bones. Holes in the humerus, sternum and vertebrae bones exchange air in a similar manner to air sacs in the lungs. Therefore the leg bones are very brittle and easily fracture (Osterhoff,1979). The liver spreads to each side of the heart, and ratites lack a gall bladder.

Domesticated ostriches have a life expectancy of 50 years, and reach sexual maturity between 2 and 3 years of age (Jeffrey,1993b). Adults reach heights of 7 to 9 feet at 18 to 20 months old, and can weigh between 200 to 350 lb. Emus will live for 30 years and produce approximately 30 eggs per year for more than 16 years (Jef&ey,1993a). Mature emus are typically 5 to 6 feet tall and weigh 125 to 150 lb. Generally, female emus are larger than the males, particularly when the male fasts during the breeding season.

The different color variations in ostriches signify subspecies or group of subspecies (Jeffrey, 1993). The "Redneck" ostrich is native to Tanzania and Kenya. Redneck males have creamy white skin on the thighs and neck, which turns to a bright pinkish red during the breeding season. The "Blueneck" ostrich originated in north, west and south Africa. As their name implies, Blueneck males have blue-gray skin on their neck, legs and thighs; although only their front shanks turn red during the breeding season.

Selective cross-breeding of the Blueneck and Redneck subspecies produced the "African black" hybrid with its darker plumage and shorter stature. The adult males exhibit black and white feathers and the females are light gray to gray-brown in color.

Chicks of each subspecies are hatched with a camouflage pattern of gold, black and white feathers. The chick coloration is lost at about six months of age as the adult plumage develops.

Emu chicks are camouflaged with stripes of beige and brown feathers from birth till 2 months old. Adolescent birds under one year old will have a dark brown neck and head, and beige and brown body plumage. Mature male and female emus have similar plumage, and are characterized by black head feathers, a blue neck and mottled body feathers.


Ostriches reach sexual maturity between 2 and 3 years of age, with females maturing slightly faster than the males. The laying season is characterized by plumage-ruffling, dancing and vocalization by both genders. Ostriches can reproduce in groupings of one male and one female or one male and two females. Selective breeding programs allow pairing to occur in a large communal pen and then separate the pairs into smaller pens. The male digs a small depression in the ground which serves as a nest. Male ostriches can become very aggressive while guarding their selected mate, nest and territory during the laying season. Both males and females sit on the nest over the 2 to 3 month laying season. One egg is usually laid every 1 to 2 days for a production total of 30 to 90 eggs per hen per year.

Among emus, the female selects a mate, determines the nest territory and fiercely defends both. Eggs are laid every 3 to 4 days between November and March, and each hen should average 30 eggs per season.

2. Incubation and Hatching
Improving incubation and hatching techniques is essential for increasing ratite industry profits. During the incubation period (39-49 days for ostriches and 46-56 days for emus), eggs should be rotated 90° four to six times per day, always keeping the air cell up. However, egg position is less critical for emu eggs than for ostriches (Jeffrey,1993a). The incubator temperature can range from 90° to 98° F, although a steady 96° to 98° F is recommended. Humidity (10 to 30%) and air-flow should be monitored for achieving an optimal water loss of approximately 15 percent of the original egg weight. Ostrich eggs should be weighed and candled weekly to remove infertile and dead eggs. The opaque emu eggs are monitored by lightly tapping with a metal rod. An experienced breeder can distinguish sound variations that indicate an egg is ready for the hatcher.

Internal pipping occurs approximately 24 to 48 hours prior to hatching, and is the signal to move the eggs to the hatcher. The hatcher should be 1-2° F cooler than the incubator, and with a slightly greater relative humidity. Generally, seventy percent of the ostrich eggs set in the incubator will eventually hatch. However, chick mortality between hatching and 6 months remains quite high.

The chicks can be removed from the hatcher as they dry. The digestive tract of a chick emerging from the hatcher is completely devoid of bacteria. Providing 0.5cc (approximately 0.25") of Fastrack® Nonruminant Paste to the roof of the beak of each chick (Table 1 ) will inoculate the digestive system with beneficial lactic acid-producing bacteria to aid in maintaining a healthful balance of microflora. The lactic acid-producing bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus and Streptococcus faecium, have demonstrated the ability to limit the growth of disease-causing bacteria (Hutcheson,1991 ). However, the Fastrack® direct-fed microbial products are not antibiotics and should not be used as disease treatments.

3. Rearing of Young Chicks
Newly-hatched chicks can not regulate their body temperature and require a supplemental heat source. The heated area should be large enough to accommodate all the chicks at one gathering. A temperature of 90 to 95o F is required for newly-hatched chicks, and the temperature can gradually be reduced by So F every 2 weeks until completely removed 16 to 24 weeks after hatching. Supplying each chick with 0.5 to 1 cc (approximately 0.25 to 0.5") of Fastrack® Nonruminant Paste at days 3 and 5 of age will provide additional aid in balancing the digestive-tract bacteria.


Product Age Rate/day
Nonruminant Paste*2


Probiotic Pack*4

Liquid Dispersible*5

1,3 and 5 days


3 weeks
6 weeks
3 months
6 months


All ages



1 oz./12 chicks
1 oz./9 chicks
1 oz./6 chicks
1 oz./3 chicks

1 oz./breeding pair
1.5 oz./trio

0.25tsp/5 gal. water

*1 Based on ratite producers' testimonials. The publishing of reported usage rates does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement by Conklin Co., Inc.; Shakopee, MN.
*2 Provided orally to the roof of the beak.
*3 During shipping, feed changes, breeding or other management changes.
*4 Top-dressed on feed.
*5 Solution should be consumed within 6 hours to achieve the full direct-fed microbial benefit.


1. Diet
Although several commercial feed companies supply feeds for the various phases of ratite production, nutrient requirements are not well established. Research suggests that ostrich chicks require an 18-20% protein diet (Scheideler and Angel,1994). Young ostrich chicks grow rapidly and quickly increase their feed consumption (Table 2; Leeson and Summers, 1991 ). Estimated nutrient requirements for ostrich chicks and breeding birds are listed in Table 3 (Leeson and Summers,1991 ). Fresh alfalfa forage or hay are popular free-choice supplements for the chicks and older birds, although these feeds necessitate the feeding of insoluble grit or pebbles to prevent impaction.

Age, Weeks

Item 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Body wt,
2.4 3.7 5.5 6.6 8.8 11.0 15.4 22.0
Cumulative feed intake,
3.5 6.8 10.6 13.2 19.8 27.5 40.7 68.2

*1 Adapted from Leeson and Summers (1991).


(0-8 weeks)
Metabolizable energy,

Crude protein,%
Methionine + Cystine,%
Available Phosphorus,%



*1 Adapted from Leeson and Summers (1991).

Although fiber is one of the most important nutrients in the ratite diet, definitive requirements have not been well established. Research findings suggest that ostriches can derive more energy from certain feeds than commercial poultry. The greater feed digestibility by ostriches may result from microbial fermentation prior to their small intestine, as well as the extensive large intestine. Commercial feeds are often dehydrated alfalfa-based and contain oats, soyhulls, wheat midds and brewers dried grains. The fiber content of prepared ostrich feeds varies from 6-18%, with the fiber level increasing as the bird matures.

The similarity between emu and chicken digestive tracts suggest that commercial poultry diets may be suitable. However, emu growers tend to use firesh forage to attract emu chicks to the feeders. The nutritional comments on ostriches generally apply also to emus (Jeffrey, 1993a).

Ratite producers are particularly concerned about the vitamin E and selenium content of their birds' diets (Scheideler and Angel,1994). Current recommendations for vitamin E are 36 I.U./lb of feed for all ages (Angel,1993). Excessive selenium levels have been linked to embryonic mortalities and deformities (Scheideler and Angel,1994). The 1- 3 PPM of selenium common in commercial ostrich diets appears adequate; however, the FDA ruling limiting selenium to 0.1 PPM in prepared diets may impact ratite health.

2. Direct-fed microbials
Nominal husbandry practices, diet changes and environmental conditions can alter the balance of desirable and pathogenic bacteria in the ratite digestive tract. Daily supplementation of the direct-fed microbials, Fastrack® Probiotic Pack or Fastrack© Liquid Dispersible, will assist in maintaining a stable microbial population in the digestive tract. In addition, the desirable bacteria colonizing the digestive tract will be aided by enzymes contained in the Fastrack® products. The Probiotic Pack supplies yeast culture to improve diet palatability, B vitamins and a variety of enzymes. The dry, active yeast featured in the Liquid Dispersible and Non-ruminant Paste products stimulate microbial activity and provides B vitamins and enzymes. Ratites should consume water containing the Liquid Dispersible within 6 hours of mixing for optimum results. The Fastrack® product feeding rates listed in Table 1 have been used by numerous ratite growers in a variety of conditions.


An experienced consulting veterinarian can be the best friend for the bird and owner alike. A ratite that reaches 6 months of age will probably live for another 50 years! Many ostrich producers report hatchability and livability on a six month basis. Maintaining proper sanitation in the incubator and hatcher will help ensure a healthy start for the chick. In addition, simply providing grit in the chick's early diet will aid in preventing impaction.

Direct-fed microbial products, such as the Fastrack® products, are not intended to treat diseases, nor should these products be viewed as preventing diseases. The Fastrack® products are useful for maintaining a healthy digestive tract as a foundation for efficient ratite production.


Angel, C.R.1993. Research update: Age changes in digestibility of nutrients in ostriches and nutrient profiles of ostrich and emu eggs as indicators of nutrient status of the hen and chick. Proceedings of the 1993 Association of Avian Veterinarians Annual Conference, p. 275.

Herd, R.M. and T.J. Dawson.1984. Fiber digestion in the emu, Dromaius novaehollandiae, large bird with a simple gut and high rates of passage. Physiol. Zool. 57:70.

Hutcheson, D.P.1991. Historical Aspects. In: D.P. Hutcheson (Ed.), Direct-fed Microbials in Animal Production, National Feed Ingredients Assoc., West Des Moines, IA. p 1.

Jef&ey, Joan S.1993a. Emu Production. Texas Agricultural Extension Service, College Station, TX..

Jeffrey, Joan S.1993b. Ostrich Production. Texas Agricultural Extension Service, College Station, TX..

Leeson, S. and J.D. Summers.1991. Gamebirds 2. Ostriches. In:Commercial Poultiy Nutrition. University Books, Guelph, Ontario. p 269.

Mackie, R.I.1987. In: the Nutrition of Herbivores. In: Hacker and Ternouth (Ed.), Academic Press Australia, Marrickville, New South Wales. p. 245.

Osterhoff, D.R.1979. Ostrich farming in South Africa. Anim. Prod.15:19.

Scheideler, S.E. and R. Angel.1994. Ratite Nutrition: Big bird feeding. Feed Management 45:36.
Fastrack® Probiotic Pack
5 pound bag
$19.95 retail price
pack of 10-5 lb bags
$163.00 retail price
Fastrack® Liquid Dispersible
1 pound can
$28.25 retail price
case of 4 cans
$93.50 retail price
Fastrack® NonRuminant Microbial Gel
32cc tube
$7.50 retail price
case of twelve 32cc tubes
$70.50 retail price
60cc tubes
$12.00 retail  price
case of six 60cc tubes
$59.75 retail price


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Farmington, Missouri 63640
573-760-8829 or


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