Ratites are a group of birds that includes ostriches, emu, rheas, cassowaries, and kiwis. Lacking the large keel on the breast bone where flight muscles attach, these birds are unable to fly. No ratites exist in the wild in North America; all were imported from Australia, Africa, or South America.
The most economically important species of ratites are the ostrich and the emu, with the rhea a distant third. The cassowary is rare and is not considered to have any economic importance, while the kiwi is an oddity and is virtually absent from North America except for a few in zoos.
Ratite management is similar to both livestock and poultry management. Adults are hardy and are able to withstand most of Oregon’s weather challenges as long as they are protected from extremes.
Egg incubation often creates problems because most growers have little or no general knowledge of poultry and even less knowledge of incubation. Like chicken, turkey, and other bird eggs, ratite eggs require constant incubation conditions for maximum hatchability.
However, there has-been little scientific research concerning the incubation and hatching of ratite eggs, so most current knowledge is from growers.
Length of incubation, temperature, and humidity suggestions vary greatly, so use the suggestions below only as guidelines. Hatching time varies from 36–45 days for ostrich eggs, 46–56 days for emu eggs, and 36–44days for rhea eggs.
Requirements for relative humidity during incubation also vary with species: 10–40 percent(usually around 20 percent) for ostrich eggs, 35–55 percent(usually around 40 percent) for emu eggs, and 40–55 percent(usually around 45 percent) for rhea eggs.
Virtually no standard exists for minimum acceptable level of fertility or hatchability in ratite eggs. Therefore, the determination of good versus poor fertility and hatchability is unknown. In most cases, if you obtain at least 50 percent hatchability of all eggs set, you probably are doing well.
Unless you intend to contract incubation and hatching with another producer, you’ll need a forced-draft incubator able to maintain a constant temperature of between 96 and 99.5°F.Temperature for incubating ratite eggs is around 96.5°F.Incubators vary in cost and capacity.
Some cost only about$500, while others cost more than$9,000. The incubators of choice seem to be on the extreme ends of the cost spectrum. Any incubator is adequate as long as optimal temperature, humidity, ventilation, turning, etc. can be maintained.
During incubation, most ostrich and rhea growers set eggs vertically in the incubator trays, with the blunt end up. Emu growers set eggs on their sides. Eggs must be turned at least 3 to5 times per day and up to 12 to24 times per day.