Ratite Brooding

Chicks hatched in incubators have to be brooded artificially until about 6 weeks of age. This period may have to be extended, depending on the outside environment and condition. If the weather is warm, chicks should have access to outside runs during the day from 1-2 weeks of age.

Before birds are transferred to the brooding area, the yolk sack or navel should be treated to combat the introduction of disease organisms. Suitable products are buffered iodine or antibiotic powder.

During artificial brooding chicks need:

  • heat
  • water
  • food
  • ventilation
  • light
  • litter.


It is important that chicks are brooded at the correct temperature in a draught-free suitably sized area. The best guide to the correct temperature is the chicks´ thermal comfort behaviour. If they huddle close to the heat source they are cold. If they are well dispersed, they could be too hot. A maximum-minimum thermometer put near the chicks will provide valuable information on temperature fluctuations (particularly during the colder parts of the night) to assist your management. As the chicks grow older, the temperature can be reduced. The following table provides a guide to the temperatures required by ratite chicks at different ages during brooding.

Age (days)

Temperature at chick level (°C)

1-7 30+
7-14 28
14-21 26
21-28 24


Young chicks often die because they cannot find water. To prevent these deaths, young chicks must learn very early in life where to find water. Cool, clean water must be available to them at all times in several small, readily accessible drinkers. Their attention can be attracted to the water by shiny or coloured objects placed in the water containers – making sure that the chicks cannot eat the objects.


In the first 2-3 days of life, chicks may eat very little. However, feed should be made available to them so that they learn to peck and eat. Ratite chicks need a fresh, high-quality starter diet containing about 18% protein. This can either be as a mash or as a crumble. In addition, to encourage chicks to eat it is recommended they have daily access to small amounts of fresh, finely-cut green material like lucerne, kikuyu or broad leafed grasses sprinkled on the feed. Emus and ostriches are attracted to the colour green.


Chicks need a constant supply of fresh clean air if they are to grow well and remain healthy. Chicks quickly chill therefore draughts should be prevented. With localised brooding, draughts can be blocked out by using solid panel surrounds (at least 300-450 mm high). To increase the space available, the surround is gradually expanded as the chicks grow to enable them to get away from the heat when needed.


The best lighting regime is yet to be developed. However ratite chicks do respond and grow better when a constant light source is provided. This enables the chicks to move around the pen to find feed and water throughout an extended period. A program of 23 hours of light at an intensity of 20 lux provides excellent growth rates while intensities equivalent to a 40W bulb have also been found satisfactory.

It is essential that the chicks do have a period of darkness; this prevents young birds huddling together, which may result in suffocation if a blackout should occur.


A lot of information has been written about litters. Most litter problems that occur druing brooding are the result of management decisions and not the particular litter. Some litters have advantages over others.

It is essential to use a litter which satisfies the young chicks’ needs. Choose a litter which is clean, chemical-free, soft, absorbent, has good insulation properties and is relatively dust-free. Pine shavings, sand and sawdust are suitable.