Archive for Ostrich Production

Hatching Eggs after Extended Storage

A recent article published in World Poultry discusses work carried out by Aviagen’s specialist hatchery team who are successfully developing a technique to hatch eggs with extended storage time.  To achieve this they are evaluating improved ways of handling, storing and incubating eggs.  They report improvements in hatchability of 2-3% in eggs stored for 7-14 days and significantly higher improvements in eggs stored for more than 2 weeks.

It is well known that the longer eggs are stored prior to incubation the lower the hatchability and the higher cull rates of hatched chicks.  So why is it necessary to hold eggs a little longer before incubation?   The reason is market conditions. Delayed setting of eggs could be as a result of reduced demand or it could be to meet specific order sizes.

Figure 1 - ostrich eggs incubating and hatched chicks
ostrich incubation and chicks

The basic principles of egg incubation are the same for chicken and ostrich – but of course the variables in size of eggs are significant.   In addition with ostrich we have to develop sufficient VOLUME production to support the research necessary.

This YouTube video is produced by an incubator company.  The principles discussed illustrate just how advanced poultry production is today and highlights the importance of every management aspect at each stage of the production chain and their impact to the overall profitability.

They discuss how a growing chicken now takes 25% less time to reach the same weight than it did 25 years ago.   In this context they are discussing the importance ever increasing role of optimising embryo development during incubation pointing out that 25 years ago 20% of the time from egg to processing plant was spent in the incubator and today it is 33%.  Figure 2 is captured from the video.

Figure 2 - Comparative Ratio of Incubation Time when reducing Days to Slaughter           [source: pars reform video]
comparative ratios of incubation time and farm time as days reduced to slaughter

The reasons given for these significant improvements in production are the combination of genetics, nutrition and management – the 3 factors that the WOA directors have continued to emphasise.

In the same 25 years ostrich has gone through various phases from the introduction into different countries and their failures to yet develop to commercial production. The 25 years have provided the opportunity to gain experience and prove the potential that under the right management systems, ostrich can reach the same slaughter weight in less than ½ the accepted time.  It now requires adoption of the knowledge learnt implemented on a large enough scale to ensure it is commercially viable.

Benefits of Recording Feed Conversion

The PigSite ran an article discussing the importance of keeping good records focusing on measuring feed conversion.  The article illustrates how just a small improvement can make a significant difference in the overall profitability.

Quote:  Producers record numbers born and have a reasonable idea of growth rate while backfat is measured for them when finished pigs are slaughtered. Yet none of these is as important as feed conversion rate (FCR).

Pointing out the relative importance of these factors, Mr Sutcliffe demonstrated that an improvement of one standard deviation in feed conversion (equivalent to about 0.4 FCR points) could be worth as much as £18.52 per pig, assuming daily feed intake remained the same.

In comparison, one standard deviation in grading was worth £1.51; in daily gain, £9.46, and numbers born alive, £5.91 per pig. While one standard deviation is a large change in a trait, it does allow the relative economic impact of each trait to be assessed. End Quote

The author also mentioned the challenge of recording feed intake when feeding is on a conveyor system as is the case in many pig houses today.  It is usually possible to achieve FCR figures on a batch basis if not individual basis and is the best that can be expected in high production systems.

So what factors control feed conversion? This is a combination of productive rations supported by excellent feed and farm management systems, good stockmanship and the genetics of the livestock.  The fact that no genetic work has yet started with ostrich illustrates how this is an area that offers such exciting potential in the future of our industry.

Defining Nutrient Density

An article entitled The 2010 USDA/HHS Guidelines — A Rather Bizarre Definition of “Nutrient Dense”  discusses human nutrition but the principles the author discusses relate to all species.    Production Ostrich require nutrient dense rations, so it is important to understand the meaning of nutrient density.

So what do we mean by Nutrient Dense?  Usually the amount of nutrients provided in a given weight.

Using domesticated ostrich as an example, rations are made up of a combination of ingredients to ensure the birds receive adequate daily nutrient intake and ensuring these nutrients are in their correct balance and ratios to each other and within the weight that the bird can consume in a single day.

The table below is a simple example illustrating how Lucerne varies in quality.  A kilo of lucerne can yield very differing nutrient levels depending on the stage of growth (maturity) it was cut and how it was dried.  The more mature it is when cut the greater the fibre and the less digestible that fibre becomes.  The table illustrates how as the protein reduces per kilo as the fibre increases.  Lucerne provides many essential vitamins and minerals....these all drop as the fibre increases.

Comparative Nutrient Density of Lucerne

Lucerne Quality Protein Fibre Calcium Phosphorous
22% Premium 22% 23% 1.80% 0.32%
20% Good 20% 26% 1.60% 0.29%
18% Average 18% 29% 1.40% 0.24%
15% Mature 15% 34% 1.30% 0.21%
13% Very Mature 13% 38% 1.18% 0.19%

Therefore, many of the nutrients lost in that kilo of lucerne have to be provided by a different ingredient that is denser and will be more expensive.   When the quality is too low, it may not be possible to achieve adequate nutrients within the ration within limits of the daily consumption of the birds fed.

The industrialisation of human food has resulted in the processing of many ingredients.  This has resulted in many by products as the processing removes unwanted elements of the ingredients.  Examples are wheat bran, sugar beet pulp, citrus pulp, grape residue or hominay chop.  Some by products can have a place in small amounts in a ration, but others have no place in a ration as they take up space in the ration whilst providing very few nutrients.  Whilst a certain amount of fibre is essential in a ration, the source of that fibre must provide other essential nutrients that are usable by the birds.

Many of these by products can be very cheap when measured by price per tonne, but when measured by nutrient content they can be extremely costly as they provide so few nutrients for that space they take up in the ration.   When measured by the cost in lost production, and even poor health, they can be prohibitively expensive.

Ostrich require rations that are more nutrient dense than other production species because their daily consumption of feed is much lower when expressed as a percentage of their body weight - see illustration below. This makes it even more critical to use only ingredients that provide the best balance of nutrients and why there is no room in their rations for ingredients that are not to the best quality they can be if commercial levels of production are to be achieved.

Comparative Feed Intake [Courtesy: Blue Mountain Feeds]
comparative feed intake

Can Ostrich Taste and Can Ostrich Choke?

We received a press release carrying the following subject title - "Ostriches aren't chokers and can't taste a thing either".  This was a discovery of Dr. Martina Crole, who received her doctorate in veterinary science from the University of Pretoria (UP) on Friday 11 April. She works as a lecturer in veterinary anatomy in the Faculty of Veterinary Science at UP’s Onderstepoort campus.

Dr. Crole's doctorate was based on work of the Upper Digestive Tract of Ostriches.

DR-MARTINA-CROLEHer research found that an ostrich can’t taste a thing and will not easily choke, because of a pocket in its tongue. These are reported as a couple of a number of interesting findings that Dr  Crole made during her research.

Dr Crole spent many a day in the field and laboratory using forceps and her fingers to manipulate and study still flexible fresh specimens. She wanted to find out exactly how it is possible for an ostrich not to choke even though it doesn’t have an epiglottis (which, in people for instance, prevents food or water from ending up in our wind pipe). It also has quite a wide glottis or opening to the wind pipe that needs to be closed during swallowing to prevent choking.

These are a couple of papers discussing the work and findings.

What prevents Struthio camelus and Dromaius novaehollandiae (Palaeognathae) from choking? A novel anatomical mechanism in ratites, the linguo-laryngeal apparatus

Evidence of a true pharyngeal tonsil in birds: a novel lymphoid organ in Dromaius novaehollandiae and Struthio camelus (Palaeognathae)

 

 

 

 

Understanding Dry Matter in Animal Feed

Newsletter 104, published in November 2011 discussed a very important question asked  by a writer wanting to understand better how to understand dry matter in reference to ostrich rations.

The question asked:

“Blue mountain recommendation tells 2.1kg/day/bird for maintenance and breeder.  Is this the amount on air dry basis or dry matter basis?   I am confusing dry matter basis or air dry basis and I should be grateful to have your comment on this.”

This discussion proved it was confusion in language translation as the writer’s first language is not English even though he speaks and writes excellent English.  It does however illustrate the importance of understanding the correctly the moisture content of feed and how it relates to “TOTAL NUTRIENT INTAKE”.

In this discussion the writer was confusing “method of drying” as opposed to the resulting “dry matter” when calculating “total nutrient content” consumed.  Just to clarify further, the following explanations describe the differences in these terminologies.

Air Drying:
This is when ingredients are dried by air....it maybe forage lying in the field to be dried as hay by the sun.  It may be grains dried in the barn, free from artificial heat, but turned regularly until the correct dry matter is achieved to enable safe storage.  This is usually less than 14% moisture, with 10% to 12% moisture the optimum target.

Heat Drying:
This is the other method of drying forage crops or grains.  The crops are dried through an artificial heating system suitable for the crop being dried.

Both the above methods are appropriate with the method used dependent on the local conditions.  However, when formulating the rations to balance those ingredients it is important for the nutritionist to know the method used for drying and the resultant moisture content as drying methods can influence the micro-nutrients in the crop such as vitamins and enzymes.  Excessive exposure to the sun, for example can leach out nutrients.  Excessive artificial heat can destroy some vitamins and enzymes.    When hay is sampled for nutrient content, the vitamins and enzymes are rarely sampled as it becomes too expensive....the test usually covers only basics such as protein, fibre and maybe important minerals such as calcium and phosphorous.

Dry Matter Basis vs As Fed Basis
It is extremely important when calculating the “total nutrient intake” of any animal to know the moisture content of the feed fed to the birds...whether it is fed as dry food, grazed food, fed as silage or a combination of all.

Dry Matter and As Feed Moisture Content of Various Feed Ingredients
comparative dry matter

Dry Matter Basis is calculating “nutrient intake” on the total dry matter of the feed fed.

As Fed Basis calculates the total weight of the feed as fed, so includes any moisture.   When you weigh the feed to ensure your livestock receive the correct weights, this will include any moisture...that is “as fed basis”.    This paper explains this in greater depth.

The importance of understanding the “total nutrient intake fed” cannot be over emphasised.

Definition of Pasture?

Here we discussed Variables when scientifically evaluating diets of ostrich.   Reference was made to Veldt Pasture. Note there was no definitive definition provided for Veld pasture.

Figures 1 and 2 are illustrations of two different areas of veld (also known as Veldt) pasture.   I can confirm that the birds in figure 2 were fed controlled rations twice daily and were rarely seen consuming any of the vegetation surrounding them.

oudtshoorn veldt

Figure 1 - Outdshoorn Veldt - South Africa

Wikipedia description of Veld:
The term Veld (often spelled Veldt) refers primarily (but not exclusively) to the wide open rural spaces of South Africa or southern Africa and in particular to certain flatter areas or districts covered in grass or low scrub. The word veld comes from the Afrikaans (ultimately from Dutch), literally meaning 'field'. [See below for dictionary definition of field as it relates to agriculture]

sand veldt

Figure 2 - Breeders in Western Cape Sand Veldt

All readers will surely agree that there are significant variations in the nutritional content of grass and scrub....there are also many variations in nutritional content of any type of vegetation between seasons.

Most interesting is the fact that the literal translation of "Veld" is "Field" thus introducing another variable – that of language translations and interpretation.

Google definitions for Pasture – many variables come up:

  • Land covered with grass and other low plants suitable for grazing animals, esp. cattle or sheep
  • The grass and herbage growing on such land

A key comment in the second definition is grass and herbage.  Grasses come in many different varieties that are continually developed, can be uncultivated or cultivated and managed to a high level.  Herbage can vary from scrub grazing, these different bushy type plants found on the South African Veldt as illustrated or legume crops such as lucerne (alfalfa) as examples.  All totally different in the range of nutrients they offer.  All varying in nutrient quality depending on the season and the climatic conditions.

As one can see from the variables in these definitions it is essential to define parameters very  clearly.   This loose understanding of "pasture" is probably behind the advice given in the early years of our industry that ostrich require grazing land.  Veldt herbage cannot be compared to grasslands.  Scrub land can support browsers. Ostrich are browsers rather than grazers.  Wild pasture land provides access to vegetation for browsing as well as grazing and cannot be compared to the controlled and well maintained (often single specie) grass paddocks we associate with many modern farms today.

Dictionary definition of "Field" as it relates to agriculture:
an area of open land, especially one planted with crops or pasture, typically bounded by hedges or fences.  
synonyms:    meadow, pasture, paddock, green, pen, grassland, pastureland, sward;
From that point, there are further definitions and this is simply in the English Language.

Therefore one can see just why it is essential if defining the specificatons for a trial, study or simply guidelines, it is essential to be very clear on the detail.  Also for those following guidelines they are absolutely clear just what is defined as our interpretation of pasture will vary from region to region.

What is “scientifically proven”?

This link is to a book that discussed "what is scientifically proven" .... although this particular book related to human nutrition and health,  the basic principles of “scientifically proven” remain the same no matter which specie or subject under discussion.

Quoting the above reference: A “scientific” experiment is one where you take a set of circumstances, purposefully change only ONE variable, run the experiment and observe what happens. If anything interesting or unusual happens, then you look for a reason. Since all of the VARIABLES were “controlled,” the most likely suspect as to the CAUSE of the observed change is the one variable that you purposefully changed.   That’s science.

When first entering the ostrich industry back in 1994 wanting to learn more, the words "scientifically proven" was continually used - but when one examined what was being said, it quickly became obvious that there was nothing scientifically proven as it applied to ostrich production.  Another word heard repeatedly was “replicable”.   Of course important, but the variables must be understood in order to ensure an experiment is replicable under the same given conditions.

The success of the other livestock industries over the past decades is a result of the very high volumes of production that have enabled management to control the variables. Until it is possible to control variables, the only meaningful studies that can be carried out are those that set benchmark figures to enable further studies to be evaluated as we develop volume and in a position to eliminate the variables.

What exactly are these “variables”?

What is a “Variable” when conducting any experiment or trial?
A variable in this context is any change however small that variable may appear to be.  This will include such things as:

  • The genetic heritage of the livestock – includes not only the breed, type, origin, but also the management and nutritional history of the genetic lines/parentage.
  • Environment – includes management systems, climate, housing, pens, stress exposure
  • When discussing nutrition – includes not only the nutrient levels of each ration, but also the sources of those nutrients,  the precision of manufacture, feeding times and feeding rates/consumption.

In 2002 there was a proposal for a comparative study by the vet for the Klein Karroo Group.  The aim of the study was to compare baby chick liver colours.  Many chicks in South Africa were hatched with livers of a bright yellow colour which Blue Mountain was suggesting was a clear indicator of nutritional deficiencies in breeder nutrition and a contributory cause to the high levels of chick mortality experienced by South Africa ostrich farmers.

The full proposal can be viewed here.  For the purpose of a discussion on variables, I will copy here only the suggested parameters that clearly rendered any such study of absolutely no value to the industry and their producers.  It must be remembered that this proposal was made at a time when production levels were generally extremely low and there was a study on examining the causes of high levels of chick mortality underway.   The principal motivation for the study was to monitor the colour of chick livers at hatch and alterations as the chicks transferred from yolk sac dependency to full external feed intake.

Material
1.  10 chicks each from breeders fed on two different commercial breeder rations. Hatched artificially. Raised according to one protocol.
2.  10 chicks from breeders in on veld pasture. Hatched artificially or by parents and raised on veld.

oudtshoorn veldt

Figure 1 - Oudtshoorn Breeders in the South African Veld in the Oudtshoorn Region

As proposed this study was meaningless because there were far too many variables on a very limited number of chicks.   The proposer clearly did not have a basic understanding of the variables that would have an influence on the results.   The only variable referenced as a control was that the chicks in Group 1 should be reared according to the same protocol.

All Chicks suggested in the study:
No reference was made to ensure the performance history and nutritional history of the parents was known.  As this was a study designed to compare the livers of the chicks, for it to have any true meaning it was essential to ensure the exact nutrient consumption of the breeders and then the chicks while growing was known.  Liver condition (along with all internal organ development) is directly affected by the nutrients fed to the breeders producing the eggs.

Group 1 Chicks:
Most commercial rations in South Africa contain variables from batch to batch and the labelling regulations did not require feed ingredients to be listed and contained minimal nutritional information.

Group 2 Chicks:
For those of you not familiar with South Africa, the Veld is pasture area around Oudtshoorn.  Those second group of chicks would be from breeders running in this area.  Most farmers running breeders in this way also supplemented with either home produced rations made up including a commercial vitamin/mineral/amino acid premix or a commercial breeder ration.

When our industry achieves the high volumes of the mainstream livestock industries, it will then be possible to correctly control variables – including genetics.   In ostrich this would be chicks from a batch of eggs from comparative breeder pairs.   The breeders’ full production, management, nutritional, environmental and genetic history would also be on record.

Research May Give Ostrich Industry New Wings

This article published in January, discusses how the quality of ostrich feathers is a key indicator to healthier chicks.  Ostrich feather quality is a key indicator to health in the same manner the sheen on the coat of all livestock and pets indicate overall health.  Good Health and production potential is all down to good management with the most important element – adequate nutrients fed.

Having lived and farmed ostriches in South Africa, the problems in the South African Ostrich industry have come as little surprise.  A few quotes from the article:

Quote: research from Stellenbosch University shows that the brighter the white wing tip, the better the bird. End Quote

Quote:  The finding points the way to breeding chicks that are more resistant to disease — possibly even to the avian influenza that has severely curbed the industry, causing losses of up to R1.5bn since the European Union (EU) stopped importing raw ostrich meat. The EU used to import about 80% of South Africa’s ostrich meat. End Quote

Quote:  Stellenbosch University behavioural ecologist Maud Bonato said there is "potential" to breed birds that are more resistant to avian influenza, although proving this is difficult as "you can’t just inject birds with avian flu". End Quote

Quote:  the finding is "quite exciting, it’s quite powerful … it has significance for the breeding of chicks better able to resist disease". End Quote

The peer-reviewed published research  was reported to show Quote:   "the coloration of the father’s white feathers … (predicted the offspring’s) immune response to typical avian diseases such as diphtheria, while the coloration of both the father’s white feathers and bill predicted offspring growth rate". End Quote

Quote: The scientists also proved that ostrich hens laid heavier eggs when mated with males with brighter feathers. End Quote

Quote:  “less than 100,000 birds would be slaughtered this year, down from 250,000 birds in 2011.”

While writing this article I put “Ostrich Production” into our search engine.  This is the list of the articles it produced on just the first page. I had the option to go further – but I think this list illustrates just how low level that area of research is in comparison to the real evidence?

Optimising Genetic Performance in Ostrich Production

World Ostrich Production Statistics

Establishing Bench Mark Targets for Ostrich

Purchasing Ostrich Eggs and Chicks

Purpose of the World Ostrich Association

Guidelines to Evaluate Ostrich Bird Size and Development

The Ostrich Financial Cycle

Ostrich Growth Curve Discussion

Growth Curves of Ostrich

The Ostrich Value Pyramid

The photo below is a great bench mark illustration of how brilliant healthy ostrich feathers can look.  This is a Red Male in the US around 1995.  The farmer holding those feathers alongside the bird is 1.9m (6ft 3”).

Bird114 1

Guidelines to Evaluate Ostrich Bird Size & Development

Over the years many photos of ostrich were taken with some sent to us.  Recently there was reason to discuss the issue of how to visually judge bird development.  These illutrations were put together with several photos side by side as a single illustration. For this illustration all photos include men alongside the birds as a guide to their size.

Photos A, B and C in figure 1 are birds from the Blue Mountain benchmark weight gain trial carried out in 1996 and discussed here and here. Using the fence and the man with these birds as a guide, it is possible to see how large these chicks were at the time of weighing.  They were from good genetic origin, but good genetics still require the correct nutrients to achieve their optimum growth, health and performance.    Observing these chicks one can tell they are young by their feathers and the faces.  They were around 195 days (27 weeks) and weighed around 85kgs liveweight.

men-illustrating-size-ostrich

Figure 1: Men Illustrating the Size of Ostrich

Photo D is an illustration of a scientist in the Netherlands scanning a breeder as part of a study to understand why the breeders were not breeding well[1].   The scientist is kneeling and as you can see the bird looks very small alongside him.  Note the very tiny body size.  This study was carried out in 2002.

Photo E is a photo of some proud owners showing off their new breeders that they published on their website in 2003.  These owners were part of an investment group starting an ostrich production business in Brazil.  As new entrants to ostrich production, they had no idea that this bird was severely undersized.   The head height of the bird is hardly as high as the men – her feather colouring confirms she is a mature bird and not a chick as in photos A, B and C.

The birds in photos D and E are severely stunted in their growth – this is not simply poor genetics, it is also poor diet during the growth period.   Clearly, if a bird has failed to thrive during the development stage, their reproductive organs will not be able to develop adequately and this will impact on future production potential.

Our president Daryl Holle took a few photos of his own birds to provide bench mark guidelines to enable producers to gauge their own bird’s development.  Always remember that benchmarking is about setting a base-line to judge one’s own bird performance and aiming to improve on.  Figure 2 illustrates the measurement points and provides the figures for a fit and productive 4 year old breeding hen.

ostrich measurment points

Figure 2: Ostrich Measuring Points

Body Height
Height measurements need to be read with care…there are many tall birds with poor frames. The height must be accompanied with good depth, width and length of frame.  This hen measures 1.5m (59 inches, which is 1 inch short of 5 feet) from the ground to the highest point on her back.

Body Depth
A quality bird should have good depth.  Take the measurements from the top most part of back to the bottom of her fat pan area just behind the legs.   The measurements on this hen:  68.7cm (27 inches)

Body Length
Take the measurement from the base of the neck to the very base of the tail.  This hen measures 1.14m (45 inches) from the very base of neck to the very base of her tail.  Take the measurements from where the neck goes into the back and exactly where the tail begins to rise from the back.

Body Width
Take an imaginary line (shown in green) from outside the drum muscles and measure straight across the back.  The measurement on this hen is 66.04cm (26 inches).

Figure 3 provides a few more photographs of birds taken during the 1990s when there were some good genetics around supported by adequate nutrition.  The men in Photographs A, B and C were all around 1.9m tall (6ft 3”) and taken in the United States.  Photo D was taken in Australia.  I don’t have any information on the size of these men, but it is evident from their comparative size to the fencing that these were strong men of reasonable build and height. The bird they are handling is an 18 month old bird.

The bird in Photo A is a 16 month old Bird that Daryl Holle purchased as a 3 month old bird in the early 1990s.   Photo B is a Red Male – observe the amazing size of those feathers.  At that time Reds were believed to produce poor feathers.  This photo proves that when they have the adequate nutrition they not only are very large birds, they also can produce magnificent feathers.

ostrich size comparisons

Figure 3: Comparative Size of Ostrich - Photos taken of Domesticated Ostrich in mid 1990s

The immature feathers of the birds in Photo C illustrates how well slaughter birds can grow when fed and managed correctly.   It was this photo that first caught my attention when seeking information on work carried out outside South Africa.  At the time I was based in South Africa and aware that local farmers were seeking information.  The internet as a source for information was in its infancy.  Photo D, taken in Australia, illustrates the size of this bird.

These photos were taken at the start of the industry as it attempted to develop outside South Africa.  They provide evidence of the underlying genetics.  Achieving commercial success depends on producing birds to this standard as the starting point.

Ostrich Financial Cycle

The World Ostrich Association was formed in September, 2002.  The 100th edition of the newsletter was first published in July 2011.  It reported, with regret, that the industry continued to witness slow development in production when demand for our products remains strong.   It reported how over the years the newsletters have discussed many of the reasons for this.

The saying "No Production No Industry" is proving to be so true - a statement made by a speaker more than a decade ago by an MD of a South African tannery who was working hard to build a market....and frustrated by the unreliability of production.  The production on farm has to be in place, efficiently producing sufficient number of birds to provide a regular, consistent supply to the markets.

The illustration below is a simplistic illustration that clearly shows the interdependency of all activities in the production chain and the importance of ensuring end markets.  The relevance of this is that all too often ostrich farming was introduced to a new country, too much focus was placed on selling offspring to new farmers - rather than developing the full infrastructure to ensure slaughter and marketing of the products of ostrich were in place.  This resulted in no continuity of sales revenue entering the industry generating profits available for each sector to re-invest at every step of the way to support further production.

Ostrich Financial Cycle

Ostrich Finacial Cycle

Where sales have developed, the standards of farming were too poor to maintain consistency of supply of slaughter birds and therefore the supply of product.  This is especially evident in South Africa where volume was not the issue further proving that whilst production standards remain poor on farm, it is impossible to produce the commercially viable birds and a sustainable supply of product to the markets.

Understanding the causes for the poor production remains the first step to putting in place the solutions to satisfy the market's interest in our products.