Nutrition plays a critical role in ostrich production because the cost of feeding the ostrich is the largest expenditure (about 80%) in ostrich farming. The natural diet of ostriches is mainly green grasses, berries, seeds, succulent plants and small insects.
Ostriches have very efficient feed conversions during the first 210 days of their life. After 330 days they become inefficient and their feed conversion drops. Therefore, it is important that chicks are fed optimally when young so that they attain the ideal slaughter weight of 90-100kg as quickly as possible.
Chicks learn to eat under natural wild condition by copying their parents feeding behavior. Therefore under commercial production system, a surrogate mother or an older chick should be used to teach the young chicks how to eat. Chicks depend on their yolk sac for the bulk of their nutrition in the first 10 to
14 days of life. They should therefore be eating well by the time the yolk sac is finished so that the chicks maintain normal growth and development. Grit and feed should be offered to the young chicks. Concentrates offered to the chicks should contain 20% by weight of green forage as the green color stimulates pecking.
Shallow troughs or trays should be used to offer chicks their feed. Palatability of the feed is enhanced when it is wet. Ostrich feeds can be offered in pellet or in meal form. Since pelleting costs are high it is preferable to offer the feed as meals to reduce cost. Birds spend more time pecking at the meals and therefore, develop fewer behavioral disorders. To reduce dustiness and increase palatability molasses or stabilized fat can be added to farm mixed feeds. This results in less wastage, minimal dustiness and less separation of feed ingredients. When practicing a system of alternative grazing, the carrying capacity of lucerne pastures is 8 ostriches per hectare.
Day old ostrich chicks up to 13 weeks of age may be fed on chick starter which is high in crude protein. From 13 weeks to 40 weeks, the feed should be switched to grower. From 40 weeks to slaughter, the ostriches should be fed on maintenance diet. Alternatively, the ostriches may be fed maintenance diet from 15 weeks of age to slaughter depending on the body condition of the birds and marketing plans.
Common feed ingredients used are maize meal as a source of concentrated energy while lucerne serves as a source of bulk, fibre and protein. Fish meal and peanut meal are sources of crude protein and lipid especially the essential fatty acids. Methionine and Lysine are essential amino acids usually included in poultry diets since these amino acids are limiting in most feed ingredients.
Vitamin/mineral premixes are included in the rations as sources of vitamins and minerals especially the trace minerals. Limestone is a source of calcium while monocalcium phosphate supplies calcium and phosphorus.
Palatability is crucial to stimulate feed ingestion by the birds. Thus, it is given important consideration in ration formulation. Dehydrated molasses powder improves feed palatability. It is necessary to add vitamin premix to the rations and amino acids in order to meet the birds’ requirements. Cotton seed cake meal or seeds should not be mixed into ostrich ration to avoid gossypol poisoning. Cotton seed and products contain gossypol which is an anti-nutritional factor. Salt in mixed ration should not exceed 0.5% of the ration. Common salt is required for electrolyte balance in the birds. It also serves as a condiment to stimulate feed intake.
Fresh, clean water must be available for the birds’ free choice. Access to portable water has a direct relationship with feed intake. Generally, poultry require 2 grams of water for every 1 gram of dry feed intake. The water economy of the ostrich is similar to that of other large savannah and desert animals such as antelope and camel, although the partitioning of water loss differs. The ostrich has a lower evaporative water loss and a higher fecal and urinary loss than mammals of similar bodyweight. The ratio of water intake to dry matter intake is relatively constant at about 2:3.