Melissa J. Nixon, DVM
(Ostrich, Emu, and Rhea)
We will be taking a field trip to visit an emu ranch today. We do not believe it is feasible to attempt rescue, capture, or evacuation housing of these birds. We specifically encourage the many breeders in our area to be prepared to self-defend their birds and premise from wildfires and floods. The premise we will visit today is a fine example of preparedness.
Ostriches are native to Africa and are the largest birds in the world. When fully grown, they can stand eight feet tall and weigh 400 pounds. They can live up to 50 years.
Emus are about six feet tall as adults and weigh between 125 and 140 pounds. They are native to Australia.
Rheas are native to South American. As adults, they stand about five feet tall and weigh 60 to 100 pounds.
Ratites are raised for their meat, oil, feathers, and leather.
They run very fast, but do not fly. However, they can leap a five-foot fence!
They will peck, and since they have excellent eyesight and long necks, can be amazingly accurate.
A ratite kick can break your leg.
Ratites are raised in pastures with tall, sturdy fencing, as they need daily exercise to remain healthy.
Ratites are prone to leg problems and digestive problems.
Since ratite ranches are a growing trend in the United States, we may sometime end up with one or more in evacuation.
Ratites are very susceptible to stress and have a high rate of illness and death compared to other farm animals.
Breeders transport them in horse trailers.
Ratites are always handled slowly and calmly and only by experienced personnel.
These birds are best not handled at all, but waiting for subdued lighting may be helpful if handling is necessary. The stress of handling is a significant cause of death in ratites.
They are fed a mixture of pasture and grains. They will occasionally eat insects and small vertebrates. They need some small stones to aid digestion. They will swallow various foreign objects.
Restraint of a ratite can be dangerous for both handler and bird.
Ratites may be micro chipped for individual identification.