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Father Knows Best
People who raise rhea are often confronted with a common
problem of having too many males. Since
rhea are polygamous-polyandrous, which means that one male can be used with
several females, this problem is compounded even more.
The purpose of this article is to inform people how these surplus males
can be used to raise chicks while still maintaining maximum egg production from
In the wild, a male rhea will court and mate with a group
of females. These females will lay
eggs in the male’s nest until he has a clutch of eggs.
Once the male has a clutch of eggs, he will not accept any more eggs from
the females and the females will move no to another male.
Once the male begins incubating the eggs, he will only leave the nest for
short periods of time to eat and drink. The
male will continue his parental duties until the eggs are hatched and the chicks
are raised to an age where they can live on their own.
This method of raising the chicks can be used in today’s rhea
operation; but in the wild, a hatch of 30-40% is considered good.
For the majority of people raising rhea, these numbers are not
acceptable. In some areas of the
country, many nests will be lost to flooding caused by excess rain and soil
types which will not allow the nests to drain properly.
The following information will describe a much more
efficient method of using the male rhea to raise chicks.
Most male rhea will do a fine job of raising their chicks, but some steps
can be taken to improve the chances of success.
The male and his chicks should be kept in as large of an enclosure as
possible because he will walk the chicks constantly in their search for food.
We feel that the lot should be at lease one acre in size.
The fencing for this lot should prevent predators like stray dogs and
coyotes from disturbing the male while he is on the nest or while he is raising
the chicks. We feel that chain link
fence is the best answer because it deters predators and it keeps the chicks
from slipping through the fence where they could be injured or killed by
predators. Electric fence can be
used on the outside of the fence to keep predators from climbing into the lot.
The lot should have grass, clover, alfalfa, and etc., established in it
because green vegetation will be the primary food source for the chicks as they
grow. The lot should be kept mowed
to keep fresh greens growing. Shrubs
and trees provide a good source of shade and food for the male and his chicks.
They also provide cover for the chicks from flying predators such as
To begin this method of raising rhea chicks, the male must be allowed to establish a nest site where he can set on some eggs for 2 to 3 weeks. At the beginning of the breeding season, each male which is to be used to raise chicks, should be paired up with a females or group of females. This will allow the male to court the females to his nest and to mate with the females. Once the females begin laying eggs in his nest, the eggs should be collected and put in an incubator to begin incubation. The male should be left with at least 1 egg in his nest at all times so that he will continue using this nest. After the eggs have been collected for 2 or 3 weeks, the male should be left with 3 or 4 infertile eggs in his nest to encourage him to begin setting and incubating the eggs. Once the male has started incubating the eggs, he will refuse to accept more eggs from the females and he will only leave the nest for short periods to eat and drink. At this time, the females can be moved to another pen to continue laying eggs for another male.
The male should be allowed to set on the infertile eggs for
2 or 3 weeks. The eggs should be
checked occasionally to insure that they don’t become rotten and possibly
explode (which would drive the male from the nest). This problem can be eliminated by using eggs which have had
the infertile contents removed and replaced with sand. The sand makes the eggs feel normal to the male and helps
prevent breakage of the eggs while they are in the nest. After the male has been setting on the nest for 2 or 3 weeks,
the infertile or sand filled eggs should be replaced with 5 or 6 good eggs that
have been in an incubator. These
eggs should be within 1 day of one another in hatching dates so that none of the
chicks get left behind because of hatching too late after the other chicks have
hatched. Also, the good eggs that
are put under the male should be about 3 days away from hatching.
This will give the male and the chicks time to call to one another to
establish the bond among themselves. This
calling will also stimulate the chicks to hatch and there should be no need to
assist the chicks in hatching.
A few hours after the chicks have hatched, the male will
lead the chicks from the nest to begin their search for food.
He will brood the chicks at night and during cold or stormy weather.
After the male has raised his chicks for 2 or 3 weeks, 5 or 6 chicks can
be removed from a brooder and given to the male.
These chicks should be about 1 week old so that they can keep up with the
male and the older chicks. The male
will adopt these chicks as his own and raise them with the other chicks.
It may be necessary to confine the male and his chicks to a smaller area
of the lot for a few days when the new chicks are introduced.
This will help the adoption go more smoothly and it will help prevent any
chicks from being left behind by the male.
If more than one family group is kept in the same lot, it is not uncommon
for the males to try to adopt chicks from one another’s group.
This is mother nature’s way of achieving unrelated birds.
The family group will require very little supplemental,
processed feed if the lot is large enough and there is plenty of green
vegetation for them to eat. Leaf
lettuce is an excellent food source for the chicks as they grow.
The will consume large quantities of lettuce during the summer.
An easy way to provide large amounts of lettuce is to sow it in strips
throughout the lot. A small disk or
roto-tiller can be used to make strips that are 4 to 5 feet wide and whatever
length desired. The lettuce seed is
broadcast over the strips and covered by disking the strips again or by dragging
a chain behind a garden tractor. If
the lettuce is sown right before a rain shower, it will begin sprouting almost
immediately and there will be a good stand of lettuce in a few weeks. Along with the green vegetation, water should be provided for
the family at all times. This can
be accomplished artificially or through the use of a pond or stream.
This method of using surplus male rhea to raise chicks has worked well for us through the years. Not only is this an easy way to raise chicks, but these chicks will be stronger and healthier than most chicks raised using today’s modern techniques. People raising rhea in other areas of the country may have to modify the information presented to fit their climate and soil type. By observing the family group as they grow, people can learn a great deal about how rhea chicks are raised in the wild. A lot of this information can be applied directly to assist in raising rhea chicks in artificial surroundings.
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