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Despite numerous studies, the effect of artificial incubation on the hatchability and survival of near-term ostrich chicks is still not well understood. Records from 13 975 eggs with embryos of 35 days and older, artificially incubated between 2006 and 2008, were analysed to determine the potential effect of pipping position upon the hatchability, and the subsequent survival of ostrich chicks. A total of 864 near-term chicks (6.9%) failed to pip. Chicks that pipped in the correct position had a higher probability of surviving hatching than those pipping in the incorrect position. Genotype did not affect the proportion of chicks pipping in the correct position, or the survival of hatching ostrich chicks pipping in either the correct or incorrect positions. Although female age had a significant effect on the proportion of chicks pipping, the survival of hatchlings was independent of female age. Chicks hatching during winter were more likely to pip than chicks hatching in spring, whereas chicks hatching in summer were more likely to pip in the correct position. In winter the proportion of chicks pipping in incorrect positions were significantly higher than in either summer or autumn. The survival rate of chicks hatching during winter was generally higher than those hatching in the other seasons. The transfer of eggs between setters during incubation, had a negative influence on the ability of ostrich chicks pipping in the correct position. Incubated ostrich eggs with intermediate levels of water loss, i.e. between 9.0 and 18.9% of fresh-egg weight, were more likely to pip in the correct position overall than those with higher or lower levels of water loss. Chicks from eggs stored for intermediate periods, i.e. 3, 4 and 6 days prior to being set, were more likely to pip than chicks from those eggs set directly after collection without storage. Storage time also affected pipping position, with chicks from eggs stored for five days being more likely to pip in the correct position than chicks from those eggs set directly after collection. These results emphasize the need for ostrich incubation facilities to avoid the transfer of eggs between setters during artificial incubation, strive to achieve an optimal level of water loss, and apply a protocol of not setting eggs immediately after collection to maximize the hatchability of chicks pipping in the correct position and post-hatching survival.
Keywords: Ratite, artificial incubation, female age, water loss, storage time