Foster parenting, human imprinting and conventional handling affects survival and early weight of ostrich chicks
The effects of human imprinting and foster parenting by adult ostriches on the survival and growth performance of ostrich chicks were compared to conventional chick-rearing practices in two separate experiments. In the first experiment, the growth rate and survival of chicks imprinted onto humans were compared with those of chicks reared by adult foster parents (n = 100 for both groups). Survival is expressed as proportions, while weights were measured in kg. Treatment did not affect chick survival to 3 weeks (0.90 for imprinted chicks vs. 0.89 for foster chicks), or from 4 to 12 weeks (0.86 vs. 0.83, respectively). Chick weight was not significantly different between groups at 4 weeks, but at older ages, those chicks reared by foster parents consistently outperformed imprinted chicks (means ± SEs being 12.8 ± 0.4 vs. 8.2 ± 0.4 kg at 9 weeks, 37.1 ± 0.8 vs. 19.9 ± 0.80 kg at 18 weeks and 46.2 ± 1.1 vs. 28.6 ± 1.2 kg at 22 weeks). In the second experiment, the treatments consisted of a human-imprinted group of chicks and a group subjected to conventional rearing methods (as customary on the research farm). Chick survival to four weeks was significantly higher for imprinted chicks than for conventionally reared chicks (0.97 vs. 0.84), although chick weight was independent of treatment at 4 weeks (6.27 ± 0.16 kg for the imprinted group vs. 6.18 ± 0.17 kg for the conventional group) and at 15 weeks (respectively 16.5 ± 0.68 vs. 15.2 ± 0.70 kg). Overall, chicks reared by foster parents were heavier than human-imprinted chicks, while early survival of imprinted chicks was better than that of chicks reared by conventional handling. Imprinting thus affected survival of ostrich chicks relative to conventional rearing practices. Because most ostrich chicks are reared with conventional methods, the present study indicates that improvements can be made by adopting alternative approaches. Further studies are needed to ascertain how foster parenting and imprinting may be utilized to optimize chick performance, including the long-term consequences of these practices.
Keywords: Parental care, Struthio camelus, animal welfare, animal behaviour