A rhea is a bird originating from South America that belongs to the ratite family. It is similar to the emu and the ostrich. Rheas are not commonly farmed, but they are desirable for their feathers and for their lean meat. If you want to start your own rhea farm or just would like to have a few of these interesting creatures, the cheapest way to do this is to incubate your own eggs.
Place at least three thermometers and at least two hygrometers in your incubator to ensure temperature and humidity levels are similar in all areas of the incubator. If you are getting drastically different readings, check for breaks in the incubator and make sure the thermometer is accurate.
Set your incubator to a temperature between 36.1 and 37.2 degrees C. Make sure that you have a fan or some method of air circulation in your incubator, as this will ensure fresh air flow and help prevent uneven temperatures.
Keep the humidity in your incubator between 25 and 40 per cent. If your incubator has an automatic misting system, you can do it this way. Otherwise, a tray of water in the bottom of the incubator (not touching any of the eggs) works fine.
Leave your incubator running for several hours before placing your eggs inside to make sure the levels are stable. Once you are sure of the incubator's stability, place your eggs inside.
Turn your eggs multiple times a day. If you are turning the eggs by hand, do this at least three times a day. Make sure to always turn eggs an odd number of times to avoid them sitting on the same side during the night.
Candle the eggs after 10 days by holding a flashlight under each in a dark room. An egg that is fertile will have a series of veinlike blood vessels around the shell inside the egg. At the centre you will see a darker spot, which is the embryo. Remove any eggs that are not showing signs of development.
Continue to candle the eggs once a week. Embryos that are developing properly will grow larger and darker. If no change is made from one candling to the next, it is likely that the embryo has died and the egg should be removed.
Start watching for signs of movement at 30 days of incubation. If you candle your egg and see a small pointed shadow, this means that the rhea has broken through the air sac and will soon begin hatching.
Move any hatching eggs to a hatcher. A hatcher is a larger area that is kept at the same temperature and moisture levels as the incubator. It allows the chick more room to hatch. Be patient. It can sometimes take several hours for a chick to hatch.
Move any hatched chicks to a large, clean pen. Keep a light in the pen so that the chick will stay warm. Rheas will not eat or drink for the first few days after hatching, but once they begin to eat, feed them alfalfa pellets and plenty of chopped greens such as leaf lettuce and sprouts.
- Rheas are social birds, so it is best to hatch at least two. Because of the chances that an egg won't hatch, you will most likely have to incubate at least four eggs for two of them to hatch.
- Rhea incubation time is typically 35 to 38 days with the maximum time being 42 days.
- Do not assist the rhea chicks in hatching unless absolutely necessary. They need to hatch on their own to strengthen their muscles and chicks who are assisted will often die.