Environmental enrichment for ostrich, Struthio camelus, chicks
Commercially reared ostrich chicks are typically kept in barren, indoor environments. This experiment investigated the effects of environmental enrichment on the pecking behaviour, exploration, food consumption and novelty responses of ostrich chicks aged 10 to 21 days. Four groups
of 20 randomly selected ostrich chicks were housed in heated huts at one day of age (Day 1), and at Day 10 were allowed access to sand-covered areas (30 m2) that were either barren (control: n = 2 groups) or enriched with cabbage, coniferous cones and sticks (enriched: n = 2 groups).
Pecking behaviour was recorded by focal sampling the behaviour of five chicks per group for four 5 min periods per day on Day 10 and Day 13. All enriched chicks pecked at the cabbage, of which they consumed considerable amounts (26 ± 3 g/chick/day). The enriched chicks did not have
higher overall pecking frequencies but tended to peck less at fixtures in the pen, compared to control chicks. Additionally, the enriched chicks showed increased exploration in terms of the percentage of chicks observed outside the heated huts. In a novel object test, enriched chicks stayed
closer to and delivered more pecks at sorrel (Rumex acetosa) than did control chicks, whereas there was no difference between the treatment groups in their response to adult ostrich feathers. Enriched chicks consumed more food (79 ± 0.4 g/chick/day) than did control chicks (67
± 0.9 g/chick/day) during the experimental period. We suggest that environmental enrichment improves the welfare of ostrich chicks in terms of increasing exploration and reducing pecking at fixtures in the pen, without compromising food consumption.