How to Raise Rheas

Four Parts:The basicsHousing rheasFeeding rheasBreeding rheas

If you have decided you would like to try your hand at raising the South African rhea (a member of the Ratite bird family), you'll need lots of space, proper shelter and knowledge about feeding and caring for rheas properly. The rhea is a threatened species, owing to such factors as the encroachment of human beings on their natural habitat, farmlands around their natural habitat leaching poisonous pesticides that often harm the rheas, and attacks on rheas by feral dogs and other predators. Whether you want to raise the rhea to help increase its population or you're looking to produce rhea oil and cream, raising rheas will require good knowledge of their needs.

Part 1
The basics

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    Consider your reasons for raising rheas before purchasing them. You must be dedicated to taking care of the rheas, facilitating their healthy growth and recouping your investment by knowing ahead of time why you're raising rheas. Some of the most usual reason for raising rheas include:
    • Meat (red) (only if there is an established market in your area, such as gourmet restaurants or food stores)
    • Feathers and leather
    • Oils and creams
    • Eggs (each female rhea produces around 20 to 60 eggs per year)
    • Selling chicks to other rhea raisers
    • Furthering their protection
    • For their own sake (intrinsic value).
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    Check whether you'll need a permit in your state, province, region or country. In some places, the fact that rheas can be treated as livestock means that you may not need to get any special license or permit.[1] However, this will vary depending on your location, so always check first.
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    Select your rhea stock. There are two types of rhea, the white rhea and the common or gray rhea.[1] Unless you need the particular color, both types should be fine for raising. Choose a reputable breeder and ask as many questions as possible about the health, background and care requirements for the birds you choose.
    • It is a really good idea to get an experienced rhea breeder to accompany you when purchasing your first rhea chicks or adults. This person will know to ask the right questions and will know how to steer clear of inbred, deformed or unhealthy birds.

Part 2
Housing rheas

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    Prepare an appropriate living space for the rheas. Fence in an area large enough for adult birds to freely roam using chain link fencing. Always have the housing in place before bringing home the birds.
    • The more male birds you own, the more space you will need in order to accommodate the colony. Males become aggressive during the breeding season and need about one acre for every two males, in order to avoid issue and injury.
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    Plant trees, bushes and shrubs inside the fenced-off area. This is important so that the rheas have natural shelter and can turn this vegetation into nesting areas. Rheas will also look to these plants as a food source.
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    Provide a shelter for the birds.For their safety, all young birds should be closed in at night. Adult rheas will also appreciate shelter from cold, wind, heat, predators and sometimes, each other. The size of the shelter will be determined by the size and amount of rheas you will be hosting.
    • A three-sided shed or a lean-to is adequate for adult rheas. A small garden shed would work for young birds.
    • Use a dog house or kennel to house hatchling rheas. Baby rheas' shelters should be equipped with a working heat lamp to ensure that they're kept warm enough.
    • If you are planning to hatch rheas, you will need an incubator.
    • Hay or straw can be used for rhea bedding in any of the shelters.

Part 3
Feeding rheas

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    Feed your rheas a diet as close to their natural food as possible. For the most natural approach to raising rheas, set aside established sections of grass, clover and alfalfa in a large enclosed area. Use this area to promote natural grazing among your rheas.
    • In the wild, rheas eat seeds, herbaceous plants, small mammals and insects.[1]
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    Supplement the rheas' diet with suitable foods. There are various foods that are good for the rheas:
    • Generous scatterings of fruits and vegetables can be tossed to the rheas in order to supplement and round out their diet.
    • Invest in some ratite food to give to the rheas. This will be balanced with the nutrients the birds need, although it's a good idea to talk to a vet who specializes in care of large birds.
    • Consider portioning out dog food to make up for any natural proteins the rheas may not be getting from not being able to roam in their natural environment.
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    Provide grit for proper digestion. To help the birds digest their food, make sure they have access to grit of some sort, such as sand or small pebbles.
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    Supply fresh drinking water at all times. A water source should be provided for the rheas, one that can be accessed all day and night, and is frequently refreshed.

Part 4
Breeding rheas

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    Select your stock for breeding purposes. For a healthy, breeding colony, keep one male for every two to three females. Ideally, you will have two males. One of them will become the dominant male and will feed off the competition of the presence of the other male to breed with the females. The second male can also step in and take the spot of the dominant male should something happen where the alpha bird can not perform anymore.
    • Rheas will not start to breed until they mature. This will be around the ages of two to four.[1]
    • One male usually has up to five female mates.[1]


  • It is easy to confuse a rhea with an ostrich, though the two are quite different birds. The rhea is smaller than an ostrich. When you're first starting out, be sure to check out images of the birds and familiarize yourself with the differences.
  • To recoup costs, you can sell the oils and creams from rheas; these are renowned for their massage and medicinal abilities. Research the potential before getting into such sales.
  • Rhea eggs can also be sold.
  • While rheas have wings, these are used for courtship, not flying. They can also be useful for scaring away potential predators.
  • Did you know? The Ratite bird family includes ostriches, rheas, cassowaries and the little kiwi. None of them are able to fly, although the larger birds have very strong leg muscles and can run fast.


  • Raising rheas is no get-rich-quick scheme. They require a lot of effort and financial outlay to begin with and it'll likely be years before you recoup the costs of raising them. For the hobby or smallholder farmer, rheas are best added to a farm with mixed sources of income rather than being relied upon as the sole source. Also, have a long-term plan for raising them before expecting to make an income.
  • Handle older birds with care; they can scratch and kick using their strong legs and claws.

Things You'll Need

  • A lean-to, shed or dog house
  • Chain link fence
  • Shelter materials
  • Feeding equipment
  • Feed

Sources and Citations

Article Info

Categories: Wildlife