Leather is one of the main products derived from ostrich farming. Current rearing practices lead to a high incidence of skin damage, which decreases the value of ostrich skins. In the emu and poultry industry, declawing is commonly practiced to reduce skin damage and injuries. We consequently investigated declawing of ostrich chicks as a potential management practice to minimize skin lesions that result from claw injuries. A group of 140 day-old ostriches was declawed and a second group of 138 chicks served as the control. The two groups were reared separately to slaughter but were rotated monthly between adjacent feedlot paddocks to minimize possible paddock effects. Overall, the declawed group had fewer scratch and kick marks on the final processed skin than the control group, which resulted in the proportion of first grade skins in the declawed group being more than twice that of the control group. Behavioural observations at nine and 13 months of age indicated that declawing resulted in no impairment in locomotor ability or welfare. There was a tendency for the declawed group to have higher average live weights towards the end of the growing-out phase that resulted in a 3.7% higher average skin area at slaughter than in the control group. Survival to slaughter was independent of the treatment group, but absolute means favoured the control group. It was concluded that declawing does not compromise the well being of ostriches and has a significant benefit in terms of the quality and the grading of the skin, with important economic implications for ostrich farmers.
"Experientia docet" - Experience is the best teacher