Dangerous wild animals: species guidance

Individual species guidance on the keeping of dangerous wild animals.


Species name

Family struthionidae – all species

Additional information

The keeping of ostriches may also be subject to further regulation, flocks of more than 50 birds are required to be registered on the Great Britain Poultry Register.

Housing overview

These birds are normally housed in an outdoor paddock with a secure shelter in which birds may be temporarily housed, for management purposes or in severe weather. 

Ostrich are social birds, therefore the keeping of single birds is discouraged. 

Adult male ostriches may be over 2m in height and weigh up to 160kg.

Keeping experience

In order to protect the welfare of these birds, keepers, particularly those wishing to farm ostrich, must be able to demonstrate a good knowledge of these birds. Catching and handling requires skill and experience, and should not be attempted by persons unfamiliar with the procedure.

There should be a second named person on the licence who is competent to care for the birds should the owner be absent or incapacitated.

Housing recommendations


Ostriches are large, long-necked terrestrial birds which cannot fly, and have strong, powerful legs adapted for running. Fences in outdoor enclosures must be strong enough to resist birds running at them, but elastic enough not to injure the birds if they collide.  

Any concrete or synthetic floor surfaces should be non-slip, and pens should be grassed. The edges of pens, alongside the fence, should be gravelled, as birds may walk the fence and wear out the ground.


For outdoor enclosures, fencing with either wire mesh or high tensile wire with droppers and tensioners is suitable. Fences should be at least 1.8m high. If wire mesh is used, the mesh size should be small enough to prevent the birds’ head or legs becoming entangled. The fences should be highly visible to prevent accidental collision. Fencing for chicks should include a 0.3m “kicking board” along the bottom, to prevent chicks putting their legs through the mesh.

It is recommended that a means of escape be provided for keepers, particularly if males are kept. This can be achieved by leaving a 0.4m gap at the bottom of the fence, through which the birds would be unable to escape, but a person could. This is not practical when chicks are also housed in the enclosure.

Fences should be checked regularly to ensure that they are kept secure and in good repair. The use of barbed or electric wires is not appropriate.


Recommended stocking density (adult birds):

  • breeding pair - minimum pen size 15 x 40m. Pen size of 25 x 80m recommended
  • breeding trio (two females, one male) - 25 x 80m, due to possibility of aggression between two female birds
  • colonies - recommended maximum stocking rate is 20 birds per 100m². All outdoor enclosures should have one long side to allow for natural running behaviour and acute angles in fencing should be avoided
  • chicks - have different space and rearing requirements, and keepers should be able to demonstrate that young birds will be adequately cared for if breeding is intended

If more than one colony is kept, a visual barrier between the groups is recommended.

Temperature and shelter

Normal outdoor temperatures should be tolerable, however adequate shade and protection from the elements should be provided. Ostrich lack a preen gland and are unable to waterproof their plumage, so it is vital that they have adequate protection from wet weather. The birds will be unable to use the outdoor enclosure if it is icy. Heating may be required in shelters if the outside temperature is extremely low.

Shelters are useful as a means for temporarily holding the birds. For adult birds, the holding pen should provide at least 6m² per adult ostrich. Interior height should be no less than 0.3m above the heads of the birds. If the birds are to be housed for longer periods, more space must be provided.


Ostrich require natural daytime lighting. If animals are to be kept indoors, suitable artificial lighting must be provided for at least eight hours during daylight, and it must be adequate for the keeper to clean and work in the accommodation.


If kept indoors, fresh air ventilation must be provided.


The drainage of the outdoor enclosure must be capable of rapidly removing all excess water. Drains should be designed to avoid injury to the birds, and sited so as not to impede their movement. Any open drains, other than those carrying surface water, should be outside the enclosure. Any faecal material must be disposed of in an environmentally sound manner.


Outdoor enclosures should be maintained in a clean state, with faeces, food debris and litter being removed on a daily basis. Indoor enclosures should ideally be built with materials that can be easily cleaned and disinfected.

Due to their inquisitive nature, ostriches are particularly susceptible to the ingestion of foreign bodies, which can prove fatal. The enclosure should be checked for foreign bodies daily and anything which could cause harm should be removed.

Social dynamics and behavioural considerations

The defence against predators relies on keen vision and avoidance behaviour, which includes running away at high speeds. Ostriches can run up to 70kph and alter course suddenly.

In the wild, ostriches will forage for food over a daily radius of up to 20km, so the provision of maximum space possible is recommended.

Ostrich are naturally gregarious and do well in groups.  

Ostriches are susceptible to stress, and should not be housed next to public highways.

Special care must be given to chicks reared artificially. The absence of adult birds reduces the motivation for chicks to move around, and this can lead to medical problems if some form of activity is not encouraged.

Protection of young

In the breeding season, male birds may become more aggressive. Naturally reared chicks are protected by an adult for up to 18 months after hatching. 

Prevention of escape

In addition to the fencing requirements, enclosures should be securely locked at all times. A double door with a space of approximately 2m² separating the two gates should be erected allowing the keeper to enter without a risk of the birds escaping. Both gates should be padlocked.  

If the enclosure is accessible by the public, steps should be taken to prevent the possibility of the public gaining access to, or being injured by, the birds. This may require the erection of a secondary fence (a stand-off barrier), or a solid wall on the accessible sides of the enclosure. Warning signs may also be required.

Food, drink and bedding

Adult ostrich are generally herbivorous but will take small amounts of insects and small vertebrates.  Pellets are available for maintenance, rearing and breeding, and are recommended.

When birds are kept in groups, feed must be located to allow all birds to feed at the same time.

Birds should also be provided with a source of grit to aid digestion.

Fresh drinking water must be provided at all times.

Ostriches require dry absorbent bedding material which is not attractive to eat. Young birds should not be provided with bedding.

Visiting interval

The birds must be monitored at appropriate intervals, normally at least twice every 24 hours.

Exercise and enrichment

The enclosure should be big enough for the animals to exercise. Dust bathing is enjoyed. 

Provision for capturing the birds

It is recommended that the enclosure have a facility for catching the birds. This is normally achieved via a race (chute) and capture pen with a non-slip floor and solid sides. Hoods and/or a shepherd’s crook are useful tools as an aid to capturing ostrich.  

A licence, issued by the local authority for the keeping of ostriches may specify restrictions on the movement of these animals and procedures to be followed.

Emergency planning

There should be a written contingency plan in place to be used in the event of an emergency, for example fire, flood, animal escape or injury to the keeper.

Notification requirements

The licence may also specify procedures to be followed in the event of an escape and on the provision of information to the emergency services.

You are required to notify the local authority of any intentions to breed the animals.

Prevention and control of spread of infectious disease

Provision should be made to allow separation of sick or injured birds from the group. This may be achieved using a holding pen, or fencing off an area of the paddock.  

The keeper should provide details of their veterinary arrangements with a practice prepared to treat these birds. A schedule of veterinary care, including routine parasite control, is necessary and the keeping of records of veterinary attention is essential.  

Arrangements should be in place for the emergency humane euthanasia and disposal of ostrich.  Keepers intending to farm ostriches for meat must demonstrate that a provision for the humane slaughter of the birds has been made.

Potential diseases of significance to human public health include avian tuberculosis and chlamydia.  Some provision for testing the birds for these diseases, and providing treatment if necessary, must be demonstrated.





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