The term 'ratite' refers to birds which are unable to fly, basically because they do not have a keel (bone that flight breast muscles attach). Commercial ratite species include ostrich, emu and rhea. Additional ratite species include the kiwi from New Zealand and the cassowary from Australia and New Guinea. These last two species are not raised commercially.

Location of the keel bone

Chicken skeleton - with a keel bone

Ostrich skeleton

Ostrich skeleton - no keel bone

Although ratites cannot fly, their wings are important. The wings are used for cooling, for balance during running and during courtship display.


Ostrich are raised commercially for meat, leather and feathers (and sometimes their eggs) depending on the market available.


Although ostrich originated in Asia, they are most commonly associated with Africa. The ostrich is the largest living bird with adults reaching 6-8 feet in height and weighing 250-400 pounds. Despite their large size, ostrich can run 40 miles per hour. They are the only ratite with two toes which are adapted for running and walking. One of the toes has a long nail which can be used in defense.

Ostrich are omnivores meaning that they each both plants and animals. In the wild, the ostrich diet consists of plants, fruits, seeds, leaves, shoots, and the occasional invertebrate and lizard.

Ostriches are polygamous meaning that one male can mate with several females. During the breeding season the female incubates the eggs during the day with the male incubating at night.

Ostriches are raised commercially for their meat, hide and feathers. Slaughtering an ostrich at 12-14 months of age typically results in 80 pounds of boneless meat, 15 square feet of hide and 3 pounds of feathers.



Emus are native to Australia and the second largest living bird. Adults are typically 5-6 feet tall and weigh 110-140 pounds. The feather of the emu is unique. The hair-like with two identical shafts with barbs that do not interlock to form the traditional feather vane.

Emus are able to run more than 30 miles per hour. They have long legs and are actually good swimmers.

Emus are monogamous, meaning that they mate in pairs. The females lays the eggs, but it is the male that incubates them.

Emus are raised commercially around the world for oil, meat, leather and feathers (and sometimes their eggs) depending on the market available.



Rhea are native to South America. They are raised around the world for their feathers, hide and meat (and their eggs depending on the the market available). The feathers are used for feather dusters. The hide is converted to leather and used to produce a wide variety of products.

Unlike most birds, rhea have only three toes on each foot (instead of the common four toes per foot). They also store urine separately in an expansion of the cloaca.

Emu head


Rhea head