U.S. Ostrich Farming
1. The Issue:
The ostrich market is now experiencing large growth increases, due to the breakup of a South African ostrich monopoly. This breakup has caused the worldwide price of ostrich products to decrease, and these goods are now beginning to become affordable to the common man in both Europe and the US. In order for ostrich products to continue to become affordable, more breeders must be distributed worldwide distribution of ostrich ranches increases, it will cause governments of nations with ostrich farms concern that the imported ostriches may carry with them the deadly heart-water fever virus. This virus is extremely contagious within the chicken, turkey, and cattle ranching industry, and if unchecked, can wipe out entire populations of these animals. The governments of the US, New Zealand, and Australia, which all contain large ostrich ranches, have agreed on a thirty day quarantine on each ostrich imported from South Africa, so that the heart-water virus will not be allowed to be introduced into native livestock farming within those countries.
There is a new and exciting market worldwide for ostriches and the products from them. These ostrich products include the likes of boots, handbags, jewelry, feather dusters, as well as red meat, and these products are beginning to gain global attention for their ultra-fine quality. Ostrich ranchers both in the US and South Africa are beginning to turn over high profits. However, the industry is not without its problems, and these include the introduction of a deadly bird virus into existing populations of US, Australian, and New Zealand birds, from imported ostriches coming from South Africa. Another problem is found in that the prices of ostrich meat, and the other associated ostrich goods, are extremely high, due to the lack of ostriches available for slaughter.
The Ostrich is a type of bird known as a “Ratite,” which means that it is a flightless bird, having underdeveloped wings, and a breastbone without a keel. Even though the ostrich and its ratite relatives cannot fly, it did descend from flying ancestors. These ancestors, known as Struthionidae originated on the Asiatic steppes sometime between 40 to 50 million years ago. Later, the ostrich broadened its range to encompass Africa, and it has currently evolved into four sub-species which roam freely throughout the African continent.
The ostrich is the largest of all birds, and an adult may stand 3m or 10 feet tall, and may weigh more than 400 pounds.1 Due to this large frame, the ostrich’s legs are quite long, and they allow the animal to achieve strides of up to 12 feet in length, along with the ability to run at 30 MPH for up to 15 minutes or more if need be, and the top speed of an ostrich is quite fast, in that it may reach up to 43mph.
Advantage of the Ostrich:
Many observers of the ostrich industry believe that the time is right for the business of ostrich farming to boom. These optimists believe that ostrich meat, as well as other ostrich products, such as its leather and feathers, will exceed the beef cattle market in the years to come, and they give some compelling reasons for this. The first advantage to ostrich farming is that the birds do not require an enormous amount of land to graze upon, which is unlike cattle or sheep. Only 1/3 of an acre of land is required to raise a pair of ostriches, and if a third bird is added, then only 1/2 of an acre would be required.(3) A second advantage to ostrich farming is that they breed extremely earlier and more regularly than traditional animals such as beef cattle. For example, the female ostrich may begin to produce eggs at the age of 2, and can produce anywhere from 30 to 90 eggs per year.(4)
Due to these figures, the potential for the ostrich market is enormous, in that the meat tastes similar to beef, however, it is much healthier than beef due to the fact that it is very low in fat and cholesterol. Since this “red” meat has been proven to be quite healthier than traditional red meat, many health conscious consumers throughout the world, who are worried about the risk of heart attacks, high blood pressure, and heart disease, would be interested in the purchasing of ostrich meat.
Another benefit to the ostrich rancher is that when an ostrich is slaughtered, very little is wasted in the slaughtering process. When an ostrich is brought to slaughter the meat is sold to distributors and restaurants, the hide is sold for the production of high quality leather products, the feet are ground into a fine dust and sold to the far east as an aphrodisiac, the feathers of the ostrich are sold to automobile manufacturers and are used in the final stage of painting new automobiles, and lastly, the eyes are sold to research facilities to perform studies to gain more knowledge on human cataracts.
Some of the other advantages to the ostrich industry are that it currently has access to buying and breeding programs On-Line, and ostrich farms can communicate with each other from the US, Australia, and New Zealand via the inter-net. Ostriches On-Line can do all of the husbandry for the prospective farmer, which includes incubation, hatching, boarding, sales of eggs and chicks, and even the taking of the birds to slaughter.
Ostriches On-Line, predicts that the ostrich market could be in for a huge increase in demand in the near future. The potential is there for this growth, if the industry can possibly gain a 1% share in the US 28 billion pounds of beef, pork, chicken, and turkey consumed annually.(5) If this 1% goal is reached, then 3.5 million ostriches would be needed for slaughter, even though the current population is at 400,000-700,000, which includes prime breeders that would not be slaughtered.6 Therefore, many more birds are needed in order for the burgeoning market to flourish.
Currently, the largest problem with ostrich meat is that there are not enough birds, and the meat is too expensive. Therefore, it is recommended that producers come together in alliances, or Coops, to provide the ostrich packers with a consistent supply of meat, so that the packers may be able to find restaurants and retail outlets to provide meat to at an affordable price.
The Ostrich Industry:
Commercial ostrich farming began in South Africa approximately 150 years ago, and South Africa has had a virtual monopoly on the industry up until the 1980’s. Then, a group of US cattle farmers began to import breeder ostriches into the US in the early to mid 1980’s with the idea of eventually ranching the bird. These breeders were being exported from South Africa, and with these exports, South Africa was concerned that it would eventually lose its monopoly on the ostrich industry. Therefore, the Apartheid driven South African government put a ban on the birds being exported, due to the possibility of South Africa losing its monopoly on the ostrich.
Another problem was also looming from the exports of South African ostriches into various countries, and that was the heart-water fever virus. Heart-water fever is a virus which has the potential to spread to other birds which are raised as livestock, such as chickens or turkeys, in which the virus contains the possibility of killing off entire populations of ranched animals. However, once the ban on ostrich imports was lifted by the South African government, the US, New Zealand, and Australia began a 30 day quarantine program to ensure that the ostriches being imported into their countries did not carry the virus.