Search
Close this search box.

Ostriches

Introduction

More than seven million years ago ostriches migrated across Africa. These birds became a source of food for the San people and a popular theme for their rock paintings. The San were not the only ones who found these birds fascinating: detailed pictures of ostriches have also been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, Roman generals and their wives wore their beautiful plumes during state functions and Arabs hunted the bird for sport.

Today, ostrich meat, leather, feathers, eggs and a great variety of ostrich curios and gifts are available all over the world. Durable feathers are used in feather dusters and the more colourful and attractive ones in stage productions, carnivals, as fashion accessories and for stylish garments. Globally ostrich meat is regarded as high quality red meat due to the fact that it is low in cholesterol and fat, versatile and tasty.

The largest concentration of ostriches in the world is found in Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape.

International business environment

Find information on the World Ostrich Association at https://worldostrich.org.

South Africa exports and imports

  • The country is a net exporter of ostrich products.
  • South Africa has about 588 registered export farms of which 453 are in the Western Cape, 102 in the Eastern Cape and 33 farms in the rest of the country. There are 8 European Union approved export abattoirs (DALRRD, 2021).
  • The value of exports in 2021 (meat, feathers and leather) exported amounted to R578.8 million (Meyer, 2022).
  • Ostrich feather products are mainly exported to Hong Kong, China and the United Kingdom (Meyer, 2022).
  • The major export markets for ostrich leather products are France, followed by USA and Mexico (Meyer, 2022).
  • In addition, meat and edible offal products are exported to Hong Kong, China. The other edible ostrich meat products are mainly exported to the Netherlands and Mauritius. The major export markets for treated meat products are the United Kingdom, Belgium and France (Meyer, 2022).
  • The export of ostrich products is covered in the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) annual Ostrich Market Value Chain Profile. Find this document on the Directorate Marketing’s web pages under the “Old website” option at www.old.dalrrd.gov.za.

Local business environment

Ostrich products are leather, feathers, meat, tourism, arts & crafts. 

South Africa accounts for around 75% of the ostriches slaughtered in the world and has a corresponding share of the worldwide ostrich population. The country’s climate, experience and expertise are the main factors in its favour (DALRRD, 2021).

Cost factors which affect this industry include the prices of input supplies (feed, fuel, grain etc.) and production processes. No production of crops like Lucerne in drought areas mean that feed has to be transported from some distance away, increasing costs.

The industry has been mainly export orientated, helped by the international demand for exotic leather products and the trend towards healthier food (like ostrich meat – low in fat and cholestrol). As such, factors like the exchange rate, the international economy, market growth and market stimulation, supply and demand chain dynamics and animal disease control feature as important determiners of the sector’s profitability.

Feathers

The large majority of ostrich feathers is exported and used for the manufacturing of dusters, for use in carnivals and in the production of fashion accessories.

Leather

Ostrich leather is used by international fashion brands for the manufacturing of handbags and boots. Refer to the SAOL (South African Ostrich Leather) website for more – www.saol.org.za.

Meat

Meeting EU and other international requirements is essential for effective marketing. As a result, the industry adheres to the strict EU-requirements; especially regarding full traceability.

The local market for ostrich meat is slowly being developed. The meat is a niche-market product, aimed at lifestyle-and health-conscious consumers. Processing of meat, such as salami and pastrami are identified as further possibilities.

Sources: The Ostrich Market Value Chain Profile.

For the newcomer

A nutritionally well fed and well cared for high pedigree female ostrich can easily produce 40 offspring per year, but not before the female bird is three years of age. Coupled with a short gestation period of only 42 days to hatch an ostrich egg, it is easy to see why this is an industry worthy of investigation.

In theory, 500 offspring from one high pedigree female bird can bring a long term and worthwhile farming operation. In reality however, mortalities are high (50% plus) in chicks. Ostriches breed well in a warm climate. Heavy rain and thunderstorms will certainly affect the breeding cycle. High humidity can also be a problem – not necessarily for breeding itself, but for young chicks. High humidity means high bacteria and young chicks are susceptible to catching all kinds of diseases when they are young.

A good supply of natural feed, including alfalfa (lucerne), maize, soy and wheat are a definite advantage as these are staple foods for an ostrich. A mature ostrich consumes 2,5 kg of feed per day. An unlimited supply of fresh, clean water is an absolute necessity. Ostriches drink up to 2 gallons (9 litres) of water every day.

The global focus of farming is now truly pointing towards environmentally friendly business operations. With the huge amounts of antibiotics being force fed into chickens, beef, pork and turkeys, together with intensive farming, steroids, growth hormones and all the other unnatural additives, it makes a fresh change to find a farming industry which does not require such techniques. Farming ostriches is environmentally friendly; steroid, hormone and force- feeding free. Ostriches are free roaming livestock and feed off all natural ostrich feed.

Ostriches require little or no handling once they reach four or five months of age. However, they need to be vaccinated against Newcastle Disease three months before slaughter and also need to be treated against ticks and be kept in a quarantine camp (which is free of any vegetation) fourteen days prior to slaughter.

Farming ostriches can be financially rewarding. As with all livestock, there are pitfalls and danger areas to be aware of. Prospective farmers should be aware of the fact that it takes 30 months from hatching before any income is received.

The 2 biggest problems by far are:

  1. Capital required due to high feeding costs and the amount of land needed to keep ostriches (if ostriches are to be kept on natural veldt the carrying capacity is one ostrich per 22,8 hectares)
  2. High risk due to the fact that ostrich chicks are being borne without an immune system, leading to high mortalities during the first month.

Advice to new ostrich farmers:

  1. Make sure you can comply with all the international regulations and requirements.
  2. Investigate the most suitable marketing arrangement(s), i.e. where to slaughter the birds, methods of payment (entire ostrich or skin and feathers separate from meat, etc).
  3. Ensure that you do have the financial resources to carry you through the first 30 months.

For more information contact: SAOBC (see “Role players” heading below).

Find information about the Ostrich Manual under “Websites and publications” below.

National strategy and government contact

  • Find information on all directorates of the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) at www.dalrrd.gov.za.
  • Find details of state veterinarians on the “Animal health” page.
  • National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) www.namc.co.za
  • Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (the dtic) Export Council Secretariat www.thedtic.gov.za
Find the ostrich regulations from the Meat Safety Act, 2000 (Act 40 of 2000) at www.gov.za/documents/meat-safety-act-regulations-ostrich.

All ostrich farmers in South Africa are expected to comply with VPN/04/2012-01 (Revision 6.0) Standard for the Requirements, Registration, Maintenance of Registration and Official Control of Ostrich Compartments in South Africa.

In addition to the Codes of Practice, there is a published South African National Standard, SANS 994-1:2011 Ratite farming Part 1: Ostriches.

Role players

 Companies

Note: Click to expand the headings below.  To get a free listing on our website like the ones below, visit here for more information or place your order hereDisclaimer: The role player listings are not vetted by this website.

 
 
 Representative Bodies
 Training, Consulting & Research Service Providers
 Community, NGO and NPO Service Providers
 

Further reference:

Associations

  • The SA Ostrich Producers Organisation (SAOO) and the National Ostrich Processors of SA (NOPSA) are the two main representative bodies and together they form the SA Ostrich Business Chamber (SAOBC). The mission of the SAOBC is to promote a sustainable, economically viable ostrich industry in South Africa through the participation of stake holders.
  • Ostrich Breeders Society There are Codes of Practice pertaining to the breeding and rearing of ostriches. These Codes apply to anyone keeping ostriches for any reason. Farms and abattoirs are regularly inspected to ensure welfare and compliance with EU standards is maintained to a high standard.

Training and research

  • Research is conducted on all factors influencing commercial farming as well as the welfare of the animals. A formal agreement exists between the SAOBC and the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, which results in research projects.  Find publications, presentations and other information on the Oudtshoorn Research Farm web pages. Research as well as farmer support and development is carried out.
  • Role players like Cape Karoo International undertake their own private research, focusing largely on food safety and animal health.
  • There are currently no formal training courses for prospective producers: all training is done in-house, on-the-job. The Ostrich Manual contains guidelines for farming with ostriches. Formal qualifications tend to be the B.Sc.Agric. or diplomas in agriculture.
  • There are training opportunities for processors in this industry (abattoirs and tanning). Employers make use of accredited trainers to ensure that training falls in line with the National Qualifications Framework (NQF).
 

Websites and publications

Visit the websites listed earlier.

  • Refer to the publications available from Oudtshoorn Research Farm (Western Cape Department of Agriculture) at www.elsenburg.com/oudtshoorn-research-farm/. These include the Ostrich Manual (English version of Volstruishandleiding). Contact the SAOBC for other publications.
  • Find the annual Ostrich Market Value Chain Profile document on the Directorate Marketing’s web pages under the “Old website” option at www.dalrrd.gov.za.
  • http://worldostrich.org, website of the World Ostrich Association, has downloads like “The Guide to Purchasing Ostrich Eggs, Day Old Chicks and Breeders”.
  • Find the Nation in Conversation overview of the ostrich industry (Feb 2017) on YouTube www.youtube.com/watch?v=osklZ_kSYAM
  • Buergelt C. 2000. Diseases of Ostriches and Other Ratities. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 36(3):599. https://doi.org/10.7589/0090-3558-36.3.599
  • Huchzermeyer F.W. 1998. Diseases of ostriches and other ratites. Pretoria: Agricultural Research Council – Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute
  • Shanawany, M. & Dingle, J. 1999. Ostrich production systems. Rome: Food And Agriculture Organisation. Available at www.fao.org/3/a-x2370e.pdf.
  • Contact the SAOBC for other publications.

Some articles

Table of Contents