Table of Contents

1. Overview

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.


2. International business environment

Find information on the World Ostrich Association at

  • South Africa accounts for around 70 % of the ostriches slaughtered in the world and has a similar stake in the worldwide ostrich population. The country’s climate, experience and expertise are the main factors in its favour.
  • Poor economic growth globally has placed a damper on luxury items like ostrich feathers and leather.
  • The main competitors are emerging industries in the East and South America, and Australia.

South Africa exports and imports

  • The major export destinations for ostrich meat originating from South Africa during 2015 were Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland and France (DAFF, 2016). Owing to an outbreak of avian influenza in June 2017, the export of fresh ostrich meat is currently (December 2017) prohibited. The exporting of pre-cooked meat to the EU continues as normal.
  • Imported ostrich meat came mostly from Australia and Namibia (DAFF, 2016).
 Source: Ostrich Market Value Chain Profile.


3. Local business environment

Ostrich products are leather, feathers, meat, tourism, arts & crafts. Find the menu options for each product at

The industry is expected to recover quickly from the avian influenza confirmed in June 2017. Evidence suggests that ostriches have the genetic ability to develop immunity to the virus, and can re-enter production faster than their poultry counterparts (ABSA, 2017). The current outbreak is considered to be not as bad as what happened in 2011 (ibid.).

The industry has been mainly export orientated because of the international demand for exotic leather products and the trend towards healthier food (like ostrich meat – low in fat and cholestrol). It is mainly influenced by the exchange rate, the international economy, market growth and market stimulation, by supply and demand chain dynamics and animal disease control. Other cost factors which affect this industry include the prices of input supplies (feed, fuel, grain etc.) and production processes. South Africa’s exports for ostrich meat to the world had increased in value by 175% during the period 2014 to 2015 (DAFF, 2016). Prior to 2011, the Ostrich meat, leather and feathers exceed R2,1 billion annually in foreign revenue to the country’s economy. There is still some way to go before this level of success is achieved again, and the developments in June 2017 have not helped!

The industry has necessarily needed to pay more attention to the domestic market, following export bans. Value-add activities like ostrich leather products, and growing the local market for ostrich meat have potential.


  • 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.
  • There are ten EU approved and registered export abattoirs in South Africa and some 588 export registered ostrich farms. 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. Find documents relating to this at

The close proximity of ostrich farms to each other, which has a notable impact on fresh meat exports, must be addressed. It is also probable that ostrich chicks will, in future, be reared on farms in regions where feed is manufactured, and where farms are more than 10km apart from each other.

Source: ABSA Agricultural Outlook Spring 2017/2018


  • The large majority of ostrich feathers are exported to Europe for the manufacturing of dusters, to Brazil for use in carnivals, or to other countries for use in the production of fashion accessories (ABSA, 2017).


The market for ostrich leather comprises two, important industries:

  • Ostrich leather is popular in the production of US boots. This is a declining market and the imperative is to find new markets for ostrich leather to offset this (ABSA, 2017)
  • Ostrich leather remains in high demand from international fashion brands for the manufacturing of handbags. Countries, such as South Korea, import ostrich leather from South Africa, process it to manufacture handbags, and export these to countries such as Japan, China, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Sources: ABSA Agricultural Outlook Spring 2017/2018; Ostrich Market Value Chain Profile.


4. 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.