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 http://world-ostrich.org.
South Africa exports and imports
- 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 and the cancellation of carnivals and festivals due to Covid-19 lockdowns 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.
- 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 at www.dalrrd.gov.za.
Local business environment
Ostrich products are leather, feathers, meat, tourism, arts & crafts. Find the menu options for each product at www.ostrichsa.co.za.
Prolonged drought and Covid-19 have contributed to uncertainty and difficult times in the ostrich industry. Some areas are in their sixth year of drought, and many farming units are in a state of extreme distress.
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.
There is uncertainty about how international markets will respond in a post-Covid-19 world, particularly to high-end goods like ostrich products.
The large majority of ostrich feathers are exported and used for the manufacturing of dusters, for use in carnivals and in the production of fashion accessories. Covid-19 saw markets like the ones in China closing, and prices have halved.
Ostrich leather have been used by international fashion brands for the manufacturing of handbags and boots.
In an effort to reduce ostrich meat volumes, slaughter quotas have been introduced for the 2020/21 production year.
Most of South Africa’s ostrich meat was previously exported to countries in Europe as pre-heated meat. This product will have to regain the shelf-space it had prior to Covid-19.
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 www.ostrichsa.co.za.
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: www.farmersweekly.co.za/agri-news/south-africa/ostrich-farmers-in-distress-due-to-drought-and-covid-19; 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:
- 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)
- 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:
- Make sure you can comply with all the international regulations and requirements.
- 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).
- Ensure that you do have the financial resources to carry you through the first 30 months.
For more information contact: SAOBC (see the “Associations involved” heading).
Find information about the Ostrich Manual under “Websites & publications”.
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.zaThe Exotic Leather Research Centre at the University of Pretoria (see “Training & research” heading) featured in the then dti’s 2017/18-2019/20 Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP).
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.
- SA Ostrich Business Chamber (SAOBC) www.ostrichsa.co.za
- SA Ostrich Producers Organisation (SAOO) Tel: 044 272 3336
- National Ostrich Processors of SA (NOPSA) www.nopsa.com
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. Find information on www.ostrichsa.co.za.
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. The research results assist farmers with decision-making. Call 021 808 5111.
- Oudtshoorn Research Farm Tel: 044 203 9403 www.elsenburg.com/research-farms Find publications, presentations and other information on the 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.
- The Department of Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Sciences at the University of the Free State is involved with research.
- Stellenbosch University Department of Animal Sciences www.sun.ac.za/animal
- University of Pretoria Exotic Leather Research Centre Tel: 012 529 8386 www.up.ac.za/exotic-leather-research-centre
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).
Lectures on ostrich diseases are included in a wildlife Elective taught at the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Pretoria.
Major ostrich companies
- Cape Karoo International https://capekarooint.com
- Gondwana Marketing Tel: 079 871 8231/2 or 082 305 4107
- Klein Karoo Agri www.kleinkarooagri.co.za
- Ranchos Las Plumas https://fancyfeather.com
- Roelcor www.roelcor.co.za
- Swartland Volstruise Tel: 022 487 4651
- African Crafts Market www.africancraftsmarket.com/products/african-ostrich-eggs.html Ostrich egg engraving
- Cango Ostrich Farm www.cangoostrich.co.za Ostrich curios and tourism
- Cape Cobra Leather www.capecobra.co.za Leather products
- Cape Point Ostrich Farm http://capepointostrichfarm.com Ostrich curios and tourism
- Cape Town Ostrich Ranch www.ostrichranch.co.za Ostrich curios and tourism
- Cavalli Ostrich Leather Products www.cavalli.co.za Leather products
- De Denne www.dedenne.com A tourist ostrich farm in Oudtshoorn which also offers accommodation
- DIVAC Tel: 044 874 2720 Ostrich slaughtering and process plants
- Highgate Ostrich Show Farm www.highgate.co.za Ostrich tourism
- Jacobs Poultry www.jacobspoultry.co.za Black Neck Ostriches for sale
- Leather & Suede www.leatherandsuede.co.za Leather products
- Lorenzi www.lorenzi.co.za Leather products
- Lugro Ostrich Leather Products www.lugro-ostrich.co.za Leather products
- Oasis Tanning www.oasistanning.co.za Leather products
- Orso Leather Garments www.orso.co.za Leather products
- Ostrich Divaz Tel: 044 213 3118 Ostrich farm and self-catering accommodation
- Ostrich International www.ostrichint.co.za Leather products
- Ostrimark SA (Edms) Bpk. www.ostrimark.co.za Leather products
- Rietfontein Ostrich Palace www.rop.co.za Ostrich curios and tourism
- Safari Show Farm http://safariostrich.co.za Ostrich tourism
- Via La Moda https://www.vialamoda.co.za Leather products
- Woodheads www.woodheads.co.za Leather products
Websites and publications
Visit the websites listed earlier.
- Find the annual Ostrich Market Value Chain Profile document on the Directorate Marketing’s web pages at www.dalrrd.gov.za.
- Find the presentation by Anel Engelbrecht, delivered in March 2017 called “Improving ostrich skin quality” at www.elsenburg. Many other presentations, publications and resources are available from the Oudtshoorn Research Farm (see the “Training and research” heading).
- Find the publications available from the Western Cape Department of Agriculture at www.elsenburg.com. These include the Ostrich Manual (English version of Volstruishandleiding).
- Find the Nation in Conversation overview of the ostrich industry (Feb 2017) on YouTube www.youtube.com/watch?v=osklZ_kSYAM
- http://world-ostrich.org, website of the World Ostrich Association, has downloads like “The Guide to Purchasing Ostrich Eggs, Day Old Chicks and Breeders”.
- 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.
- Manoko T. 2021, November 3. “Grounded in his calling but aiming for the skies”. Food for Mzansi. Available at www.foodformzansi.co.za/grounded-in-his-calling-but-aiming-for-the-skies/
- Tom S. 2021, March 29. “Ostrich industry: Farmers resilient in tough times”. Food For Mzansi. Available at www.foodformzansi.co.za/ostrich-industry-resilient-in-tough-times/
- Van der Walt J. 2020, August 13. “Ostrich farmers in distress due to drought and COVID-19”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/agri-news/south-africa/ostrich-farmers-in-distress-due-to-drought-and-covid-19/
- Van Rooyen C. 2020, July 17. “Nuwe superboerdery: As twee volstruisreuse saamsmelt” [new super farm if two ostrich giants meld]. Landbouweekblad. Available at www.netwerk24.com/landbou/Bedrywe/Diere/nuwe-superboerdery-as-twee-volstruisreuse-saamsmelt-20200717
- Sishuba S. 2020, March 4. “Growing pains of a young North West ostrich farmer”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/animals/game-and-wildlife/growing-pains-of-a-young-north-west-ostrich-farmer/
- Karombo T. 2020, February 1. “SA produces more than 65% of the world’s ostriches but farmers say they need more rain”. Business Report. Available at www.iol.co.za/business-report/economy/sa-produces-more-than-65-of-the-worlds-ostriches-but-farmers-say-they-need-more-rain-41808296
- Omarjee L. 2019, August 15. “Tribunal greenlights merger of SA’s biggest ostrich firms, but Ts and Cs apply”. Fin24. Available at www.fin24.com/Companies/Agribusiness/tribunal-greenlights-merger-of-sas-biggest-ostrich-firms-but-ts-and-cs-apply-20190815
- Phillips, L. 2019, July 2. “Ostrich processors challenge CompCom merger prohibition”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/agri-news/south-africa/ostrich-processors-challenge-compcom-merger-prohibition/
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