GREENWICH, N.Y. — Have you ever tasted the delicacy that is ostrich meat? Me neither, but many out there enjoy the wondrous products ostrich farming brings to the U.S. market. This alternative livestock is known for its red meat, large eggs, festive feathers, and durable leather products. Yet, do you know much about ostrich farming in general?
You may see an ostrich here or there at the fair, in the circus, or at the zoo. These large creatures have a sort of menacing look to them and many pass on by without ever thinking of them as a part of the livestock industry, but they are. Read on to learn more about ostrich farming in the U.S. and the many ostrich products consumed daily.
Ostrich Farming as a Sustainable Agricultural Venture
Some people are drawn to ostrich farming because it is considered more sustainable than most primary livestock operations. For instance, ostriches use only ⅓ of the freshwater required to raise beef and 1/50 of the land. They also emit significantly less methane than beef, pork, or sheep.
Ostriches also produce at least 40 chicks a year and are ready for market within 400 days of conception (compared to cows having calves once a year that are ready for market 650 days after conception). They can produce eggs for up to 30 years and when harvested, 52% of an ostrich’s body weight is yielded for consumption (compared to 41% of a cattle’s).
Ostrich meat is considered red meat because it contains myoglobin. It can replace beef in most recipes since it looks and tastes very similar to beef, although it is technically considered poultry. Therefore, ostrich meat could be used to more sustainably produce red meat to meet the high demand in the United States.
But, would people like to switch to ostrich meat since it is outside of our ‘normal’ consumption?
Should You Be Capitalizing on Ostrich Products?
Besides meat, ostriches provide us with several products including:
- Eggs (to eat or decorate the shells)
- Feathers (dusting and costumes)
- Leather (strong and flexible)
- Oil (used to hydrate skin, heal wounds faster, and style beards)
- Pet treats (made from Ostrich meat and byproducts)
Ostrich leather is relatively rare, making it quite expensive. The leather is rather strong and flexible, making for great handbags and other accessories that will last a long time. As an ostrich farmer, you can utilize almost every aspect of the ostrich to make yourself money.
What Should I Know About Ostriches?
Ostriches are the world’s fastest and largest birds. They can grow up to 8 feet tall (whereas emus only grow to about 6 feet tall), weigh over 400 pounds, and can run up to 40 miles per hour. Talk about hard-to-catch livestock! At least they cannot fly.
These animals are primarily herbivores but are known to eat insects and small animals such as mice, lizards, and frogs. They are tolerant of many climates and originate from Africa. All around the world, people farm ostriches, with New Zealand and Poland being the highest two producers of ostrich meat. They require a special approach to farming though.
Ostriches lean more towards the fight instinct rather than the flight instinct. When they feel threatened for any reason, they can use their feet as very powerful weapons that can cause severe lacerations and even break your bones. An ostrich’s kick is strong enough to kill a lion. Therefore, you need to thoroughly understand their instincts and how to properly handle them before investing in ostrich farming.
The Boom And Bust of Ostrich Farming in the U.S.
Ostrich farming has been quite popular in the U.S. in the past. When these birds were first introduced in the U.S. in the late 1880s, the industry started to take off. It fell, however, when the fashion demand for feathers dropped off. The industry then saw a brief boom in the late 1930s that quickly died off.
In the early 1980s, the industry really started to take off as Americans were turning to a healthier lifestyle, and ostrich meat was prepared to offer that. The industry was built on a weak foundation though, causing a sharp decline in the late 1990s.
Now, we are beginning to see an increased demand for sustainably sourced products, which could lead to the boom of the ostrich industry yet again. The success of the industry lies completely with how well farmers can create a new foundation and create a strong demand for the product (essentially, how well it is advertised).
What Does an Ostrich Farm Look Like?
Most ostrich farms are on flat plains divided into different pastures for various stages of life. There are barns for the hatchlings and breeding pens for the animals to naturally court one another. It looks a lot like your regular farm with fences, water tubs, and alfalfa hay.
These are social animals, preferring to be in groups to maintain a happy, healthy life. They can bond with their human keepers, just like cows, sheep, and pigs. The more you interact with the ostriches when they are young, the more likely they are to form a bond with you when they age.
Ostriches also don’t require much worry when it comes to predators due to their incredible defense mechanisms. Some farmers have livestock dogs to patrol and help the ostriches feel safe, but they are perfectly capable of fending off attacks with their powerful legs and acute hearing that lets them know when danger is near.
Unlocking the Potential of Ostrich Farming in the U.S
Alternative livestock, such as ostriches, are starting to draw more attention as the nation shifts to a more sustainable mindset. Nobody can be positive about whether the market will boom and bust again, but you can try your hand in the industry and see how it can help your farm reach new markets.
The key to success with ostrich farming is creating a demand and utilizing every aspect of the bird. You may not always have a high demand for meat, but the leather industry could be your best friend. Find your market, share your knowledge, share the benefits, and enjoy the life of an ostrich farmer!
Lila Nolan is a dairy farmer in White Creek, NY who works at Morning Ag Clips. She enjoys taking a look at the Ag industry and writing about the Udder Chaos that occurs in her life.