Archive for January 2013

Ostrich Meat Grading

Newsletter No. 36 – February 2006 Item 4

Many of our members have not attended conferences or training courses where the Grading system has been explained.  To develop a better understanding, this section will discuss the main points of the system and their relevance:

There are 5 Grades:  Prime, Choice, Select, Utility and Non-Food

Prime, Choice and Select Grade:
- Prime grade is the best quality meat and will carry the highest market value.
- Choice grade is a young cull breeder or bird held too long before slaughter. Some muscles will be less tender and lower value than Prime
- Select is a cull breeder of any age over 24 months.  Provided the breeder has been fed a good diet all her/his life - the meat will still be good tasting and a good colour.  It will be tougher and therefore carry a lower price than Prime or Choice

To qualify for the relevant Grade a bird must satisfy every definition.  The only difference with Prime, Choice and Select is bird age all other definitions are the same:

Bird Age - Prime
Definition: Less than 16 months.
Comment: As referenced above individual companies may choose to improve on this and only allow birds up to 300 days as their top grade to give additional competitive advantage.  Perhaps this can be called Prime Plus?

Bird Age - Choice
Definition:  16 to 24 months of age
Comment:  This category picks up birds that were not slaughtered prior to 16 months but still young enough to have some quality tender muscles

Bird Age - Select
Definition: 25 months of age and older
Comment:  This will be all cull breeders that have been well raised and meet all the other criteria laid down for this category

Fat Pan Colour:
Definition: White Fat Pan Colour only
Comment: Birds can produce fat from Pure White to very deep yellow colour.   Fat colour is a key indicator to bird health.  When yellow fat is present, very often other negative factors can be seen on the bird that will influence the overall taste and appearance of the meat. The picture below is the Japanese Beef Grading and has been published as part of the marketing by a number of companies producing Beef as part of their marketing program. This web site is one such company:   Note how they not only discuss fat marbling they also have this colour chart for Fat Colour and Meat Colour - Figure 1.   Ostrich fat is often seen very much more yellow that the lowest score given in this example.   In this example of the Japanese Beef Grading system the higher the grade the more desirable the meat and the fat and colour chart, the lower the score the more desirable.  The more desirable attributes will achieve the highest price.

Japanese Beef Grading

Figure 1 – Japanese Beef Grading

Ideally an Ostrich slaughter bird should carry a fat pan of approximately 32-35mm thick.  Too little fat is also a sign of malnutrition that can lead to variable tasting and poorly textured meat.

Muscle Colour:
Definition: Even red muscle colour throughout
Comment: Variable colour within the same muscle is a nutritional inadequacy and therefore controllable.  The most common known variable colouration in single muscles is White Muscle Disease.  If you ever see muscles of differing colour or some very pale or white muscle - corrective action needs to be taken.  Apart from the affect on bird health and therefore economic performance, consumers are influenced by the colour and appearance of meat.[4]   Muscle with the appearance of the Ostrich muscles in Figure 2 are not attractive to the consumer and commonly seen in our industry at this time.  During one presentation an ostrich meat processor informed me that meat looking like this photograph was all he ever saw, he believed it to be normal.  Meat from birds producing one or more muscles such as figure 2 will not qualify for Prime, Choice or Select Grade.

Multie Coloured Muscles

Figure 2 – Multi-Coloured Muscles

Heart Condition:
Definition: Heart of normal size, colour and texture, with no damage
Comment: A small heart, a heart surrounded by yellow fat, a heart that is a poor texture are all key indicators to malnutrition and it is commonly seen in ostrich today.

Liver Condition:
Definition: Mid-brown colour with no abscess/ulcerations
Comment: Many, if not all, slaughter plants that have slaughtered ostrich will be able to report extremely variable liver conditions - more variable than is commonly seen in mainstream livestock specie.  When any abnormality of the liver is seen, the bird must be downgraded.  The liver is a blood filtering organ and when the liver is not functioning to the optimum, there will be odd tastes in the meat.

Disease Condition:
Definition: No disease symptoms or evidence
Comment: This bird will be downgraded to Non-Food

Other Condition:
Definition: No Oedema or "jell" substance on heart, thigh or sternum
Comment: These conditions are also symptoms of mal-nutrition.  When mal-nutrition is present the meat will usually be more variable in colour, taste and texture.

Utility Grade:
A Utility grade bird will be any bird that does not meet the standards set out for Prime, Choice or Select grade, but is fit to eat.  The meat will be inconsistent in taste, colour and texture and this grade is to be discouraged for retail sales while our industry is working to establish a place in the market and achieve good prices.  Utility grade meat should only be used for further processing into value added products. The following are the definitions for Utility Grade.  A bird will be Utility grade if it has any one of the conditions referenced:

Bird Age: 
Definition: Any age of bird
Comment: When a bird has any of the conditions defined below, the meat is likely to be variable in flavour and less attractive to market due to darker meat colour.

Fat Pan Colour:
Definition: Yellow Fat Pan colour
Comment:  As referenced above, fat of a more yellow colour is a key indicator to the overall health of a bird.  Yellow fat also has a poor aroma that is indicative of the impurities in the fat.  Although Ostrich meat is sold free of fat, the presence of yellow fat on the carcass is an indicator of variable tasting meat of variable degree of tenderness.

Muscle Colour:
Definition: Multi-colouring of muscles (pink to dark red)
White colour areas in some muscle
Comment:  Multi-colouring is not attractive to the consumer and the meat will be variable in taste.

Heart Condition:
Definition: Small, damaged or spongy texture hearts
Comment:  A poor heart will be caused either by mal-nutrition or disease.

Liver Condition:
Yellow, Green or Black Colour
Liver abscesses or ulcerations
Comment:  All above definitions are key indicators to liver damage of some degree.  Livers unable to function adequately are unable to filter the blood adequate and may result in toxins and/or heavy metals remaining in the muscle and/or fat.  Depending on the severity of the damage, these conditions can result in off tasting meat and meat with a poor aroma.

Disease Condition:
Definition: No disease symptoms or evidence
Comment:  Disease can result in infection in the birds that may cross contaminate good meat and/or infection may be passed onto the consumer if the meat is not handled correctly.

Other Condition:
Definition: Oedema or "jell" substance on heart, thigh or sternum
Comment: These conditions are also symptoms of mal-nutrition.  When mal-nutrition is present the meat will usually be more variable in colour, taste and texture.

Non-Food Grade:
Non-Food is a polite way to say condemned carcasses that are not fit for human consumption.  A condemned bird will display one or more of the following conditions.

Bird Age:
Definition: Any Age of Bird

Muscle Colour:
Muscles with abscesses or channels in meat
Muscles with light or dark spots

Liver Condition:
Definition: Spotty or infected livers

Disease Condition:
Definition:  Any disease symptoms or evidence

The greater the number of members who utilise the grading system as part of their marketing program the greater the opportunities for all to benefit.  Clearly a membership fee of $100/annum cannot provide the funding required developing this, but through communication the membership can come up with a plan.

Establishing Benchmark Production Targets for Ostrich

Newsletter No. 34 – January 2006 Item 7

Benchmarking is a method of understanding the norms as achievable targets, but more importantly understanding that they are targets to be improved on.  Agricultural production has survived the ongoing price/cost squeeze by continually improving production to reduce the unit costs of production.

Our fledgling industry lacks meaningful statistics and the above demonstrates the many pointers as to why we have producers failing to make good profits. The place to develop the data is from the commercial industry's participants.  The more information people are willing to share the more meaningful the information database we can build together to establish benchmark figures that are meaningful and productive for the industry.

Benchmarking records production statistics produced under commercial conditions to help commercial producers have something to measure their performance,  analyse their performance against measurable criteria and work to improve their performance.  If they are not achieving the right performance levels, start asking questions as to why.

A committee of "The Blue Mountain International Ostrich Alliance" (BMIOA) produced a set of performance criteria as a foundation for identifying and grading birds with superior genetics.  As a starting point your directors over the next few weeks will review those figures and publish a set of benchmark standards based on the following measurable criteria and current known information?

Measurable criteria are:

Breeder Birds
Key measurements
- Slaughter Bird/Adult Birds per hen
- Meat production per hen [see note 1]
- Breeder Cost per Day Old Chick
- Incubation Cost per hatched Chick
- Eggs Laid per hen - Number
- Eggs set %
- Fertile %
- Hatched % of Eggs Set
- Hatched % of Fertile
- Eggs per Chick
- Chick Mortality to week 2
- Chick Mortality to week 13
- Chick Mortality to Slaughter or transfer to Breeder Herd

Slaughter Bird Production:
Key Measurements [see note 2]
- Feed Conversion
- Total Boneless Meat
- Days to Slaughter
- Feed Costs to Slaughter
- Carcass Grade

- Liveweight [see note 3]
- Liveweight to Carcass %
- Carcass to Boneless Meat %
- Liveweight to Boneless Meat %
- Fat Weight
- Fat % of Liveweight
- Fat Colour
- Individual Muscle Weights [see note 4]
Breeder Bird Replacement:
- Age at Puberty
ie. hen - first fertile egg laid, male - first egg fertilised
- Progeny Performance
for all production selection criteria being developed in the herd [see note 5]

Note 1
The Slaughter Bird/Adult Birds per hen is the most meaningful figure.
Number of Eggs is meaningless unless Eggs are viable and produce strong, viable chicks.
40 Chicks/hen producing 45 kilos of boneless meat is more valuable than 80 chicks/hen producing 25kilos of boneless meat.
The definitions of Carcass and Boneless meat for measurement purposes need to be adhered to

Note 2
Feed conversion is a critical measurement that is controlled by:
- quality of chick at hatch
- production potential of feed from day 1 to slaughter
- feed management
- farm management (includes environment)
- bird genetics
- desired slaughter weight
- combined with correct feather development to provide high quality skin
Days to Slaughter - earlier slaughter:
- reduces feed consumed
- chick quality at hatch influences days to slaughter
- faster return on working capital
- less infrastructure and space required
Carcass Grade
- increases revenue
- requires marketing to educate market on carcass grades

Note 3
- use in association with the following statistics
- Liveweight to boneless meat
- Liveweight to carcass
- carcass to boneless meat
Boneless meat produces revenue

Note 4
Individual Muscle weights
- Certain muscles are greater value than other muscles
- Genetic selection can include development of body shape to enhance size of valuable muscles, such as the Fan
- Current published muscle weights prove the tremendous variations and potential

Note 5
The relevant progeny performance will be the traits the farm is selecting for.  It maybe:
- Egg production - greatest number of eggs produced
- Meat Production - development of confirmation that results in larger primary muscles, especially the fan
- Leather - particular follicle style
- Fat - good oil market, genetics that produce good fat
- Feed Conversion - the genetics that convert feed the most efficiently
- Large size

All measurable criteria will be observed with individual traits weighted as being more important than other traits.

Production Starts with the Breeders

Newsletter No. 34 – January 2006 Item 5 & 6

There are an increasing number of papers published on Ostrich matters.  The April issue, Newsletter No. 25 carried an item "Are Your Goals High Enough?"  This item concluded:

Quote: "Currently most every paper or study one reads proves beyond any doubt that our industry has to change the approach as producers cannot be commercially viable with such low levels of production per hen". End Quote

The 3rd International Ratite Science Symposium was held alongside the XII World Ostrich Congress in Madrid, in October.  A detailed study of the papers published continues to prove the approach currently being used by the researchers is resulting in production levels that simply are not commercially viable for a sustainable commercial industry.  From a personal viewpoint, I was disappointed to still see methods that are outdated in other specie being discussed for Ostrich in a number of different studies.

Ostrich have the potential to be as efficient as poultry and pig production - but it requires a totally different, more scientific and modern approach to those currently being reported in the papers presented at the symposium.  They are some 40 or 50 years out of date and continue to explain why our industry has not progressed.

The opening paper discussed egg laying statistics.
Quote:  The mean of 45.6 +/- 32.5 and high CV (coefficient of variation) of 72.9% for H (percentage of chicks hatched) indicates that just over 54% of eggs laid do not hatch. End quote.  They went onto confirm that these were the findings of Kim Bunter, as we reported in Newsletter 25.

The next statement:  Quote: A similar hatchability of 47% was obtained from approximately 23,000 eggs in the review by Cloete et al (1998). End Quote

Table 1 below is a combination of some other published results reported in the different papers from the Madrid conferences.  The trend is the same - hatchability rates that are a key indicator of an industry that must progress out of this non-productive mode if it is to be successful.  The knock on effect of these poor egg production statistics is weaker chicks that are more difficult to rear; an industry still measuring success on numbers of chicks kept alive; chicks that do not convert feed to their full genetic ability and chicks that take too long to finish.

Comparative Egg Production Statistics

Table 1 - Comparative Egg Production Statistics

Statistics missing from these figures of course are eggs per hen as that is also a most important production measure.  Hayder reported incubating only a proportion of egg production for management reasons.  Woor and Erhard reported the number of eggs involved in the study, but not the number of hens producing those eggs or if they represented the whole production of those hens.  Once in full production, total eggs laid are an important measure and not just fertility and hatching percentages.

Brand et al reported various studies representing genetic tracking.  Their studies reported slightly improved egg conversion rates to those in the table 1, but still not adequate to support a commercial industry.  In the context of genetic tracking these egg to chick conversion rates prove without question that any genetic studies are flawed.  These egg conversion rates prove the current malnutrition in the breeder flock.  When malnutrition is present the true genetic potential is not able to be proved and misleading results may follow.

In 1995 Holle reported:  Quote: These ranchers report an average of 82.5% survival rate from Eggs Laid to 2 months of age.  This includes fertility, hatchability, and chick survival.  They also reported there were very few assisted hatches, no yolk sack infection problems, no leg problems, and very few problems with chicks going off feed.  These farms also commented that Breeder pairs started mating earlier and are laying longer this year, despite the heat, than ever before.  The eggs are more uniform in size with the best shell porosity they have seen.  The evenly spaced, deeper pores of the shell allow easier incubation because of a more uniform weight loss.  The chicks appear to be more resistant to bacterial and virus infections and are easier to raise than before. end quote

When reporting these findings, Holle also referenced the many nutrients that were included in the rations at significantly higher levels than are current industry norms.  Breeders were not separated or moved in the off season, unless required for change of partnerships for genetic development.  To date I have yet to see papers discussing production reference any of the nutrients reported in this study reported in any detail.

Low Yield Agriculture vs High Yield Agriculture

Newsletter No. 31 – October 2005 Item 4 

Communicating with producers in different countries and travelling as I am able to do provide the opportunity to see tremendous variations in agriculture in different countries.   Travelling in Bulgaria this month was again a reminder of the importance of agriculture to the local economy.  The collapse of communism resulted in much of the land being returned to the original owners.  In many cases the families had grown, with the land split many ways.   The average ownership is now .3 hectares per producer - tracts of land that are uneconomic.  Farming in most areas has returned to peasant farming producing sufficient for own needs, harvested by hand and carried home by donkey cart.  Crops will have minimal inputs, so output is low.  Cattle, sheep and goats are shepherded on open land and brought home each night.  With low production much of their food is imported.   This situation is not unique to Bulgaria.

A sound agricultural base generates employment and raises the standard of living in rural areas.

Quote: The Green Revolution and the increasing effects of globalisation continue to change the face of agriculture.  The revolution began in 1944 when the Rockefeller Foundation and the Mexican government established the Cooperative Wheat Research and Production Program to improve the agricultural output of the country's farms. Norman Borlaug was instrumental in this program. This produced astounding results, so that Mexico went from having to import half its wheat to self-sufficiency by 1956 and, by 1964, to exporting half a million tons of wheat. This program was continued in India and Pakistan where it is credited with saving over one billion people from starvation. Norman Borlaug won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
From there, the technologies were exported abroad, finding use in regions all over the world. The success in increasing yields was undisputable. The growth of crop yields was such that agriculture was now able to outstrip population growth — per capita production increased every year following 1950.  end quote

Note: This quote was taken from this Wikipedia link as it was on the date of first publication of this newsletter item.  Wikidpedia web pages are updated regularly and there is considerable further discussions since that date.

The Green Revolution has been successful through the combined use of improved plant varieties, irrigation, chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, mechanical tractors and other farm implements.  Livestock production has been supported by the improved quality of the crops, the contribution of the pharmaceutical industry, advances in nutrition and improved genetics.   The effect of these high inputs has been to feed an ever increasing population and reduce the cost of that food significantly.

There have been some negatives identified from this rapid development.  Progress is an ever evolving process with systems developed to overcome some of these negative issues associated with modern agriculture.  Examples are:

•    No Till Agriculture to combat soil erosion and improve soil structure
•    Ethanol Production to provide fuel to slowly replace the finite supplies of fossil fuels
•    Biodegraders to turn waste material safely into usable fertilisers
•    Optimum Nutrition to increase production, reproduction and improve feed conversion making better use of the resources and reducing costs of production
•    Optimum Nutrition to reduce the use of antibiotics, growth hormones and minimise metabolic disturbances in high production livestock

Agricultural Cluster

Figure 1: Agricultural Cluster Supporting Infrastructure and Employment

Apply the modern technologies to Ostrich production and as reported last month, Ostrich can make significant contributions towards providing the additional 50% meat forecast as required by 2025.  Apply these technologies to Ostrich and they can be the most feed efficient red meat production animal.  This cannot happen utilising Low Yield Agriculture techniques.

Environmental Impact of Meat Production

Newsletter No. 30 – September 2005 Item 4 & 5

Environmental Impact
Dr. Elam's discussions relate to making a case that the increased production can come only from intensive farming operations, that anything different will put too much pressure on feed supplies.  Sheep, Cattle and Goats can graze areas that it is not possible to cultivate and it may be possible to improve the efficiency of these grazing areas with better management, including water management.  These issues are discussed by Terry McCosker in the Australian Farm Journal.

However, it is clearly evident that the introduction of the intensive systems for rearing pigs and poultry has had a significant impact on the availability of increased volumes of meat at decreasing consumer prices as these systems are highly efficient.  The increased use of Cattle Feed lots in the United States to finish cattle for the last 90 days on high grain diets has enabled the US Beef industry to produce increased meat tonnage from the same number of cattle.  Dr. Elam stated:

Quote: "Current "organic" technology simply cannot be used to produce the feed crops we need on a global scale.  Yields are 20, 30 or even 40% below what is possible with conventional fertilizers and pesticides, make it impossible to both increase feedstuff production and use these systems on a widespread basis.  There is not enough animal manure to even come close to replacing the current sources of crop production.  Switching to green manure legume crops for nitrogen would merely reduce the land available for feed production."  End Quote

This statement is indicating that green legume crops have no productive value in the production of meat.

Ostrich require as much as 40% Dehydrated Lucerne in a grower ration, when the Lucerne is of the right quality, when fed controlled production rations. Lucerne is a legume and an important component in any crop rotation cycle as it fixes nitrogen in the soil, reducing the need for artificial fertilizers.  Poultry and Pig production is highly dependent on grains to produce the meat, with little or no quality forage included in their diets.  Therefore Ostrich production can help support the production of grain crops produced with reduced input of artificial fertilizers.  The use of high quality Lucerne also reduces the requirement for high protein Soya, thus reducing costs of production whilst improving health and feed efficiency.

Chemical and Pharmaceutical Contributions to Meat Production
Dr. Elam discusses the major technological contributors that have enabled the dramatic increase in food production at affordable prices:

I.   Pharmaceuticals:  Animal health products and programs
examples: Antibiotics, Implants, Parasiticides, Vaccines, Disease Control Programs
II.  Genetics
examples:  Selective breeding programs, identifying most productive breeds
III.  Nutrition
examples: improved feedstuff quality, vitamins, minerals, amino acids
IV. Crop Yields
examples: Improved management systems, artificial fertilisers, herbicides, fungicides.

All the above have contributed to the ability to produce increased tonnages of food at reducing cost.  Questions are being asked now on the impact on human health and sustainability if we continue producing food with such dependency on the chemicals and many of the pharmaceuticals.  Reduced efficiency of antibiotics as there are increasingly resistant strains of bacteria developing, hormone implants affecting the development of our children and parasites developing resistance to some Parasiticides are examples.

It is clear we cannot manage without some of these technological advances; however there have been significant advances in other areas that enable reduced dependency on pharmaceuticals and chemical inputs, without loss of production and increasing efficiency.  Nutrition has made tremendous advances over the past 20 or so years that many health problems can now be controlled or prevented through nutrition rather than antibiotics. This statement applies to humans as well as livestock production.  Antibiotics will still have a role to play in treatment but used with far more caution; vaccines will always have an important role as part of disease prevention programs.

As referenced above growing Ostrich require around 40% of their production rations to be dehydrated Lucerne - a legume.  The ability to produce large volumes of meat efficiently from Lucerne will enable greater acreages to be planted with this crop that fixes nitrogen in the soil and forms an important part of any crop rotational program to reduce the dependency on artificial fertilisers.   The development of No-Till agriculture is another technological development that continues to reduce the dependency on chemical inputs whilst retaining high volume of out put.  No-till agriculture uses less fuel with fewer passes over the land thus reducing input costs without loss of production.  Biogas technology is enabling better use of waste to reduce dependency on artificial fertilisers.   All these factors are technological developments that combine to help reduce dependency on chemical inputs, without risking loss of production or increasing costs.

Ostrich Contributing to the Future Demand for Meat

Newsletter No. 30 – September 2005 Item 3

Global Meat Production by Type

Figure 1 - Global meat Production by Type. 2025 Projected

Figure 1 shows the production growth by specie since 1961. Figure 2 demonstrates the percentage of the total of each specie and shows very clearly the contribution of Pork and Poultry in this growth and the loss of market share experienced by the red meats Beef, Veal, Lamb and Mutton over the period.  Some of this loss of market share can be attributed to the advice to eat low fat meats; some of the loss of market share can be attributed to the lower feed efficiency of ruminants.  Ostrich produce a low fat, red meat and are proven, where reared correctly to be the most feed efficient of these red meat specie, with excellent feed conversion.

Type Percentage of Global Meat Production

Figure 2 - Type Percentage of Global Meat Production

What do these tonnages translate into numbers of Ostrich required to compete?

The additional meat production is quantified at 130 million metric tonnes;  14% from Beef, Veal, Lamb and Mutton, 43% from Pigmeat, 40% from poultry and 3% from other specie, which will include Goat, Fish and other alternative meats including Ostrich.   Note the reducing market share of the red meats.    It requires 28 million Ostrich Slaughter birds producing 45 kilograms of meat to produce just 1% of that additional 130 million metric tonnes required.

Systems to optimise the production potential of Ostrich and move away from the current very low productivity, high levels of chick mortality, low meat yields and delayed slaughter are essential to be able to meet this challenge.

Nutrition and/or Pharmaceuticals in Livestock Production

Newsletter No. 30 – September 2005 Item 2

Dr. Thomas E. Elam
Dr. Elam is a scientist from the United States who spent 23 years working as an agricultural economist for Elanco Division of Ely Lily.  His areas of expertise are Agricultural Production, Agricultural Marketing and Prices, Strategic Planning and Forecasting.   This newsletter is going to focus on two papers, the opportunities they offer in the development of our ostrich industry and why it is important to recognise that our competition are the other specie.

The two papers are "Meeting Growing Meat Demand While Protecting our Environment to be a Challenge" and "Fifty years of Pharmaceutical Technology and its Impact on the Beef we provide to Consumers."

Dr. Elam also wrote an article "World Meat Challenge - demand to increase by 50% by 2025" that was published in the Australian Farm Journal in June, 2004.  This article was a summary of the two papers we will discuss.   Our thanks to Bert Rayner, the Country Liaison for Australia, for faxing the article as that led me to researching Dr. Elam and his work.  The following is quoted from "World Meat Challenge"

Quote:  "By 2025 total demand for animal protein will be more than 50% higher than it is today.  In an era when many meat producers and their feed suppliers have struggled with periods of low prices and surpluses this kind of growth in demand is no doubt welcome “Challenge”.  In fact, the challenge in recent times has been more one of survival, not increasing production.  But underneath the short-term difficulties facing us today there remains a global dynamic of steady growth in meat demand (and supply) the long-term effects of which should not be underestimated.  The “Challenge” is how to produce all that extra meat with roughly the same feed and animal production land base that we have today.  It will not be easy, but if we choose to expand cropped acreage and land used for meat production it would mean clearing forests, draining wetlands and disturbing other natural areas, bringing conservationists, environmentalists and others into even more conflict with farmers.  It would also mean denying future generations the benefits of natural areas we enjoy today." End quote

The issues raised are:

- 50% Increase in human demand for meat protein
- Feed Production to support that production
- Impact on Environment
- Keeping Prices Affordable
- Livestock Production
- Improved Feed Conversion
- Natural Systems of Production
- The impact of Efficiency Failures

Dr. Elam's arguments, as coming from a pharmaceutical viewpoint, are that pharmaceuticals provide the solutions.  Is this the only way?

There are no single fixes.

The contribution of pharmaceuticals to agriculture to reduce costs of products by fighting disease and controlling parasites has been very significant.  Some of the contributions are now recognised as negatives and unacceptable long term risks to human health - such as hormones for increased production and routine use of antibiotics to overcome poor management practices.   The advances made in the greater understanding of all the interrelationships of Vitamins and Minerals and the ability to produce these products to improve nutrient utilisation and treat many conditions have enabled the reduction in use of these negatives.  This new technology is best known as Optimum Nutrition.

Twice Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Linus Pauling is quoted as saying "Optimum nutrition is the medicine of the future".  That statement has been proven to be true with livestock also.  With livestock, Optimum Nutrition covers not only basic health but also optimum production and product quality.  Improved health, optimising production and producing high quality end products result in improved profitability for all in the "Value Chain".

Value Chain vs Supply Chain

Newsletter No. 30 – September 2005 Item 1

Agriculture used to be many small producers growing their produce or livestock and when ready they would take it to the market.  Since the end of the 2nd World War there have been progressive changes in agriculture.  The reasons for this are complex and regularly discussed through these newsletters.  Also discussed is the need to understand the consequences and consider actions needed to be taken if any of our businesses based on ostrich are to be successful.  In this context let us define The Supply Chain vs The Value Chain.

What is a Supply Chain?
A supply Chain is where each element of the process to the end consumer is defining their section of the process as the product.

What is a Value Chain?
A Value Chain is where there is collaboration between all processes in the supply chain to ensure that there is no leakage of value through poor performance of one link in that chain.

A Value Chain is an alliance of enterprises collaborating vertically to achieve a more rewarding position in the market.

Companies in a value chain are legally independent operations, but become interdependent because they have common goals and work collaboratively to achieve them.  They work together over the long term discussing issues and troubleshooting problems together.  It is more than just long-term contracting.

Take a look at the documents developed by the Alberta Provincial and Canadian Agricultural department web site on value chains [link no longer available].  They have developed some excellent documents to help producers understand these differences.

The changes in agriculture over the past few decades have meant that Vertical Integration in agriculture is essential for economic success.  Building a "Value Chain" is a method of achieving Vertical Integration through collaboration and interdependence whilst retaining independence.

A quote from the UK Red Meat Industry support web site from an article title:  "A Winning Team". [link no longer available]

Quote: Leading representatives from Tesco and ASDA will be speaking at the Red Meat Industry Forum (RMIF) conference in London on 2nd November 2005 where the results of the three-year initiative will be revealed.

The retailers have played a major part in the Value Chain Analysis work that the RMIF have carried out to date. Their views on lessons learnt and on how the UK red meat supply chain will need to work in the future will be extremely valuable to those striving for success in this industry. End Quote

Another reason for the value chain approach is the increasing requirement for full traceability.  Vertical integration can be achieved either by single companies having total control of all aspects or through the value chain approach were each sector remains independent, just interdependent working in collaboration with a common goal.  That common goal optimises the value for all in the chain.

Profitable Slaughter Age in Ostrich

Newsletter No. 29 – August 2005 Item 2

The SAOBC [South African Ostrich Business Chamber] published a new article in July under the heading of Research and Development.  The article is written in Afrikaans and no longer available on line at the location at the time of publication of this newsletter.   An English translation is available at the end of this post.

The article is a discussion on a study on the economic impact of slaughter age on meat yield of ostrich. One has to question why a costly academic project using public funds was set up to do the study in this manner with just a few birds when this is the type of study that all successful commercial farmers do every day, of every week, of every year as standard management practice in other commercial specie.  It is the reason for maintaining records of all feed input and yield output and the input costs vs the output revenue.  It is the way to identify the good genetic animals, identify the rations with the right production potential to challenge the better genetic animals.  This is the mechanism to bring forward the slaughter age and at the same time increase the yields to reduce the costs of production.

This study is flawed in many ways.  The study assumes that all feed, all management systems, all environmental factors and all genetics perform the same and have no influence on results.  As any one with knowledge of production livestock knows that is not true at all.   The study fails totally to understand the difference between simply "raising livestock" and operating a "production livestock unit".

The study reports an overall increase in carcass weight of 31kgs to 52kgs between the ages of 8 months and 16 months.   My own birds, from similar genetic stock, recorded carcass weights of 39kg at 34 weeks (8 mths) and 54 kgs at 42 weeks (10mths).  When the skins were put in front of members of NOPSA (National Ostrich Processors of South Africa) they assessed them as being from 12 to 14 month birds.  I am not alone in achieving these results from younger birds.

The study was funded by THRIP, the Technology and Human Resources Industry Program, a joint initiative supported by the Department of Trade and Industry and the National Research Institute.  The THRIP program promotes cooperation between higher education institutes and businesses with the aim of enhancing the competitiveness of South African industry.    The question has to be asked why the South African Ostrich Industry research continues to resist investigating improving performance, slaughtering younger and implementing production livestock techniques that make up the "true science of livestock production" to ensure that their producers remain competitive?



Presented by the SA Ostrich Business Chamber – enquiries:  Anton Kruger Tel: 044 272 3336 - with acknowledgments to Tertius Brand, Annelie Kruger, Bennie Aucamp and Clovis Bhiya


Slaughter age plays a vital role in the yield of slaughter birds, with an increase in feed and set up costs on the one hand and also a increase in the worth of the end product on the other hand as the ostrich gets older.

An experiment is being carried out at the Kromme Rhee experimental station in order to determine the influence of slaughter age on the yield of ostrich. In the first experiment, 80 birds were raised to around 6 months, then divided into 10 groups of  8 each, and 2 groups were slaughtered at the following ages: 8, 10, 12, 14 and 16 months. In the 2nd experiment, 100 birds were raised to 3 months of age, then separated into 10 groups of 10 each, and then 2 groups were slaughtered at the following ages: 8, 10, 12, 14 and 16 months.

The birds were fed ad lib and production data (capture and feed turnover) was determined on a monthly basis. Yield per bird in terms of carcass, skin, and feathers was determined for the different slaughter age groups between 8 and 16 months. Yield of end product on a monthly basis was outlined thanks to linear regression comparisons (equations?). Here we will only deal with data from the first experiment where birds were raised to between 6 and 16 months, since the 2nd experiment is still under way.

Capture per bird per day, feed use per bird per month as well as cumulative feed use per bird for the different monthly intervals are shown in table 1. In order to work out total feed cost per bird, feed prices from the current experimental home mixture (with additional 10% processing costs) were used. Feed costs for situations with a 25% and 50% more expensive diet are also shown. Cumulative feed costs for all 3 situations are calculated.

The slaughter weights and carcass weights of the birds for the different slaughter ages between 8 and 16 months is shown in table 2. Ostrich delivery prices for export from the KKK are outlined below in table 2, and are used to calculate the yield per carcass for the different age groups. Slaughter weights increased from 65 to 122 kg between 8 and 16 months with overall carcass weights of 31 to 52 kg. Resulting percentages decreased with an increase in slaughter weight from 31 to 52 kg. Total net high price-cut yields of both hindquarters increased from 14.2 to 21.1kg per carcass over the slaughter interval. The leather yields per slaughter bird for the different age groups are shown in table 3. Skin surface as well as follicle size increased with an increase in age as expected. Grading of skins decreased with an increase in age. This then meant that the yield per hide between the ages of 9 and 16 months stayed relatively constant. Prices of legs (R15 [$2.28] for 1st grade, R9 [$1.37] for 2nd, and R0.10 [$.015] for 3rd) was not taken into consideration.

Estimated yields of feathers per slaughter bird at different ages is shown in table 4. Birds in this study’s feather yields were not yet available. Feather weights in the study increased with an increase in age.

Total yields for the hide, carcass and feathers per bird is shown in table 5. A standard slaughter tip of R161 ($24.52) per carcass was subtracted from the total yield. Totals yields per carcass varied between R925 ($140.86) and R876 [$133.39].

The experiment was started with birds from around 6 months of age and average weights of 58kg, Current purchase prices are of around R13 [$1.98]per kg live weight which gives an starting value per bird of R745 [$113.45]. Yields per bird minus the initial value of R745 [$113.45] per bird are shows in table 6. When feed costs such as laid out in table 1 of the yields minus the initial price shows a margin of feed costs.

It is clear from table 6 that the current circumstances with relatively cheap raw material prices places the optimal slaughter age at between 10 and 14 months – and the margin after costs is around R496 [$75.53] per slaughter bird. If the feed price is 25% higher, then the optimal slaughter age is between 10 and 11 months. With the highest feed price one gets the highest margin above feed costs at the 10 month slaughter age group. It is clear that with the more expensive diets, the margin above feed costs decreases drastically, if the birds are slaughtered at an older age.

Conclusions and summaries:

* This is a case study and any changes in the feed price or price of end product will change the situation.

* It is clear that if the producer makes an effort to better his grading, the margin above cost will increase at higher slaughter ages.

* All measurements in this study are objective except grading. Grading differs from tanning, and this will affect the final margin above feed cost.

* The later the bird is slaughtered, the higher the costs (e.g, medicines, work etc) which is not taken into account here.

* This study suggests that in the current situation with raw material costs and prices of end product, the margin above cost remains almost unchanged with a slaughter age of between 10 and 13 months. If the raw materials and/or feed prices rise, then the margin above cost would be better with an earlier slaughter age above 10 months.

Thanks This study was made possible by the financial support of the THRIP program of The National Research Foundation of SA.

The following people were helpful in the furnishing of technical and/or economic info:…
Dr Willem Bruger (Klein Karoo Koöperasie)
Mnr PA Geldenhuis (Klein Karoo Koöperasie)
Me Alida Tredoux (Klein Karoo Koöperasie)
Mnr Pieter Liebenberg (Klein Karoo Koöperasie)
Mnr Paul Jooste (Swartland volstruise)
Mnr Stephan Shressbury (Swartland Volstruise)
Mnr Koot van Schalkwyk (Mosstrich)
Mnr Derick Engelbrecht (Lusernsaad Raad)
Prof Schalk Cloete (Elsenburg)


Newsletter No. 28 – July 2005 Item 2-6

Ostrich can be reared without Alfalfa included in their diet, but at a tremendous cost to the producers in lost production and putting at risk the long term commercial success of our industry.  For the avoidance of any doubt - Alfalfa and Lucerne are the same plant.

Over the years many have told me that they cannot get Alfalfa in their countries, it cannot be grown, the quality is very poor or it is very expensive.   During the last month there have been several incidents of this and I had one producer quoted US$676 per tonne.  Ostrich require between 30% to more than 50% alfalfa (on a dry matter basis) in their rations - dependent on the production goals of the rations and quality of all ingredients.  A cost of US$676 was clearly uneconomic.  This led me to search for more information to help producers as this is such a key factor to ensure the commercial success of our industry.

This subject is so critical to ensuring the success of our industry,  I am going to focus on Alfalfa production for this newsletter.

Alfalfa is recognised as one the earliest crops to be domesticated by man, with remains of alfalfa more than 6000 years old found in Iran. The oldest written reference for Alfalfa is from Turkey in 1300BC.   During Roman times Alfalfa was linked to military might because of the important role in maintaining the fitness of the war horses.  The Spanish and Portuguese first took Alfalfa to the new world during the conquest of Mexico, Peru and Chile.   The eastern US colonists, including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington grew alfalfa, but it only became widely adopted in the US in the 1850's.  "Chilean Clover" (alfalfa brought from Chile) was introduced during the gold rush of 1849-1850.  From there it spread eastwards to the plains of the United States.

Today the United States grows 23 million acres per annum making Alfalfa the 3rd crop in value behind Maize and Soybeans.  That is the productive value of this amazing forage crop.  Alfalfa production in California is the 3rd most valuable crop behind Grapes and Cotton, but when combined with Dairy and Beef, as these industries are interdependent, they are the most valuable agriculture sector in California.

Since the 1920's average yield has increased by 1/2 ton/acre per decade.  Today, average production is just over 7 tons Dry Matter/acre (+17 tons/hectare).  Evidence is that yields per acre are still increasing, where increase in yields of other cash crops are tending to level out.  This progress is attributed to a number of factors, including improved varieties, better land preparation, better water distribution systems, improved fertility, superior harvesting methods and overall improved management.

Alfalfa is seen as essential for high producing dairy cattle, who have increased yields by more than 60% since the 1970's.  Alfalfa is also used extensively for sheep, beef and other livestock production. It is stated that without alfalfa many farms and ranches would fail.  The same holds true in ostrich production. The lack of quality alfalfa continues to be a contributing factor to the failure of many ostrich farms.   Quality Alfalfa, combined with the correct management systems, is essential to realise the full production potential of Ostrich

Where can it be Grown?
Quote: "Alfalfa is one of the world's most versatile crops.  It is grown in environments ranging from burning hot deserts to cool high mountain valleys, from the frozen continental climate of Minnesota to the Mediterranean valleys of California.  Alfalfa can grow on soils ranging from beach sands to heavy clays.  It is grown as an intensive cash crop under irrigation or as a lower-intensity rainfed pasture crop in forage mixes."   end quote

The above information and quote is taken from a document:  "Alfalfa, Wildlife and the Environment - The Importance and Benefits of Alfalfa in the 21st Century".  The document is published by The University of California, Davis.

Another website that has some useful publications is  This is an alliance of seed producers recently established and developing educational literature to assist producers both within the US and overseas.

Studying all the information that is now available on Alfalfa production it is clear that there have been tremendous advances on varieties to ensure that they are suitable for different climatic and soil conditions.  Varieties are also now more resistant to certain diseases or pests.  Production methods and management systems continue to improve to be able to further increase yields and quality.   Regions that have sufficient rainfall to make field drying difficult do require drying plants.  Some regions use drying plants as they supply markets some distance away and dehydrated pellets is the most cost effective and easiest method of storage and transport.

During my research one thing struck me very hard and that was the high levels of protein and other nutrients being discussed.  My personal experience in South Africa and Europe was the difficulty to obtain reliable quality.  We even had one European expert tell us that if any company was selling Alfalfa of 20% or above they are either not telling the truth or are adding something to the Lucerne to enhance the protein level.

The percentages are expressed in Dry Matter terms, but well above the average Alfalfa we currently see on the market in many parts of the world.

Alfalfal Nutritional Info

Table 1 - Nutritional characteristics of alfalfa hays of various quality categories*
*CP is crude protein; SolP estimates CP instantly soluble in the rumen; ADIP estimates indigestible CP; UIP estimates CP that escapes the rumen intact; NDF estimates total structural fiber; ADF estimates the portion of NDF that is not hemicellulose; TDN is total digestible nutrients; Nel is net energy for lactation. TDN is calculated as: (82.38 - (.7515 x ADF%)) x 0.9 and Nel is calculated from TDN as: ((.0245 x TDN%) - 0.12) x 0.454.
by Peter H. Robinson University of California, Davis.]

The higher the protein the less one needs of the more expensive protein ingredients in a ration, so quality alfalfa can reduce the cost of the rations.  Many countries are dependent on imported Soya for a high protein ingredient.  The higher the protein in alfalfa the more vitamins and minerals also, and as can be seen in the above table, the greater digestibility.  Every effort needs to be made to achieve quality Alfalfa.

To ensure high levels of ostrich production it is imperative that every effort be made to produce quality Alfalfa rather than simply seek alternatives.

Water Consumption
Farmers in regions that have water shortages or expensive water for irrigation, have to weigh up the commercial value of the crops they produce under irrigation.  In this equation the full value of Alfalfa is often not fully appreciated.  I remember well being asked by a large production unit as long ago as 1998 if we could formulate rations without using Alfalfa because of the high water requirement.  My answer was no...those producers are no longer in the industry.  That country has a very high yielding dairy industry that I learned last year cannot overcome some of the problems associated with high yielding dairy herds when not fully nutritionally supported; there is no known substitute for Alfalfa to support high yielding dairy cattle.

All forage crops require water for production and in dry areas irrigation is needed, so it only makes sense to irrigate the most productive forage crop available.  Alfalfa is in a class of it's own amongst forage crops.

Pages 20 to 23 of "Alfalfa, Wildlife and the Environment - The Importance and Benefits of Alfalfa in the 21st Century" referenced above cover this issue in some depth.

Productive Value
The productive value of Alfalfa needs to be fully understood, not simply for it's cash value but also the value in cost effective dairy and red meat production including ostrich meat production, which is a red meat.   Worthy of note in this discussion is that poultry do not do well on Alfalfa.

Alfalfa provides high yields, can be grown in most climates and has disease resistance and excellent feeding quality.   Alfalfa is palatable and nutritious with excellent feeding quality.  When produced correctly Alfalfa is high in protein and in addition provides a tremendous source of organic vitamins and minerals.   Alfalfa is also an integral component of crop rotations because of it's ability to fix nitrogen, improve soil structure and tilth and control weeds in subsequent crops.

Alfalfa is an essential component of commercially viable ostrich production.