Archive for August 2013

Incubation and Chick Quality

Newsletter No. 93

Pars Reform, the incubator company, has an interesting document entitled “Genetic Progress Inspires Changes in Incubation Technology”.    Reading it, it is important to remember that the progress in poultry production is a direct result of the very large volumes of sales that supported and financed the technical developments.  With all we have learnt of ostrich working on a very low scale, they are capable of achieving similar levels of production when farmed using economies of scale adopting management systems appropriate for commercial levels of Ostrich production.

Variation in Broiler and Layer Embryo - Chicken

The developing embryo illustrating variation in Broiler and Layer Embryo

Quote: The developing embryo: variation between the heart structures of a layer embryo (A) and a broiler embryo (B) at 40 hours of incubation.  In studies conducted by Pas Reform, genetic selection for growth was shown not only to influence growth after hatching, but also to influence the growth patterns of embryonic heart structures. Here we see that in the broiler embryo (B) the ventricle (marked*) is dilated, compared to the ventricle in the layer embryo (A).End Quote

This comparative illustration clearly indicate variations that would be most interesting to study in greater detail.  The illustrations, combined with the supporting narrative indicate the importance of all elements of the production chain and the variables they place on production.

Assuming that these two photos are taken at exactly the same stage of embryonic development and the same magnification then the overall growth of embryo B is far greater than embryo A.   This emphasises again the importance of genetics and egg quality.

It will take several decades, once commercial levels of ostrich production are achieved, to reach the same level of sophistication that commercial poultry production enjoy....but this clearly illustrates the opportunities.

Animal Cloning & Animal Genetic Modification

Newsletter No. 91 - Item 2

At the time of publication (October 2010) these two topics were actively discussed in the press.  Whether or not they are safe for human consumption is not important when it comes to marketing our products it is “consumer perception” that is important.   These extreme efforts to improve genetic performance are driven by the need to produce food ever more efficiently.   The traditional species have  reached their extremes through natural selection and now seeking assistance from biotechnology.

A major advantage for Ostrich is the fact that no meaningful genetic improvement using natural selection has yet been applied to production ostrich, thus offering signficant opportunities.

The European Food Safety Authority has issued an Update on the State of Play of Animal Cloning which can be read here: .

The discussion on Genetic Modification in meat production was in the news announcing Genetically Modified Salmon.  Whether approved or not, from a marketing viewpoint the current reports are that the FDA in the US may not approve labelling to enable consumers to make choices on what they buy  - and how this decision could have a serious impact on the whole industry - Genetically engineered salmon, if approved by FDA, could destroy the salmon industry.  As this news item hit in October 2010, several of the articles provided in this newsletter are no longer available to read, thus the links are deleted.

Both these issues emphasize the opportunities for ostrich once production is put onto a full commercial basis with genetic improvement by natural selection.  Produced under commercial conditions, Ostrich can provide a red meat cost effectively.

Optimising Genetic Performance in Ostrich Production

Newsletter No. 89 - Item 1

The current (August 2010) edition of World Poultry carried a key article discussing the search for optimal broiler performance.    The opening statement is true of any commercial livestock production business stating that “the objective is to obtain maximum performance at the lowest possible cost and how this begins with good genetic material.”    The full article can be viewed here.  This newsletter will discuss some of the key issues discussed as they relate to ostrich.

Quality genetics are the key to success of every livestock business, including Ostrich.  To date no meaningful work has been carried out on ostrich apart from the genetic work to improve feather quality well over a hundred years ago by the South African farmers.  No work has been carried out to improve growth rates, feed conversion, uniformity of size and so on.  This is one aspect that makes the potential of ostrich production so exciting – but also one of the reasons that currently costs of production are higher and less competitive than mainstream specie.

Genetic Influences of Bird Performance

Factors Influencing Optimal Bird Performance
[source: World Poultry Vol.24 No 7, 2009]

Poultry chicks are generally supplied to farms today by the genetic breeders who have done very significant work to improve the breeds to perform according to the markets they are supplying. This graphic illustrates the many different factors that all have to be in place in order to achieve optimal performance.  It takes only one item to be poor and optimal performance cannot be achieved.

Some years ago I asked a key member of the Klein Karoo Kooperative (KKK) in South Africa why they did not feed for full genetic performance.  The answer received was they needed to improve the genetics before it was worth doing that.  There was a clear failure to appreciate that a key component to obtaining genetic improvement is to provide the animal with all the nutrients required to get the best from the genetics.

The graphic above illustrates well how all factors have to be in place to achieve optimum performance from the genetics.   A failure in any one of those management items will result in lost performance and therefore lost revenue.

Balancing Animal and Human Health Requirements

Newsletter No. 86

As the title suggests, this section discussed the interrelationships between animal and human health. Below is a simplistic diagram outlining the interrelationships between human and animal diseases.

Impact of animal disases on human well-being

The table below provides some estimated costs of disease outbreaks over the past few years.  There are a number of areas where disease control has impacted seriously on ostrich and especially South Africa and Israel.

Cost Estimates of disease

Some Estimated costs of disease in developed and developing countries

Newcastle Disease (NCD), Congo Fever and Avian Influenza (AI) are 3 diseases that have had a major impact on the development of ostrich as an industry over the last couple of decades.  Any country that has NCD requires more stringent export regulations than those that have a NCD disease free status in all avian specie.  When exporting many countries require the meat can only be sold “off the bone”.   Australia’s fledgling ostrich industry was devastated some years ago when the whole of the country was shut down to exports as a result of an outbreak of NCD in poultry in one area.  The country had not designated regions and protocols for handling such outbreaks in ostrich at the time.  South Africa was more proactive as the industry was larger at the time with more organised companies to drive this.

When the ostrich industry was first deregulated, meat sales were growing rapidly when it was reported that several ostrich slaughter plant workers had contracted Congo Fever from ostriches.   This shut down exports for a considerable amount of time while protocols were discussed and put in place forcing many new comers to leave the industry. These protocols have added significantly to the production costs.

The protocols required for the control of NCD and Congo Fever also impact on potential production as birds have require handling more frequently than would be the case if these controls were not required.

The H5N1 outbreak of AI was responsible for the end of the Israeli industry.  The outbreak in poultry closed down the export of all poultry, including ostrich.  The Israeli industry had no domestic market for their meat and the industry so far has been unable to recover.   More recently we have seen the devastation caused to the South African industry when another strain of AI was found in ostriches.

As can be seen the economic threats of disease outbreaks are devastating.  Therefore disease control and risk management is highlighted as extremely important.  This comes at producer level as well as governmental level.

We are now a global village and the document does note the challenges of poorer countries to participate in enhanced standards of health and food safety in order to gain greater access to markets that are currently unavailable to them.  On this matter it is worth noting that we regularly have enquiries from potential new entrants wanting to start production and expecting to export their product immediately.  Establishing protocols and a track record take time and can only be built around development of local markets as a starting point.

The key messages of the report as they affect Ostrich are:

  • The livestock sector is changing
    • For ostrich to be competitive, requires greater attention to modernisation of production systems
  • The livestock sector contributes to food security and poverty reduction
    • Farmed efficiently, ostrich has the potential to provide red meat protein cost effectively, thus enabling greater choice, especially for those populations unable to consume pig meat.
  • The livestock sector needs to improve its environmental  performance
    • With a good proportion of the food requirements coming from a forage legume, ostrich not only provide quality meat from forage, but also a crop that contributes well to crop rotations helping to reduce artificial inputs.
  • Livestock diseases pose systemic risks that require addressing
    • Various diseases have impacted on the development of our industry, but they can be managed with good planning.


Environmental Sustainability

In June 2013 I attended a conference that discussed food availability.  With austerity measures kicking in within Europe adding to the concerns of feeding growing populations discussions were focused on the fact that there is not a shortage of food, the challenge is rather how to make it available to all regardless of wealth/ability to pay.

Here we discussed the FAO publication of 2009 and with some discussions relating to land that is suitable for grazing livestock but not suitable for arable agriculture.  There is a section in the FAO document discussing such things as the impact of livestock production on climate change, gas emissions, impact on ecosystems and diversion of arable crops to animals instead of directly to humans. There is no doubt that we have heard much about the dangerous levels of gas emissions from livestock.  How serious a concern is this?  The article “Is the Claim about Methane Valid?” concludes:

So, now we know that like CO2, methane is not a major threat to either the planet or to the life on it. And as cattle and other livestock fertilise and improve the health and quality of the soil on which we all depend for the food that sustains us, perhaps we should think about eating more meat rather than less.

And while we are doing that, as there is no point in wasting what is a very useful source of cheap energy, we could collect methane from cowsheds and from waste dumps. That way, small local methane power plants could easily supply local power needs, and the very heavy cost of power stations could be reduced.

This TED presentation by Allan Savory is extremely interesting viewing on regeneration of dessert areas through grazing livestock and his research definitely needs consideration in this discussion.

In such a discussion, the manure of livestock is excellent to help maintain soil health and productivity.  The forages provided by legumes, such as lucerne, fix nitrogen in the soil, thus minimising the need for additional nitrogen fertilisers when such crops are used as part of a sound crop rotation program.  In some areas where the land is suitable pigs maintained outdoors are used very successfully as part of a crop rotation cycle.

When man has a diet based on animal products with minimal grains and other carbohydrated sources, the food consumption tends to be far less than a diet based on food from vegetable sources.  Also, food from vegetable sources requires more preparation, especially grains as we see in the modern food processing industry.  Traditionally these foods were fermented, but today we have food processors manufacturing many different products from our grains with manufacturing processes requiring resources that could be conserved if we had less dependency on these foods.  Many of these foods are so devoid of nutrients they require vitamins and minerals added to them. Grains fed to improve the diets of our livestock as a balance with good forages, are utilised more efficiently.  As we mention regularly, Ostrich have the potential to be extremely efficient converters of food to meat protein when fed quality rations.

So it is clear that livestock production carried out efficiently offers significant potential to support our environment, rather than a contributor to global warming.