Archive for October 2013

The Five Freedoms

The Veterinary Health Plan discussed earlier introduced the Five Freedoms as an important component of the plan.  As a reminder the Five Freedoms are the same across all species and are:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst - By ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour
  • Freedom from discomfort - By providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
  • Freedom from pain, injury or disease - By prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
  • Freedom to express normal behaviour - By providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind
  • Freedom from fear and distress - By ensuring conditions and care which avoid mental suffering

The first freedom references hunger and thirst.  Achieving the correct diet for ostrich continues to cause many problems and of course, has a significant influence on ensuring the third freedom is met – Freedom from Pain, Injury and Disease.   We still witness mal-nutrition in ostrich, not from wilful neglect, but rather from lack of knowledge.   Figure 1 are examples of the results of inadequate breeder nutrition.   The chicks in the first photo were all hatched on the same day, some developed well others failed to live and there were some who were slow to grow.  The chick in the middle is one that failed to live.  These chicks had bright yellow livers and yolk sacs containing no bile to aid the absorption of the nutrients in the yolk sac.  The third chick was shown to me by a concerned owner as they had purchased breeders that were fed grass only during the off season.  All chicks from those hens failed to thrive.

Various chick problems

Figure 1:  Various Chick Problems

The chicks in the photos below are an all too familiar problem witnessed in ostrich production.  The causes are nutrient deficiencies which are usually caused by deficiencies in the rations fed to the growing chicks.  These can be made worse if they were weaker chicks at hatch due to breeder rations that are lacking in adequate nutrients.

growing chicks with leg problems

Figure 2: Growing Chicks with Leg Problems

All these problems are preventable when the birds have sufficient feed containing the right balance of nutrients and, as can be seen, that starts with the breeders to ensure strong chicks at hatch.  Healthy chicks at hatch grow quickly and reach slaughter weight at much younger ages than was traditionally achieved. 

Ostrich Growth Curve Discussion

Recently we discussed comparative growth curves published for ostrich and how they illustrate a lack of will to investigate reasons for potential to improve current performance.   When viewed in the backdrop of the Klein Karoo Kooperasie (KKK) wishing to contain production the maintain skins at a high value, the reason becomes clearer.

So was it incompetence by those scientists discussed who reduced the Gompertz growth curve expectations?   The following information can enable readers to draw their own conclusions.  The following are excerpts from internal reports published by The First National Bank of South Africa (FNB).  They were investigations into the industry carried out in 1990, 1993 and 1995 to assess the impact of deregulation on the industry.  Remember that until November 1994 farmers' could only supply the KKK and only the KKK could market ostrich products by law in South Africa.

3 excerpts - one from each report:

FNB Report 1990

FNB Report 1990

FNB Report 1993

FNB Report 1993

FNB Report 1995

FNB Report 1995

Since those reports were published the KKK has changed from a co-operative to a corporation trading under a number of different names best known today as the Klein Karoo Group of Companies.


Growth Curves of Ostrich

This question was recently received:

So far I have been using standard growth curve of ostrich from the data of Cilliers and Van Schalkwyk, 1994.   If you have any better standard ostrich growth curve, please let me know.

We pointed the nutritionist in the direction of this paper “Potential Meat Yield of Ostrich”.   The question emphasises the need to keep reinforcing the message that paper discussed as it is key to understanding what is required for the commercial success of ostrich production.

During the early and mid 1990s work was carried out by a few people to understand the growth curve of ostrich.  When examining the evidence during the research for that paper, there is one paper of concern.  The paper was presented at the 1996 European Ostrich Conference, co–written by a number of the scientists from Stellenbosch University entitled:  “Nutrition of the Ostrich for Meat and Leather.”    The reason for the concern is a discussion on reducing the potential rather than asking searching questions “if current production was not achieving that potential, what was required to achieve that potential”?

The aim in commercial livestock production is to enable the animal to achieve commercial slaughter weights as quickly as possible whilst maintaining optimum health and providing products the customer wants to buy.  Of course it also necessary to achieve this at a price the consumer can afford and the farmer and processor can make a fair profit.   The following graphic is taken from the paper "The Potential Meat Yield of Osrich".


The following are details of the different growth curves:

1. Gompertz A:

This is the abstract taken from a paper published in 1991 and available on line here:

"The Gompertz equation was used to compute growth curves for three groups of ostriches (Struthio camelus), from Oudtshoorn in South Africa, the Namib desert in Namibia and from Zimbabwe. All were reared under typical intensive farm conditions with ad libitum feeding. There were no significant differences in mature mass between regions but the maximum daily weight gain for males occurred later (day 163) for Oudtshoorn birds, compared with day 121 for Namibian and day 92 for Zimbabwean. Oudtshoorn females reached maximum rate of gain on day 175 compared with day 115 for Namibian and day 114 for Zimbabwean. Comparisons might prove important when planning programmes for the genetic improvement of commercial flocks, but possible influences of food composition and environment should be investigated."

2. Degan

At the 1996 European conference there was another paper that reported growth results from a trial carried out in Israel using turkey rations.  When comparing these results one can see that they achieved improved growth rates over the reduced targets set by these scientists from Stellenbosch [4].

3. Blue Mountain Farmer Bench Mark Study

The full details of this study are available here.

When reviewing all data then available one has to include the Blue Mountain Farmer weight gain benchmark recordings.  As a farmer the major aspect that set this data apart was the fact that the information was published monthly as the birds were recorded.  It was presented in such a fashion that the outcome was clearly known; it was an exercise to simply record the data for other’s to see and carried out to enable farmers to have sound benchmark figures.

4. Gompertz B

The paper “Nutrition of the Ostrich for Meat and Leather” referenced above, suggested that the estimated growth rates as determined in 1991 may not be possible, so reduced the targets to the levels illustrated in this curve..


After plotting all the published date – the message they tell is compelling. One as to question just why one would downgrade that Gompertz A to a level lower than results published by birds fed on rations designed for a totally different species?   Why did the scientists not ask the question “what is required to achieve the estimated potential of ostrich"?

Product Differentiation

Our last blog discussed the need to develop product differentiation to maintain/increase value as volumes increase.   The following are examples of ways to create product differentiation.

Quality Marks and Standards:
At its simplest the grade of your skin and meat represents different values in the market place.  The WOA have guide grading standards for Leather and Meat as the relate to Ostrich

Country or Region of Origin:
- Red Tractor Scheme assures certain welfare standards as well as guarantee raised in UK
- Canadian Salmon, Cold Water Prawns, whilst not certification schemes, they indicate source of supply.
- Melton Mowbray Pork Pie and Champagne are examples of produce that the region of production has created very specific differentiation with the regional name protected by law when marketing.

Best Practice vs Good Practice
- Best Practice is leading edge thinking, practically applied which brings competitive advantage
- Good Practice is valuable and important but is becoming too big to bring competitive advantage with the mainstream agriculture. It provides a first step for ostrich producers in product differentiation.

A practical example in meat production of Good Practice and Best Practice is the introduction of Vitamin E Beef.   When this technology was first introduced those that implemented Vitamin E technology to control meat colour had the competitive advantage producing better meat colour with a longer shelf life.  Today that has become common good practice in beef production.  It is available in Ostrich production, but not yet implemented as common practice.

Certification Schemes
These include membership of certification schemes that provide further differentiation in the market place such as:

There is a cost to implementing these various quality marks and standards, costs that are more easily met when working with sufficient volume to support those costs.   Producers working in collaboration can work together to clearly defined standards.