Archive for January 2014

Purpose of The World Ostrich Association

The founders of the association recognised the need for an association that could provide a forum not only for those investing in the industry but of equal importance those wishing to purchase ostrich products.

An email received by the secretary in September 2011 was questioning why the association has not done more to promote the industry in their country.

A trade association can only actively promote an industry when mandated to do so by the members and funded by those members to provide that promotion within any given area.  Clearly significant funds are required for such promotions.  With our industry as small as it is, such funding is simply not yet available.

The association is mandated to provide standards.  Guideline standards enable our producers to determine if they are achieving commercially acceptable (and viable) standards and our customers can use as guide lines to assess the quality of the products presented to them when purchasing.

The WOA industry standards are generic standards that provide guidelines.  Individual companies operating to best practice can set their standards even higher to differentiate themselves from the competition.

Another question asked by this writer: "Is there any information on the banning of ostrich production on the grounds of welfare and/or conservation".    Some countries including India have been hesitant to licence the importation of ostrich on a commercial scale on welfare grounds.    This concern is generally driven through lack of knowledge and based on factual observations from the history of domesticated ostrich production in many areas, where poor practices have been implemented.  The welfare issues relate to lack of knowledge and poor advice, rather than wilful intent or the ostrich's unsuitability for commercial domestication.   They are in fact a species that is well suited to domestication in many climates provided the management is of adequate standards.

Regarding conservation, Ostrich were under threat of extinction from over hunting for their feathers until they were domesticated around 1820 onwards.   Ostrich are not listed under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), so their products can be traded freely around the world subject to individual country’s veterinary health and trading regulations.

Guidelines to Evaluate Ostrich Bird Size & Development

Over the years many photos of ostrich were taken with some sent to us.  Recently there was reason to discuss the issue of how to visually judge bird development.  These illutrations were put together with several photos side by side as a single illustration. For this illustration all photos include men alongside the birds as a guide to their size.

Photos A, B and C in figure 1 are birds from the Blue Mountain benchmark weight gain trial carried out in 1996 and discussed here and here. Using the fence and the man with these birds as a guide, it is possible to see how large these chicks were at the time of weighing.  They were from good genetic origin, but good genetics still require the correct nutrients to achieve their optimum growth, health and performance.    Observing these chicks one can tell they are young by their feathers and the faces.  They were around 195 days (27 weeks) and weighed around 85kgs liveweight.

men-illustrating-size-ostrich

Figure 1: Men Illustrating the Size of Ostrich

Photo D is an illustration of a scientist in the Netherlands scanning a breeder as part of a study to understand why the breeders were not breeding well[1].   The scientist is kneeling and as you can see the bird looks very small alongside him.  Note the very tiny body size.  This study was carried out in 2002.

Photo E is a photo of some proud owners showing off their new breeders that they published on their website in 2003.  These owners were part of an investment group starting an ostrich production business in Brazil.  As new entrants to ostrich production, they had no idea that this bird was severely undersized.   The head height of the bird is hardly as high as the men – her feather colouring confirms she is a mature bird and not a chick as in photos A, B and C.

The birds in photos D and E are severely stunted in their growth – this is not simply poor genetics, it is also poor diet during the growth period.   Clearly, if a bird has failed to thrive during the development stage, their reproductive organs will not be able to develop adequately and this will impact on future production potential.

Our president Daryl Holle took a few photos of his own birds to provide bench mark guidelines to enable producers to gauge their own bird’s development.  Always remember that benchmarking is about setting a base-line to judge one’s own bird performance and aiming to improve on.  Figure 2 illustrates the measurement points and provides the figures for a fit and productive 4 year old breeding hen.

ostrich measurment points

Figure 2: Ostrich Measuring Points

Body Height
Height measurements need to be read with care…there are many tall birds with poor frames. The height must be accompanied with good depth, width and length of frame.  This hen measures 1.5m (59 inches, which is 1 inch short of 5 feet) from the ground to the highest point on her back.

Body Depth
A quality bird should have good depth.  Take the measurements from the top most part of back to the bottom of her fat pan area just behind the legs.   The measurements on this hen:  68.7cm (27 inches)

Body Length
Take the measurement from the base of the neck to the very base of the tail.  This hen measures 1.14m (45 inches) from the very base of neck to the very base of her tail.  Take the measurements from where the neck goes into the back and exactly where the tail begins to rise from the back.

Body Width
Take an imaginary line (shown in green) from outside the drum muscles and measure straight across the back.  The measurement on this hen is 66.04cm (26 inches).

Figure 3 provides a few more photographs of birds taken during the 1990s when there were some good genetics around supported by adequate nutrition.  The men in Photographs A, B and C were all around 1.9m tall (6ft 3”) and taken in the United States.  Photo D was taken in Australia.  I don’t have any information on the size of these men, but it is evident from their comparative size to the fencing that these were strong men of reasonable build and height. The bird they are handling is an 18 month old bird.

The bird in Photo A is a 16 month old Bird that Daryl Holle purchased as a 3 month old bird in the early 1990s.   Photo B is a Red Male – observe the amazing size of those feathers.  At that time Reds were believed to produce poor feathers.  This photo proves that when they have the adequate nutrition they not only are very large birds, they also can produce magnificent feathers.

ostrich size comparisons

Figure 3: Comparative Size of Ostrich - Photos taken of Domesticated Ostrich in mid 1990s

The immature feathers of the birds in Photo C illustrates how well slaughter birds can grow when fed and managed correctly.   It was this photo that first caught my attention when seeking information on work carried out outside South Africa.  At the time I was based in South Africa and aware that local farmers were seeking information.  The internet as a source for information was in its infancy.  Photo D, taken in Australia, illustrates the size of this bird.

These photos were taken at the start of the industry as it attempted to develop outside South Africa.  They provide evidence of the underlying genetics.  Achieving commercial success depends on producing birds to this standard as the starting point.

World Meat Consumption Projections

The FAO recently published “World agriculture: towards 2015/2030”.  The publication confirms the ongoing demand for meat.

Figure 1 illustrates the ever increasing dominance of pig and poultry meat.  Note how poultry consumption is growing at a far greater rate than pig meat.   Why is this?  The answer is most probably because the increases in meat consumption are in areas where many are unable to eat pig meat.

Figure 1 - World Average Meat Consumption per Person
world meat consumption

Pig and poultry have several advantages over ruminant meat producing species.  The main reasons are that they are monogastric and produce multiple births during the year, but why is this important?

At best some ruminants may produce twins or triplets, but most produce single offspring.  A breeding sow will produce 20 plus surviving piglets in two litters in a breeding season.  Commercial chicken produce in excess of 300 eggs per season.

Multiple births from the same genetics enable producers and nutrition specialists to minimise the variables when evaluating and developing genetics, rations and management systems.  This is one reason why pigs and poultry producers have become so successful at improving production and feed conversion over recent decades.   Thus enabling them to produce quality meat protein at ever reducing cost - not only financial but also on use of our prescious resources.

Ostrich have this ability and their meat can be consumed by populations unable to eat pig meat...thus providing those population groups with greater choice.