Archive for Standards

Ostrich Value Chain – 2

Newsletter 74 - Infrastructure

This section discussed just why the development of a collaborateve infrastructure is so enssential in today's market place that is dominated by global supermarket and hospitality industry global brands.  The excellent graphics produced by the project managers illustrate well the aspects to support a group of small farmers and explain why it is extremely difficult, if not impossible for those producing small volume to work alone:


Figure 1 - One Farmer Working Alone

Figure 1 illustrates how one farmer working alone produces less volume than many farmers working in collaboration to build volume – figure 2.  This principal applies to all aspects of agriculture and not simply ostrich production.   However, because ostrich production is new, usually there is no infrastructure already in place to enable new entrants to simply slot into.

Figure 2 - Many Farmers Working in Collaboration

Figure 2 - Beneftis in Collaboration

Figure 3 illustrates the various aspects required to provide support and achieve economies of scale that are impossible when farmers are working in isolation.   Another benefit is the ability to program production through the slaughter and processing plants to enable them to maintain regular throughput.

Small Farmer Support

Figure 3 - Small Farmer Support [copyright Khula Sizwe South Africa]

Summarising the different components that working in a collaborative enterprise of small farmers to build a complete value chain:

  • Markets
    • Where to sell
    • When to sell
    • Product Quality
    • Transport
    • Risks
  • Training
    • Technical
    • Business
    • Practical Support
  • Inputs (ostrich)
    • Chicks
    • Feed
    • Veterinary
    • Identification
    • Records
  • Opportunity
    • Business Type
    • Available resources
    • Practical Support
    • Confidence and Vision
  • Business Planning
    • Contracts to supply
    • Security of inputs
    • Budgets and Financial Controls
    • Funding Requirements
      • Capital for Infrastructure
      • Working Capital
  • Social Support
    • Health
    • Community
    • Communication

The structure of this particular enterprise has been developed to support the development of small farmers, with all the farmers operating as independent enterprises that also have share ownership in the processing company. There are many ways to structure the different elements of a value chain.  The important factor is that to start ostrich production, all elements must be in place from the start.  If not there must be provision in the business plan to build all these elements and ensure adequate resources for capital investment and working capital before commencement of the project is in place.  If there is insufficient capital, as is continually proven over the past two decades, the operations fail.  In today’s markets it is very difficult to operate on a small scale in a sustainable manner in many livestock businesses.  Another reason for failure is failing to meet the production targets laid down in the business plan.  In this plan any farmer suffering mortality of greater than 30% and a feed conversion ratio greater than 3:1 at 50kgs will be removed from the scheme.


Figure 4 - Generic Ostrich Value Chain

Figure 4 is a generic Ostrich Value Chain, illustrating the components that need to be in place.  Some elements, such as crop production can be outsourced.  Every single member of the chain is interdependent on the other for the success of the whole.  The success of the whole is essential for each member to optimise their return.

Ostrich Veterinary Health Plan

Newsletter No 55 - Item 3 & 4

An important element of any assurance scheme is the Veterinary Health Plan.

The Veterinary Health Plan (VHP) is a requirement of most Farm Assurance Schemes and retailers “codes of practice”.

The VHP is a document agreed between the farm’s vet and the farm management working in partnership.  The plan involves regular visits by the farm’s own vet.  The recommendation is the same vet carries out these visits to maintain consistency.

VHPs need to address a number of areas to achieve those objectives, such as:

-  flock security/biosecurity
-  basic performance parameters
-  the monitoring of body condition
-  general ostrich welfare
-  basic disease control programmes
-  recording, monitoring and controlling disease on the farm
-  the use of medicines, vaccines, their safety and their recording

This newsletter focused on the veterinary health plan as it applies to ostrich, as most vets will admit that information on ostrich is limited.  (Note at 2013 this statement remains true).  The way to approach the development of an Ostrich specific plan is to look at the plans designed for other species and then adapt them to ostrich. Just like the Business Plan, the Veterinary Health Plan is a living document that will be under continual review to improve and update with experience and current market conditions.

Flock Security
The ability to supply markets on a consistent basis is paramount to success of any business. The most influential management area that controls consistent supply in livestock production is the control of disease.  Consistency of product quality is also extremely important, but only relevant once the security of supply is under management control.

The role of the VHP is to help identify weaknesses in farm production that influence the ability to limit the impact of disease.

Basic Performance Parameters
These are examples with ostrich of some of the basic performance parameters that provide an indication as to the success of the management systems to deliver good health and welfare as well as profit:

-  egg fertility

-  feed conversion

-  egg hatchability

-  deaths

-  hatching difficulties

-  injuries

-  breeder culling rates

-  incidence and type of lameness

-  percentage chick to slaughter/breeder

-  medicine use and reason

-  metabolic diseases

The WOA benchmark targets are very achievable performance parameters.

Monitoring Body Condition
Currently there are very few references on how to establish optimal body condition of ostrich.   Figure 1 below illustrate the extremes currently experienced in the industry.  The hen on the left is very thin with poor feather quality when compared to the hen on the right.  You will notice also, how little muscle this hen has across her back by comparison to the hen on the right.

The hen on the left had a ration that was mainly grain based, with limited vitamins and minerals.  The hen on the right received rations that are of high nutrient value with high levels of vitamins and minerals.

comparative hens

Figure 1 - Comparative Hens

Apart from visual inspection, the way to physically assess the body condition of ostrich:

Quote: When the backbone at the highest place on the bird's back is protruding above the surrounding flesh, the bird is too thin. When the backbone at the highest place on the bird's back is indented below the surrounding flesh, the bird is too fat and needs decreased feed—or a different feed formulation.  The optimum Body Condition is when the backbone at the highest point on their back is perfectly even with the surrounding flesh End Quote [1].

3.4.  General Ostrich Welfare
At the most basic level, this covers the internationally recognised five freedoms. These basic freedoms 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

Top of that list is freedom from hunger.  The current poor production results – variable egg production and low conversion of eggs to slaughter/mature birds, is a key indicator that the industry in general is failing to achieve that first freedom through the inadequate supply of the right nutrients in the diet.

Basic Disease Control Programs
Strategies, procedures and the recording of general policies fall into this category.

- cleansing and hygiene policies including disinfectants used
§ Buildings
§ Pens
§ Water Troughs
§ Feed Troughs
- pest control (including rodents and birds)
- parasite controls (internal and external)
- hospital and isolation pens
- casualty slaughter

Recording, Monitoring and Controlling disease on farm
Good records are the key to not only monitoring disease issues but also performance trends as the two are closely linked.  A drop in production is a sign of possible disease problems.  Another cause for a drop in production, and/or more serious health problems, can be a feed problem.  Feed problems can be such things as a bad ingredient, sudden change of ingredient, poor mixing or insufficient water intake.

In addition to the normal farm production and feed data, the type of records required relating to disease are:

- Diseases identified
- Age of animal affected
- Method of Treatment
- Method of Control
- Review Periods
- Effectiveness of control programs

The movement records of any animals moved onto the farm or off the farm are also of importance in monitoring and controlling disease.

The use of medicines, vaccines, their safety and their recording
This section covers the recording of all medicines used in the unit.  The VHP should follow the legal requirements of the country in which the business is operating and include any additional requirements imposed by country the unit is exporting or buyer.  The type of information required is:

- the date treatment commenced
- the animal it is used on
- its identification and location
- the condition or disease treated
- the medicine used
- the batch number of the bottle
- the dose rate given
- the number of days that the medicine is used
- the withdrawal period in days
- the date at which the withdrawal period expires (the date of clearance)
- a note of who has administered the medicine
- details of all medicines purchased

Also included in this section are the procedures for:

-  the safe disposal of all clinical waste
-  storage of medicines
-  off-label use of medicines

Off-label use of medicines is the use of a product not licensed for the specie treated.  This is very common with ostrich as there are very few, if any, approved medicines for ostrich in most countries.  The laws will vary in different countries, but generally, this is allowed provided the medicine has a licence for food-producing species with an approved meat withdrawal period.  Check the law within your country and any country the unit exports meat to.

The role of Nutrition in Disease Control
The role of that nutrition in the control of disease is well documented and becoming increasingly important with governments eliminating the use of antibiotics in meat producing livestock.

This quote from a publication issued this month relates to human nutrition, but the same principles apply to livestock nutrition.  The article relates to Vitamin D.

Quote:  Meanwhile two other studies recently claimed that if we all got adequate amounts of this vitamin it would be possible to cut rates of breast, prostate and colon cancer by 50%.  And that’s not all – yet another research paper by researchers at the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta suggested that the reason we are all more likely to get colds and flu in the winter could be because that’s the time it’s hard to get enough Vitamin D.  Its role as an infection fighter could maybe used to tackle new enemies like bird flu, tuberculosis and MRSA. End quote[2]

When reading any discussion on the effect of a single nutrient, always remember that nutrients work in harmony with other essential nutrients.  The role of nutrition in human and animal health to fight disease and building a strong immune system is the foundation for disease control.  


[1] Daryl Holle Body Condition is Most Important:

[2] Patrick Holford Special Report No. 18 – Vitamin D – you are almost certainly not getting enough

Marketing Starts on the Farm – 2

Newsletter No. 54

Establishing a market for their products is critical to the success of any business. With livestock, it used to be that you would raise your animal and when it was finished, take it to market. Today that is all changing very rapidly, not just in the EU but also in many importing countries as a result of globalisation, which has resulted in food crossing international borders.

Consumer demand today for greater food security and improved animal welfare makes it increasingly difficult for buyers to source livestock through the market system and retain the ablity to offer these securities.  .

The legislation now in place in the EU and many other countries makes it increasingly challenging to provide the full traceability for animals purchased at livestock markets. Buyers today also seek greater consistency and uniformity as well as security of supply.

As at 2013, the recent horsemeat scandal in Europe has raised further awareness and concerns on food security and traceability.

To achieve buyer requirements the larger meat buyers purchase on contract and lay down stringent rearing standards, over and above those laid down by legislation. These rearing standards are not possible to monitor when they have no direct access to the animals while on farm because the first time they are seen is at the market.

These are some of the areas controlled on farm and if not in place, many buyers will not buy the meat.

- Food Safety/Consumer Health
- Animal Welfare
- Residue Monitoring
- Quality
- Disease Control
- Reliability of Supply

This clearly demonstrates why marketing starts on the farm. If all these things are not in place on the farm, then the market is limited if available at all.

It is not easy to place these factors in any particular order of importance because a failure in any one area can halt market availability even if the farm is perfect in all other areas.

The following illustrate these issues and discuss the role of the WOA in establishing protocols, where appropriate, with greatest focus on the areas that are important at farm level.

Food Safety/Consumer Health
In meat production examples of areas that are important to food safety and consumer health are:

  • Unwanted residues in the blood and meat:
    • Antibiotics
    • Growth Hormones
    • Heavy Metals
    • Pesticides
  • Drugs
  • Bacteria infection
  • Bruising
  • Disease of any nature

A visit to the government web sites indicates how important these issues are today.  The increase in globalisation of agriculture and intensification of livestock production has combined to increase the risks to consumers of contaminated product.

The ISO (International Organization for Standardization), which develops voluntary international standards for products and services, defines traceability as the “ability to trace the history, application, or location of that which is under consideration.”  Under EU law, “traceability” means the ability to track any food, feed, food-producing animal or substance that will be used for consumption, through all stages of production, processing and distribution.

Full traceability is becoming increasingly important in the major markets. With livestock, as can be seen, this is not simply from the slaughter plant to the point of sale, but also where born, where grown, what they have eaten throughout their lives, all medical history including treatments.  To achieve this records are required on such things as:

  • Unique Animal identification
  • Location of birth
  • Location during rearing
  • Feed fed throughout their life
    • To trace any potential contamination
    • Use of prohibited ingredients at any time
    • Supplying feed companies required to maintain full records of ingredient sources in each batch of feed
  • Health records
    • Diseases
    • Treatments
    • Vaccinations
  • Transport

Traceability is a way of responding to potential risks that can arise in food and feed, to ensure that all food products are safe to eat.  It is vital that when national authorities or food businesses identify a risk they can trace it back to its source in order to swiftly isolate the problem and prevent contaminated products from reaching consumers.  In addition, traceability allows targeted withdrawals and the provision of accurate information to the public, thereby minimising disruption to trade.

Past food crises such as dioxin contamination and BSE, have illustrated the particular importance of being able to swiftly identify and isolate unsafe foodstuffs in order to prevent them from reaching the consumer.  As at March 2013 the most recent incident is the Horsemeat found in processed foods labelled as beef and pork DNA found in halaal products.

Animal Welfare
The markets of Europe, Britain and North America are becoming increasingly concerned over animal welfare.  The British Domesticated Ostrich Association is working with DEFRA and the RSPCA to lay down basic standards here in Britain .

The WOA has created a set of welfare guidelins that can be used as a foundation for:

  • governments seeking guidance to develop their own codes
  • buyers wanting to set codes
  • certification organisations needing to learn more on ostrich

The gudielines are available at  We will amend and update as experience and data becomes more available.

The following quote from the EU web site: illustrates the importance now placed on having the right procedures in place to ensure meat is free of residues.

Quote: “Residues of Veterinary Medicinal Products - Introduction        

During their lifetime, animals may have to be treated with medicines for prevention or cure of diseases. In food producing animals such as cattle, pigs, poultry and fish this may lead to residues of the substances used for the treatment in the food products derived from these animals (e.g. meat, milk, eggs). The residues should however not be harmful to the consumer.

To guarantee a high level of consumer protection, Community legislation requires that the toxicity of potential residues is evaluated before the use of a medicinal substance in food producing animals is authorised. If considered necessary, maximum residue limits (MRLs) are established and in some cases, the use of the relevant substance is prohibited. The evaluation procedure is laid out in Council Regulation (EC) 2377/90 of 26 June 1990.

Directorate-General Enterprise is responsible for the rules governing medicinal products and the evaluation of residues of pharmacologically active substances used in veterinary medicinal products and for establishment of MRLs in the EU.  End Quote

Countries will have their own rules and regulations to monitor residues within the meat to protect their consumers.  In the EU, each country residue-monitoring plan is expected to follow the EU regulations:  This page provides information for those countries outside the EU wishing to supply the EU.

Residues in the meat result from inputs at the farm, and emphasise the importance of the correct controls on the farm.  These inputs include feed, water and all medication, internal and external.

The aspects of meat quality that are controlled at farm level are discussed in greater detailed in the WOA Factors Influencing Ostrich Meat Quality

  • Age of the animal
  • Nutrition
  • Management Systems

In meat quality, the Nutrition is the most important as the rations fed control the colour, taste, texture and odour of the meat.  They control the animal’s ability to handle stress, and the time required to bring an animal to slaughter.  The younger the animal is slaughter ready, the more tender the meat.

Management systems are also extremely important in controlling meat quality, because any failure in management can result in insufficient feed intake, insufficient water intake, disease control and stress levels.  Insufficient water intake, presence of disease or parasites and stress all result in reduced feed intake and impact on the quality of the meat.

The condition of the animal’s liver and colour of the fat are key indicators of the animals overall health and quality of the meat.  The feed the animal receives directly controls liver condition and fat colour.

Disease Control
The importance of good biosecurity to minimise the risks of disease cannot be over emphasised.  Historically Newcastle Disease (NCD) and Avian Influenza (AI) are probably the diseases that have caused the most disruption to supplies.

An outbreak of NCD or AI in ostrich and/or poultry can shut down movement locally and exports overnight.  AI ended the Israeli Ostrich industry, even though it was not present in their ostrich flock as they were totally dependent on the export market for meat sales as the local population are unable to eat ostrich meat.  Over the years NCD and AI has severely affected the South African industry because they had built their meat sales on the export market.   Australia has also experienced total closure to exports for an extended period because of NCD in poultry.

Chick Mortality has also caused many difficulties in continuity of supply:

Quote "Chick mortality is a serious destroyer with devastating and varied financial implications.   For the last two decades, in all surveys and opinion polls, the vagaries of chick mortality have been listed as enemy number one."  End Quote [1]

There are a number of reasons for chick mortality and these should be clearly understood to ensure correct management to minimise these losses.

Disease disrupts the supply to the market.

Reliability of Supply
Most restaurants set their menus for several months at a time (many for as long as 6 months) and once let down markets are harder to recover.  They cannot afford to to be let down in delivery.

Supermarkets will not tolerate empty shelf space.  Unreliable supplies will result in lost contracts.  Disease is one of the major causes of lack of supply, either as a result of export bans or as a result of high chick mortality.

One other major cause for lack of supply witnessed in Ostrich over the years is the unreliability of egg numbers laid and conversion of those eggs to day old chicks and then survival to slaughter.  Farm management systems must be in place to optimise the numbers of eggs laid and the conversion of those eggs to slaughter birds to ensure continuity and reliability of the supply to the market.

The above illustrates just why marketing starts at the farm.


[1] The South African National Agricultural Marketing Council “Report on the Investigation of the effects of Deregulation of the South African Ostrich Industry” page 33.

The Greatest Threat to our Industry

Newsletter No. 53 - Item 1

These words were written in 2007

A major buyer for Ostrich meat, who has always strived to obtain quality meat, made this statement:

The greatest threat to our industry is the poor quality ostrich meat we continually see

The buyer of a major supermarket chain has stated they are not interested in placing ostrich meat on their shelves again as a direct result of past negative experiences, proving just how true that statement is.  Those negative experiences included consumer resistance and the refusal of the supplier to change their methods of production to meet their customer needs. The supplier implied that the skin is the primary product and they were unable to make those changes, as the changes would have a negative effect on the skins.

A report of the “First International Ostrich Meat Congress” that took place at the end of February 1997 in Oudtshoorn made up item 2 in this newsletter - see below.  The ostrich mailing list was new and very active at the time.  Prior to going to this conference, members of the list were asked for their thoughts on the slow development of the markets, as it was an excellent channel of communication within the industry.

The issues list members had raised were discussed since they were clearly concerns of all those on the front line marketing and hoped would continue to be addressed.  10 years on, the industry faces the same challenges.  If anything, it is worse.

Item 2b discusses the dangers of bad consumer experiences.  Hearing major buyers complaining of the same thing 10 years later indicates that as an industry this serious threat remains a major issue that the industry continues to fail to address on a large enough scale.

Report of First International Ostrich Meat Congress – February, 1997
Published on the ostrich list on 3rd March 1997

Last week NOPSA - The National Ostrich Processors Association of South Africa (NOPSA) hosted The First International Ostrich Meat Congress in Oudtshoorn.  There were 120 delegates from 21 countries.  The week should be seen as a major event in the history of the Ostrich Industry.  It was not a week of delegates simply sitting and listening to a number of papers presented by various speakers - but was an opportunity for those attending to contribute in general discussion.

Three major areas were covered - The Meat (the individual muscles, their names, grades by tenderness etc.), Marketing Strategy and Hides.  The delegates were also given a tour of the Abattoir, Tannery and various farms in the area.

a. The Meat
As a result of the confusion in the market as to the names and degree of tenderness of different muscles it was agreed that an internationally accepted standard should be set.  An international subcommittee was formed.  Before we departed, the Catalogue numbers of each muscle and Latin names had been agreed.  The grading of several muscles and some trade names are still to be agreed.  There is to be a further meeting of the sub committee to me held in Europe to finalise these matters.

Dr. F. Mellet of Stellenbosch University reported on the pH values of the meat and the Anatomy of the muscles.  He noted that the Ostrich shows characteristics of Birds, Mammals and Reptiles.

The statement was made by one speaker that the industry is rapidly moving from the Hides as the primary product, with the meat the by-product to The Meat as the primary Product with the hides the by-product.

b. Marketing Strategy
A good deal of time was attributed to this important subject.   Some statistics were presented on current numbers of birds being slaughtered, number of approved export abattoirs, numbers of birds etc.  However, it was noted that these were compiled with limited data.   Statistics were also shown on the dramatic growth of the Turkey and Chicken Industries in relation to the total meat market.  It was noted that it would take 15million slaughter birds to satisfy 15% of the European market alone.  The conclusion: there is plenty of room for every one and great potential for growth.

There was an excellent presentation covering what the housewife/consumer is looking for, what makes the consumer buy the product and how to create an international awareness.  Great emphasis was also given to the fact that there will be many people over the next few years buying Ostrich for the first time.  If the product is not good and that first experience is a bad one - that consumer may well never try the product again.  It was noted that there has been an inconstancy in the product in the past, which must be addressed.  This inconsistency is most probably a combination of the variety of ages of slaughter birds, the effects of diet, variety in classification between countries of the various muscles etc.

The price, presentation and colour of the meat were also aspects mentioned.  The health aspects were seen as a major priority - the speaker highlighted the fact that we have a free range meat, that the market wants animals reared on feed free of meat source proteins, routine antibiotics, growth hormones etc.

An International Ostrich Association will be formed to promote the industry.  It will prepare the International Meat Buyers Guide along with other sales literature, videos etc.  It will generate and sustain general public awareness campaigns.   The funding will be a combination of levies, profit from sale of promotional materials and any other means that may seem appropriate from time to time.  Some of the funding will go towards research and development.  The levies will be collected by the National Associations - part to be handed across to the International Association with some retained by the National Associations to promote within their individual country as each country has its own unique culture.

Delegates were warned that any bad press or experience regarding Ostrich will reflect on the industry - the consumer does not think of where that Ostrich was - simply the name Ostrich.  It is essential to work together to ensure the quality and consistency of standards.

c. Ostrich Leather
Whilst this was primarily an Ostrich Meat Congress, this important product was certainly not ignored.  The current grading of Ostrich skins was covered in detail.  Mr. Kriek of the KKLK informed the delegates that the industry often complains that the grading is too kind to the producer - but it has been agreed to retain the standard for the next 2 years at least.  It was acknowledged that there are a number of new producers now in the market and there will be a learning curve to achieve the required quality.

Discussion took place on the effect of slaughter age on the hide.  It was acknowledged that the 10mth skin of a well-fed bird is very acceptable and that the 14mth slaughter age has arisen to satisfy the requirements of the feather trade.  There was considerable discussion on the potential effect on price of an increasing number hides and of lower grade skins possibly coming onto the market.  Examples were given of uses of these hides, which no other leather could compete with, therefore allowing the hides to retain a high value.  An analogy was made with the wine industry.  You will have your very high value wines, the plonks and many in-between – all made from the one product - the Grape.

All delegates visited the Tannery and were shown a large range of skins - of differing grades.  A good deal of excellent discussion took place between the delegates during this visit.

The Congress was closed by the South African Minister of Agriculture - Mr. D. Hanekom.  He passed on the message to the South African Industry that he offered his full support to the development of the industry.  He also announced that legislation is now going through to allow the Import and Export of genetic material.

Note the fact that this was 1997 and it was accepted then that skins from 10 month birds (42 weeks old) are acceptable and that the feather industry was driving the later slaughter.  Slaughter birds as late as 60 weeks is simply not commercially viable for a producer producing good quality meat.

2013: That footnote was published in 2007.  This article discussed a conference that took place in South Africa in 1997 just 3 years after the South African industry was deregulated and the early countries to import ostrich were facing the challenge from importing the foundation birds and transition to commercial production.

Meat Quality and Grading Meat

Newsletter 49 - Item 2

The WOA published a document “Factors Influencing Meat Quality”.  The document covers 10 sections that indicate how many things influence the quality of meat.  The influences are the same for any meat production specie and cover many factors throughout the production chain.  The following graphic comes from the book “Garth Pig Stockmanship Standards” and illustrates well just how many production factors influence meat quality.

Meat Quality

Nutrition, in excess of 60% of the input costs of any commercial livestock production, is at the very top as it has the greatest influence.  Many of the factors referenced are dependent on the correct nutrition.  A breakdown in any one of those factors influences the quality of the meat as received by the consumer.

A visitor recently published this message to the American Ostrich Association public forum on their web site.  The message illustrates again the importance of consistent quality, especially when introducing a totally new meat specie to the marketplace.

Quote: I recently purchased several cuts of ostrich. I am writing an article on ostrich and would feel bad if I didn't at least try to put a positive spin on it. But I cooked the filet to medium as I read was necessary for ostrich and I couldn't take how tough it was. The roast was almost inedible. I tried again by pressure cooking it like I do with tough beef cuts. It just broke down into smaller tough pieces. I haven't touched the ground ostrich. What am I doing wrong? Any cooking suggestions or recipes would be appreciated. Thank you. End quote

One factor missing from the above graphic is ‘age at slaughter’.  It is very possible that this lady purchased meat from an old breeder bird.  There are many reasons why meat can be tough.

The WOA has produced a Carcass Grading System that requires understanding and utilisation for all actively involved in our industry.  Grading a product differentiates quality and enables the setting of prices according to quality.  Grading also enables our customers to identify the level of quality they are purchasing.

Ostrich Leather Grading

Newsletter No. 44 - November 2006 Item 2

This newsletter reporte the completion of the World Ostrich Association leather grades and published them on the web here.  Premium and Super Premium are two additional grades not included in the NOPSA Leather Grading that to date has been the industry standard.   These new grades more accurately reflect customer demand and encourage production to higher standards.

Studies carried out by the South African researchers proved the younger the birds at slaughter the higher percentage of Grade 1 skins achieved.  Scars and blemishes determine grades rather than weight, thickness or follicle development.  That study also reported the follicles insufficiently formed and blamed the young age of the birds as the reason, but there is evidence that genetics may also contribute to follicle style and size.

There is further evidence, verified by a study personally carried out in South Africa and published here, that method of rearing controls the age of maturity of the follicles.  The significance of producing acceptable skins at younger age indicates the ability to achieve skins with fewer blemishes and scars and therefore it makes sense to introduce these new grades to improve standards and prices.

Nutrition and management are the major factors influencing age of slaughter, scaring or blemishes.  Overcrowding, batch size, fencing, handling methods, transport are all management factors that influence scaring and blemishes.  We still see many skins ruined by poor handling at slaughter and storage.

Also published is a document to identify the areas of management that influence the quality of the skins that can be viewed here.

There are currently no classifications for follicle size and development even though buyers vary in their requirements, some preferring larger, heavier skins with large follicles, others prefer lighter weight skins with small follicles and others like to roll their skins to flatten the follicles.  These items remain subjective to the individual buyers and sellers. We can develop follicle classifications and quantify other elements as volume increases with industry growth.

The greatest benefit of improving standards of production to produce better quality finished products is that the systems required to achieve those standards also reduce the costs of production to enable commercially viable meat production.

Earlier slaughter requires less feed, less infrastructure and faster return on working capital.  These factors significantly reduce production costs.

World Ostrich Association Publications

The World Ostrich Association (WOA) has a number of publications available to support its members.   All are available free to members of the association and most are also available to download in PDF format.  These are important docucments to support producers, processors and the buyers of Ostrich Products.

WOA Ostrich Carcass Grading processors and meat buyers

WOA Ostrich Yield Payment  processor farmer payment

WOA Factors Influencing Ostrich Meat Quality producers and processors

WOA Ostrich Skin and Finished Leather Grading producers, processors and buyers

WOA Ostrich Feather Structure and Quality producers, processors and buyers

WOA Ostrich Benchmark Performance Targets producers

WOA Ostrich Welfare Guidelines producers, processors and buyers

WOA Guide to Valuing Ostrich Buying, Selling or Insurance claim – how do you value an ostrich?   Available to members only

Ostrich Farming Business Planning Planning Profitable Ostrich Farming from ‘Farm to Plate’   Available members only

Understanding the Productive Value of Alfalfa
This is not a WOA production, but as it is of significant importance in ostrich production, it is included.  It is a link to an external web site.

Valuing Ostrich

Newsletter No. 37 – April 2006 Item 2

Last month we announced that your directors would develop a guide to Valuing Ostrich.  This has now been completed and is available to members to download on the website.

Compiling the document makes us all aware of how immature our industry is today.  We have hugely variable production per breeder, few records to accurately reflect the performance of genetic lines and low profitability for too many.  With slaughter birds we have slaughter age varying from under 200 days to in excess of 375 days, with no meaningful price differentiation practiced through meat grading and strong marketing and this remains a true statement in 2013 that requires addressing.

The key to valuing production livestock is establishing their productive value.  The document gives advice on how to establish the productive value of the livestock. The starting point for establishing a productive value is good record keeping.  Records that prove the productive performance of the breeders as well as sale price of progeny and gross margins achieved.

Commercial livestock are raised as a source of food or other products (e.g. Wool, leather, oils) that are usually considered by-products that also contribute to revenue.  Whatever the reason for production, it is essential to make a profit.   The figures demonstrate clearly why early slaughter, combined with good meat yields are essential to commercial success of ostrich production.


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.