Purchasing Ostrich Eggs and Chicks

Over the years many of us have regularly received enquiries from newcomers to the industry to supply eggs and/or chicks. All too often the numbers requested are simply too small to be a viable proposition – not viable for either the seller or the buyer.   There are a number of reasons for this, but fundamentally the reason is the additional costs encountered when supplying eggs or chicks across international borders.

When purchasing from within one’s own country, it is possible to go to another farm and purchase a few eggs or chicks.  Depending on the country there may be some regulations regarding crossing county, state or provincial boundaries, but these are usually minimal by comparison to the regulations required for shipping across international borders.

Importing eggs or chicks from a foreign country requires strict veterinary protocols.  These protocols usually include certain testing of the breeder birds and meeting quarantine regulations.  These regulations can vary from country to country.   Any handling of breeders is stressful for those birds and can impact on their breeding activity.  Therefore ostrich farmers can only undertake such activity when there is sufficient volume involved supported by a contract for regular supply and guaranteed payment to justify that disruption and costs.

exporting eggs

Figure 1 - Procedures required for exporting fertile ostrich eggs

Local state veterinarian departments are unwilling to undertake the work when numbers of exports are insuffienct to support the costs.  Costs are simply too high when numbers are low.   To put his statement into perspective, poultry production batches of chicks are usually measured in hundreds, but more frequently today in thousands. Increasing numbers of units have batches in excess of 10,000 chicks.   The photos in Figure 1 illustrate the work required of a state veterinarian in the export process.  As can be seen, this is a major operation.  Each importing country has different criteria and different forms to complete.

With ostrich the minimum number of eggs a supplier is interested can be as low as 108 per shipment, but more usually 250 is the minimum and for many unless there is a longer term contract in place for regular deliveries, farms are not interested or able to supply.

The next issue to consider is that of the viability of the eggs.   Eggs need to be handled carefully, maintained within certain temperature ranges and ideally incubated within 10 days of the date they were laid.   For export they require specialist packaging (see figure 1).  During shipping you are dependent on the airline looking after the boxes correctly.  If they have to undergo a change of plane en route or delays, airlines will not guarantee that the boxes may not spend time on the hot tarmac at the airport.  When this happens the viability of the eggs can be destroyed and in the case of chicks the stress is far too great and the chicks succumb.

Finally, unless there are a large number of chicks in the new area, there is a problem of achieving adequate nutrition to support the growth and development of the chicks.  In the domesticated situation the birds must have adequate nutrients and rations specifically designed for ostrich.  It becomes exceedingly costly to produce this when working with only a limited number of birds.  Unless fed correctly, ostrich are not a viable animal to introduce to commercial farming.

Many countries require specialist quarantine facilities when incubating and hatching imported eggs.  For this reason it is simply not viable for any farmer in any country to import just a few eggs. These economics and practicalities of importing eggs also apply to importing day old chicks.

Therefore, when introducing ostrich to a new country it is essential that the project is:

  • Of a sufficient scale to support the full infrastructure.
  • Supported by a full business plan that ensures it covers the full production cycle (see newsletter 74 & 75) and you understand that business plan
  • If specialising in just one sector (e.g. farming is there a supply of food of proven standard for ostrich, is there someone to slaughter the birds?  What are the contracts?
  • Is there sufficient cash for the project to be successful?
financial cycle

Figue 2 - Financial Cycle

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