1. Australia and New Zealand
Our thanks to Bert Rayner for writing the following report from Australia and New Zealand.
Production has dropped significantly over the past few years.
As in all producing countries, no one has yet farmed ostrich to their full potential. Various reasons apply to all countries
a) lack of consistent markets
b) lack of ‘production agriculture’ principals
c) lack of consistent quality produced
Cost of processing per bird is roughly as follows:
Australia +/- USD 75.00
New Zealand +/- USD 95.00
Both Australia and New Zealand have only three major breeding farms each. Australia has one abattoir processing birds and New Zealand two. Estimates of production would be 7,000-11,000 birds in each country.
With correct nutrition and farming methods, the industry can re-build in the region but it requires drastic action.
Australia has the current problem of the worst drought in 100 years and feed prices have doubled in 12 months.
2. Analysis and discussion
Bert identified 3 major issues, but all 3 interrelate and are interdependent on each other. Consistent markets are dependent on a consistent supply and products of marketable quality and consistent quality.
As an industry, we continue to produce extremely variable muscles sizes, meat colour and unreliable supplies. Pig, Poultry and Beef production has become extremely efficient over the past few decades, with producers able to provide the markets with the products they demand. That is in contrast to producing the products and then expecting the market to take it regardless.
Just last week I received communication from a producer in his third or fourth season. He was concerned because he has a market for his produce, but his hens are not laying eggs. The ability to produce consistency in supply and product is an essential part of the marketing plan of any livestock business.
3. Processing Costs
This is an opportunity to discuss slaughter and processing costs. Processing is made up of a number of processes and it is important to know which processes are included and at what stage of the process the meat is packaged when costs are quoted to avoid confusion:
- Muscling Out
- Portioning and other value adding
Other factors that influence processing costs:
- Volume – world production of ostrich remains at a fraction of single production units in other specie.
- Regular throughput
§ South Africa has some of the lowest ostrich slaughter costs, yet a major complaint of the managers was producers cancelling booked delivery of birds at the last minute leaving a plant with reduced numbers at best or no slaughter for the day at worst.
§ Ostrich is seasonal
- Interruption to other slaughter
§ Many are slaughtering very low volumes in multi-specie plants. Management of these slaughter plants will expect to slaughter those birds with sufficient return to make it worth their while.
- Slaughtering takes virtually the same amount of time regardless of meat yield, therefore the greater the meat yield, the lower the costs per kilo.
4. Principles of “Production Agriculture”
Bert referenced the need to adapt to “production agriculture” principles, this is essential to achieve the consistent markets, product quality and supply cost effectively. Our industry can learn from the mainstream industries and adapt the principles to ostrich. A number of years ago I attended an international conference where a nutritionist’s opening statement was:
“Your ostrich breeders consume nearly one tonne of feed every year - that is a lot of feed - you need to ensure it is cheap.”
In contrast I made the statement also as a speaker on Ostrich nutrition:
“Given their production potential, your breeder birds eat very little so you need to ensure that feed carries sufficient nutrients to support their production potential.”
The important element is to ensure the breeder feed is “productive” and able to support the full genetic egg production potential of the hens and production of strong semen in the males. That in turn results in:
- High fertility, with excellent hatchability - thus reducing significantly the costs of incubation and overall costs of day old chicks (see figure 1)
- Strong chicks require less heat in cold weather or reduced cooling in hot climates
- Strong chicks have an improved immune system
- Strong chicks convert feed at a faster rate and therefore achieve slaughter weight with quality skins months earlier
- Strong chicks converting feed efficiently produce increased meat yields
- Increased meat yields reduce processing costs per kilo
- Chicks maturing earlier have increased percentage of Grade 1 skins
The above are all possible provided the chicks also receive feed of “high productive value” and accompanied by high standards of management
With all these factors correctly in place, the birds are able to optimise their genetic potential and that enables the implementation of genetic improvement programs – thus enabling an upward spiral of improving performance.
These are the principles of “production agriculture” that has enabled the mainstream livestock specie to become so efficient in recent decades and produce low cost meat.
Figure 1 - Chick Feed Cost Comparisons
[Source: Cutting The Costs of Production]
5. Maximising Performance, Reducing Production Costs
This is the title of an article written for Pig producers when under pressure from reduced prices. This is a direct quote from the first paragraphs and illustrates the focus of production agriculture is improving efficiency to cut costs, not to simply find a low cost per tonne solution:
Quote: “As prices of corn and soybeans have increased and market hog prices continue to drop, swine producers are forced to find additional ways to reduce total production costs. The first place to focus is on growth performance (average daily gain, and feed efficiency) and the management factors that impact performance. If growth performance is poor then less profit or more losses will occur during these times of low market prices”. End Quote
Editor comment: Ostrich growth performance currently is well below its potential and these newsletters have continually reported the high losses, not only from chick mortality, but also from low conversion of eggs to chicks.
Quote: “This article will try to provide some helpful tips to ensure that maximum performance can be achieved in order to minimize profit losses during these times of small profit margins.
First, one must look at feed quality. All pork producers have participated in the Pork Quality Assurance program sponsored by the National Pork Board; however, a feed quality assurance program should be implemented as well. Feed quality issues that need to be monitored include grinding or particle size, diet formulations, feeder adjustment, and storage.
Feed costs can be as much as 70% of the total production costs and when market prices are low, profitability depends on minimizing feed costs. Anything that improves feed efficiency will be more economical in times of high feed costs.” End quote
Editor comment: note again the emphasis on minimizing feed costs through improving feed efficiency. This is the basis of production agriculture, reducing costs through improved efficiencies not simply going for something carrying a lower cost per tonne.
Quote: “Producers should monitor particle size and keep the average size at 700 to 800 microns with less than 5 % variability. Many times, if particle size is not determined frequently, it will creep up to 1,000 microns as the grinder screens wear. This may increase feed cost for a producer by $.50 to $1.00 per pig due to poorer feed efficiency”. End quote
Editor comment: This statement illustrates the degree of precision now being applied in these industries that is also required for Ostrich production. Click here to read the whole article.
6. Research Review and Future research
Last year we put together a review of some research papers that have had a strong influence in our industry. This is available to any member interested in reading. Please email me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can give you a link to download.
7. Bird Flu Turkeys – England
The beginning of February witnessed the outbreak of H5N1 Bird Flu in Turkeys here in England. Newsletter No. 47 discussed the problems of dependency on export markets when starting ostrich production. The company in this outbreak also have a slaughter plant in Hungary and run trucks daily between Hungary and England. It is considered that the infection came as a direct result of this traffic and a break down in biosecurity controls.
The outbreak not only cost the company at the heart of the outbreak a significant amount of money from the disruption, it also seriously affected many other businesses and highlights the dangers of depending only on export markets. Readers can view full details of the outbreak along with current trade restrictions at http://www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/diseases/notifiable/disease/ai/latest-situation/index.htm.
Cutting Costs of Production – Daryl Holle and Fiona Benson - http://www.blue-mountain.net/research/cutcosts.htm
Maximizing Performance, Reducing Production Costs, By Marcia S. Carlson and Thomas J Fangman, University of Missouri - http://www.thepigsite.com/articles/6/production-and-mgmt/679/maximizing-performance-reducing-production-costs