WOA Logo
Mission Statement
"To Represent The International Ostrich Industry Through Communication, Dissemination of Information and Provision of Industry Standards"

Contact Details :

Craig Culley, Secretary
World Ostrich Association
33 Eden Grange
Little Corby
Carlisle, UK CA4 8QW
Tel +44 1228 562 923
Fax +44 1228 562 187


World Ostrich Association Newsletter No. 86
May, 2010

Included in this edition:
1. The State of Food and Agriculture 2009 - Summary
2. Drivers of Consumption Trends
3. Food Security and Poverty Reduction
4. Ensuring development is environmentally sustainable
5. Balancing animal and human health requirements
6. Conclusion

The State of Food and Agriculture 2009 – Summary
The report produced by the FAO under the above title is available for download at their web site. The focus of this edition is Livestock and discusses many issues on understanding the changes in livestock production and the challenges facing the livestock industry at all levels of the production and supply chain.

This month’s newsletter will discuss some key messages in the report and how they impact on the development of Ostrich production.  We will discuss the opportunities available and the barriers that must be overcome to turn those opportunities into a successful industry. 

The key areas discussed are:
- Rapid expansion of the livestock sector
- Contribution to food security and poverty reduction
- Strengthening required in governance to ensure development is environmentally sustainable
- Balancing animal and human health requirements

Drivers of Consumption Trends
The data illustrates the increasing consumption of meat in developing countries as a percentage of total food consumption, further confirming the requirement for ever increasing commercial meat production.  Interesting to note in Figure 1 is the total consumption of cereals has moved very little, with consumption of roots and tubers having fallen marginally.  The significant increases have come from eggs and meat.  An article published on the Pigsite.com reported that due to their low price, eggs are the first protein choice of those moving from a grain based diet to a protein based diet, thus confirming these figures. 

Figure 1 - Comparative Consumption of major food items in developing countries

food consumption

The report states economic growth as the driver for this growth in consumption of animal products.  Whilst this is certainly true, another driver discussed in some depth are the improvements that have been seen in production methods of pigs and poultry in particular.  These improvements in efficiencies, which include development of genetics, have meant meat is produced at significantly lower cost than 50 years ago.   Chicken, for example, used to be a treat, today it is an everyday source of low cost meat protein. 

Another important driver for increased meat consumption and helps in establishing measurable levels of meat consumption is the increasing urbanisation of populations.  When living in a rural situation, families are able to maintain poultry and livestock in their backyard – sufficient to feed their families.  Clearly it is not possible to accurately record production or consumption of livestock reared in this way.  However, it is possible to measure the increase in population movement to the urban environment to illustrate the increased demand for commercially produced animal protein. 

Technological change is the single most important factor in expanding supply of cheap livestock products. (page 18)


These technological changes have come at every stage of the production chain from crop productions, food production, livestock management systems, genetic improvements, animal processing, packaging and distribution.

To meet the increasing demand for commercially produced animal protein, developing countries have been able to buy turnkey operations and/or develop joint venture partnerships to provide production locally.  We have witnessed developing countries attempting to approach ostrich production in a similar manner. The problem with our industry at this time the complete solution does not yet exist. Our industry still requires a company or companies to provide this leadership, developing commercial levels of production with the necessary proven primary production systems in place, including genetics, in the same way the pig, poultry, beef and dairy producers have achieved.  Our first hurdle is to achieve primary production efficiently, with reliability and cost effectively.  The markets for our products are there once the industry is able to supply the right volumes with uninterrupted supply and at the right price. 

Food Security and Poverty Reduction
This section addresses many interesting and challenging issues focussing on the role of livestock in food security and the livelihoods of men and women living in poverty.  This is of particular interest in Ostrich as we have witnessed a number of initiatives in Southern Africa where ostrich projects have been set up based on securing enhancement of the lives of previously disadvantaged sectors of the population.  In Namibia significant investment took place using pension fund money and failed.  This and other projects are set up with well intentioned motives, but based on economics assuming ostrich as a producer of a high value skin rather than ostrich as an efficient supplier of quality meat protein.  As a result key production measurements such as slaughter progeny per breeder, days taken to slaughter, feed conversion statistics were ignored and genetic development was rarely considered.

There are now projects under way in pig production, where proven efficient methods of production are now being adapted to include the more vulnerable members of the population.  These are large scale projects, correctly funded introducing proven technology and advanced genetics. 

Over the years we are approached regularly by groups in developing countries hoping to start with ostrich production projects.  The evolutionary processes the mainstream livestock species have gone through as described in this document, help explain why it is more challenging to introduce a specie where total world production when measured in meat tonnage output is no more than many single industrial pig, poultry and beef operations. 

There is a discussion on the move in livestock production from pasture based systems to highly intensive systems based on by-products and concentrates.

The dominance of concentrate feeds has meant that livestock production is no longer constrained by local availability of feed and the natural resources needed to provide it.


This had led to production where the feed that is easily transportable thus driving success in agriculture exports based on their ability to produce the ingredients efficiently.  Brazil and the US are examples of this; they have also gone one step further, rearing livestock to convert that feed to low cost meat protein and exporting the meat protein. This is not a discussion on whether it is right or wrong, it is illustrating why livestock production has moved in the direction it has. It illustrates the need to produce crops efficiently and in a method that is sustainable.

What is the definition of concentrate feeds in this context? I am not clear on that but would like here to share my own personal journey to understand as it has also been an evolving process from adding a few grains to supplement the grazing to controlled feeding of technically balanced rations (and sometimes not so well balanced rations!!). 

As a child I remember my father talking about adding concentrates and testing them against pasture only in his dairy enterprise. He would test different fertilisers to test the mineral uptake of the grasses, he would trial different grass types to test milk yields, cow health and fertility – but his concentrates at that time were no more than barley or some other grain produced on farm. He would cut the grass for winter conservation at very specific stage of growth to lock in the maximum nutrients technology and weather allowed.  He recorded everything on a herd basis and analysed the outcomes.  He had fellow farmers share their data, so the recordings were carried out on a significant scale for the period.[1] This was before vitamins and minerals were introduced into the concentrate mixtures to help balance the forages to help support the production.  We have progressed so far today that now dairy cattle fed complete rations that are a mixture of forage, grains, proteins and supplemented vitamins, minerals and any other supporting nutrients required will simply use the grass to sit on, when it is available to them – they no longer consume it.  They are fit, yield well, have minimal metabolic problems such as mastitis, lameness, milk fever that previously were common production problems and expensive when measured in lost production and remedy costs, not to mention the reduction in the productive life of breeding stock. 

Today we live in a global village. 

  • It was only 500 years ago that Christopher Columbus proved the world to be round.
  • Less than 140 years ago Jules Verne was writing about going around the world in 80 days
  • Almost 50 years ago Yuri Gagarin orbited the world in space
  • Today we can fly food to wherever it is needed

As the March newsletter reported, population growth has risen dramatically over the past 50 years and forecast to continue rising at a rapid rate, driving the need to ensure optimisation of production with minimum wastage to ensure there is sufficient food to feed all and not only the richer members of the world population.  Page 25 illustrates that 26%of the earth’s ice free land surface is grazing. These are areas unsuitable for arable agriculture, but still valuable in the provision of food.  These areas can be made more productive when livestock grazing receive supplementation such as we see with sheep grazing the uplands of our Welsh mountains, for example.  This optimisation of resources has to be balanced carefully with commercial viability for those producing under these conditions.  Goats and Sheep handle these harsh conditions, but revenue for those shepherding them is low when compared to larger scale more commercial operations where containment within fenced boundaries and supplementary feeding can increase meat yields and labour input is reduced per kilo of food produced.  We still see many areas of the world with small herds tended by a single shepherd by day rather than contained in a foraged enclosure. These animals are making use of a mix of vegetation.  Stock herded in this way yield significantly less meat than those reared on higher quality grazing and with some supplementation.  Access to adequate water has a significant impact on yield.  Lower yields per animal also mean greater man hours per kilo of meat recovered required to slaughter and process the animals.

Ostrich have adapted to live in some of the most arid conditions in the world, but farming them in this way is not commercially viable as a producer of meat.  Produced in this way it is unlikely that ostrich will contribute to “food security” or to “lifting those looking after them out of poverty”.  The ability of ostrich to survive under these extreme conditions has enabled them to survive as a species. 

There are good discussions, with examples, on private sector projects linking backyard poultry systems as a solution to including small farmers but with the benefits of scale and management structure.  The problems and solutions cover many of the aspects that Newsletter No.74, reporting on the project in South Africa. 

The uniqueness of ostrich is the knowledge learned over the past couple of decades.  We have learned that when farmed commercially incorporating modern techniques under ethical conditions they have the potential to produce red meat at comparative costs to those pig and poultry producers currently achieve.  This is of particular benefit to those members of populations unable to consume pork meat.  As multiple reproducers, it is possible to rapidly improve the genetic base in a similar manner that has been achieved with pigs and poultry.

Ensuring development is environmentally sustainable
This section discusses such things as the impact of livestock production on climate change, gas emissions, impact on ecosystems and diversion of arable crops to animals instead of directly to humans. There is no doubt that we have heard much about the dangerous levels of gas emissions from livestock.  How serious a concern is this in fact?  The article “Is the Claim about Methane Valid?” concludes:

So, now we know that like CO2,methane is not a major threat to either the planet or to the life on it. And as cattle and other livestock fertilise and improve the health and quality of the soil on which we all depend for the food that sustains us, perhaps we should think about eating more meat rather than less.
And while we are doing that, as there is no point in wasting what is a very useful source of cheap energy, we could collect methane from cowsheds and from waste dumps. That way, small local methane power plants could easily supply local power needs, and the very heavy cost of power stations could be reduced.

In such a discussion, the manure of livestock is excellent to help maintain soil health and productivity.  The forages provided by legumes, such as lucerne, fix nitrogen in the soil, thus minimising the need for additional nitrogen fertilisers when such crops are used as part of a sound crop rotation program.  In some areas where the land is suitable pigs maintained outdoors are used very successfully as part of a crop rotation cycle.  It is more challenging to use ostrich in this manner as their fencing requirements are somewhat greater.

When man has a diet based on animal products and minimal grains, the food consumption tends to be far less than a diet based on food from vegetable sources.  Also, food from vegetable sources requires more preparation, especially grains.  Traditionally these foods were fermented, but today we have food processors manufacturing many different products from our grains with manufacturing processes requiring resources that could be conserved if we had less dependency on these foods.  Many of these foods are so devoid of nutrients they require vitamins and minerals added to them. Grains fed to improve the diets of our livestock as a balance with good forages, are utilised more efficiently.  As we mention regularly, Ostrich have the potential to be extremely efficient converters of quality rations to meat protein.

So it is clear that livestock production carried out efficiently offers significant potential to support our environment, rather than a contributor to global warming.

Balancing animal and human health requirements
As the title suggests, this section discusses the interrelationships between animal and human health.  Figure 2 is a simplistic diagram outlining the interrelationships between human and animal diseases.

Figure 2 - Impact of animal disease and human health

Table 1 provides some estimated costs of disease outbreaks over the past few years.  There are a number of areas where disease control has impacted seriously on ostrich.

Table 1 - Some Estimated costs of disease in developed and developing countries

Newcastle Disease (NCD), Congo Fever and Avian Influenza (AI) are 3 diseases that have had a major impact on the development of ostrich as an industry over the last couple of decades.  Any country that has NCD requires more stringent export regulations than those that have a NCD disease free status.  When exporting many countries require the meat can only be sold “off the bone”.   Australia’s fledgling ostrich industry was devastated some years ago when the whole of the country was shut down to exports as a result of an outbreak of NCD in poultry in one area.  The country had not designated regions and protocols for handling such outbreaks in ostrich at the time.  South Africa was more proactive as the industry was larger at the time with more organised companies to drive this.

When the ostrich industry was first deregulated, meat sales were growing rapidly when it was reported that several ostrich slaughter plant workers had contracted Congo Fever from ostriches.   This shut down exports for a considerable amount of time while protocols were discussed and put in place forcing many new comers to leave the industry. These protocols have added significantly to the production costs.

The protocols required for the control of NCD and Congo Fever also impact on potential production as birds have require handling more frequently than would be the case if these controls were not required.  

The H5N1 outbreak of AI was responsible for the end of the Israeli industry.  The outbreak in poultry closed down the export of all poultry, including ostrich.  The Israeli industry had no domestic market for their meat and the industry so far has been unable to recover.   More recently we have seen the devastation caused to the South African industry when another strain of AI was found in ostriches. 

As can be seen the economic threats of disease outbreaks are devastating.  Therefore disease control and risk management is highlighted as extremely important.  This comes at producer level as well as governmental level.

We are now a global village and the document does note the challenges of poorer countries to participate in enhanced standards of health and food safety in order to gain greater access to markets that are currently unavailable to them.  On this matter it is worth noting that we regularly have enquiries from potential new entrants wanting to start production and expecting to export their product immediately.  Establishing protocols and a track record take time and can only be built around development of local markets as a starting point. 

The key messages of the report as they affect Ostrich are:

  • The livestock sector is changing
    • For ostrich to be competitive, requires greater attention to modernisation of production systems
  • The livestock sector contributes to food security and poverty reduction
    • Farmed efficiently, ostrich has the potential to provide red meat protein cost effectively, thus enabling greater choice, especially for those populations unable to consume pig meat.
  • The livestock sector needs to improve its environmental  performance
    • With a good proportion of the food requirements coming from a forage legume, ostrich not only provide quality meat from forage, but also a crop that contributes well to crop rotations helping to reduce artificial inputs.
  • Livestock diseases pose systemic risks that require addressing
    • Various diseases have impacted on the development of our industry, but they can be managed with good planning.
[1]This in the 1940s to 1970s and covering some 3,000 cows in milk in own herds and similar data from collaborating producers

Copyright © of the World Ostrich Association, All Rights Reserved
World Ostrich Association is a Company Limited by Guarantee Registered in England No. 4531253