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The History of Ostrich Farming

Ostrich farming began in the early 1800's. Though the feather trade dates back thousands of years earlier to Egyptian, Assyrian and Babylonian empires, the actual farming of tame birds did not begin until much later.

In 1863, a number of farmers in the Karoo and Eatern Cape areas of Africa simultaneously succeeded in breeding and rearing ostriches for the first time. Many years later, in 1896, Arthur Douglas would build and patent the first incubator for ostrich eggs, helping the ostrich farming industry to take off. There were 80 domesticated ostriches registered in 1865 and just one year after the development and introduction of Douglas' incubator, the numbers had more than tripled.

The success and introduction of ostrich farming took place entirely in Africa, where for centuries, farmers perfected cross breeding techniques, nutrition maintenance, disease control and feather preservation. By 1913, ostrich feathers were the fourth most important South African export product after gold, diamonds and wool.

Today, ostrich farming is a rich industry with farmers now spanning the globe. Unlike the farmers of days gone by, today's typical ostrich farmer is working with strong blood lines and a product that only seems to increase in value.

Ostrich Farming Systems
Much like all other branches of farming, ostrich farming is a science which allows its owners several options and styles of farming. The following examples are the most common farming systems today:

Breeding Pairs
Using this system, one male and one female are placed in a breeding enclosure and allowed to lay eggs, hatch the eggs on their own and rear the chickens until they are three months of age. Water and nutrients are provided via commercial means to both parents and their young. Typically, using the breeding pairs system, twenty five chickens are produced at any one time by each couple, and are allowed to grow and thrive independently.

Breeding Pairs with an Incubator
With this newer system, breeding pairs are still allowed to produce their own eggs, but eggs are collected and removed, so that they may hatch artificially by way of an incubator. After the eggs have hatched, these chickens are sold on the second or third day of life or are allowed to be reared artificially until they reach the age of three months. At this stage, they can either be sold or fed in feedlots, where they will continue to grow.

Complete Artificial Rearing
Using this system, farmers purchase chickens that are only days old and rear them up to different ages. Some farmers feed and provide for the chickens up to the age of three months, before they are sent to slaughtering houses or other farmers. Two to three hours after the chick has been hatched and dried off and thoroughly disinfected, they are taken from the incubator to a chicken house, where they will grow with others their same age. Many ostrich farmers choose to raise the chicks for a longer period of time. By either means, chicks are provided with supplementary feed and water and allowed to interact with one or two herds of adult ostrich.

Problems with Rearing
Like many other animals, ostriches can and often are fragile. Ostrich farmers of today have separate units and methods of treatment for those chicks that don't develop as they should.

Low Life Expectancy
Chickens that are born off color are often highly sensitive to cold. They do not eat and as a result, grow slowly. This type of chick is usually the result of parental malnutrition, eggs which were stored too long or incorrect incubation procedures. This chick can survive, if provided quick care.

Lack of Nutrition
If chicks do not learn to eat within the first three days of life, they begin to look off color. Young chicks are most often fed a mixture of nutrients called "mash" and are fed in troughs. Chickens which do not learn to eat often die young.

Stress and frustration runs high in the ostrich. Too much noise, a change in environment and disease can all cause life threatening stress to these already sensitive chickens.

Abnormal Behavior
Stress will most often cause a young ostrich to behave abnormally. Eating grass, sticks, soil and foreign objects is considered unnatural behavior for these birds. By the time these symptoms have come to light, it is often too late to save the chicken.

Housing Problems
Poor ventilation, ineffective heating and over boarding all lead to serious lung disease in the ostrich. Chickens huddle together when they're cold, so fixing and preventing housing trouble is not a difficult task for the average farmer. When chicks are content and healthy, they appear calm and sleep soundly, away from other chicks.

The Life of a young Ostrich
Young chickens are provided housing, food, water and nutrition daily. This, of course, helps to sustain them, no matter what their future purpose will be. Ostriches over the age of three months are also provided with walking space, which allows their muscular, long legs to develop and grow. At the age of six months, the ostrich farmer will begin harvesting feathers. Quills are taken at six months, mature body plumage is removed at seven months, and quilling begins routinely at the age of eight months.

Today's Ostrich Farmer
Today's Ostrich Farmer can reside anywhere in the country, and usually does. Because of the many advancements in science and technology, ostrich farmers are quite successful. The sudden popularity of ostrich meat has opened the market for farmers, and provided even more stability to an ever changing profession. By all accounts, ostrich farming has only gotten bigger and better and with the demand for meat and feathers increasing yearly, is expected to do so for years to come.