History of Ostriches and The Australian Industry

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History of Ostriches and The Australian Industry

Ostriches have been valued for their feather production for several thousands of years. The Natural home of the ostrich is the dry, arid plains of Africa. But these birds can now also be found throughout the Middle East and Australia.

Over hunting lead to ostriches becoming an endangered and in 1870 people began to turn to a new way of saving them, domestication. The first ostrich farms had been established in South Africa in 1863 and a few decades later the ostriches were imported to Australia.

In 1881 the first Australian ostrich farm was established near Gawler in South Australia and in 1882 the South Australian Government began to encourage the industry by offering leasehold on the condition that increasing numbers of ostriches were kept on the land, at least 50 birds for every 1000 acres.

In 1905, ostrich farming began in NSW with six pairs of bird purchased from the South Australian Ostrich Company and by 1913 the ostriches in NSW numbered 550.

However, the international feather trade collapsed in the depression and the Australian industry died out. Most of the birds were slaughtered or released into the wild.

During the drought in 1982-83 the numbers of birds remaining in South Australia declined. But by this time some of these birds had been taken back onto farms and wildlife and the number of domesticated ostriches began increasing.

The Ostrich industry has spread throughout Australia but its largest concentration is in central Victoria and southern NSW.

The Current Production areas of ostriches in the black parts of this map

Unlike South Africa, Australian ostrich farms are scattered all over the country. Although this demonstrates the ability of the ostrich to adapt to diverse climatic conditions, it raises difficulty processing in the future. Also unlike South Africa, most Australian farmers carry out all aspects of ostrich farming from incubation to maturity. People that are involved in the industry range from the people already in the farming community to business people and investors.

The Australian Ostrich Association (AOA) is actively involved in the promotion, research, development and marketing of the ostrich industry and its products. The AOA is working with the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service to develop quarantine protocols for imports of ostrich eggs or chicks from various countries.

In 1993 the industry formed the Australian Ostrich Company (AOC), which has been actively developing processing facilities and initiating market development.

By 1995 the AOA had developed a register to provide reliable breeding records within Australia. The birds are identified by microchip and there were estimations of approximately 100, 000 birds in Australia that were available for slaughter in 2000.

The numbers have expanded quickly since 1993, when the estimation was 8000, because of pairs of ostriches being able to produce up to 40 chicks a season.

Processing of Ostriches

In 1993 the AOA was forming a business entity to access genetic material and to undertake research and development, processing and marketing of ostrich products.

In October 1992, the AOA undertook a trial slaughter of ostriches at the Wodonga abattoir in Victoria. The objectives were to:

Understand the practicalities of ostrich slaughter in a commercial abattoir.

Identify problems that should be addressed by subsequent development work

Generate data to assist related industry development programs

Some Preliminary conclusions of the work were:

It is feasible to slaughter and bone out ostriches in existing multi-species abattoirs

Economics of slaughtering indicate a minimum of 200 birds a slaughter run

Further investigations were needed into defeathering of birds prior to slaughtering

Further research is necessary to determine an optimum system of hide removal

Further research is needed on boning procedures to maximise...
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