Albeit there’s been a mounting demand for ostriches in the international market, the Philippines doesn’t seem to consider such a presage for business opportunity. A Nueva Ecija-based ostrich farm, for one, says that in order to meet the demands abroad, all ostrich growers in the country should have to work at one fell swoop.
Michael Gross, farm manager and owner of the Gross Ostrich Farm, one of the largest ostrich cultivators in the Philippines, concedes that his yield is pretty small to export ostrich livestock and products. And although there are some entrepreneurs and consumers abroad who want to acquire his livestock and products, he just shrugs off his shoulders and says: “Maybe one day we can export.”
There are only two kinds of people who get ostrich, says Gross a German national. First, those who want to venture into a similar business. And second, those who are after its nourishing meat and its nifty parts.
Compared to beef, the ostrich red meat contains less fat, calories and cholesterol. “This makes it a tremendous alternative for beef for health conscious people,” says Gross, who used to be a chef in a hotel, adding that ostrich meat has become important since the late ’80s.
Ostrich also dishes up as fashion garments and decoration, he says. The high demand for feathers actually led to the domestication of ostrich in South Africa in i86o, and was followed by various countries. After the invention of the artificial incubator in 1870, ostrich farming became a worthwhile endeavor. After 1914, the demand for feathers begged off and the industry crumpled-which prompted ostrich feathers to be “more popular and replaced feathers as the most profitable” part of the bird, says Gross.
“Because ostrich skin pins down oil, the leather is defiant to cracking, stiffening and drying,” he adds, stressing that quality leather can be recognized by its distinctive plume follicle pattern and appealing striation.
What’s more, exotic ostrich oil skin care cosmetics are now being produced for their “remarkable therapeutic and cosmetic values,” Gross notes.
Undoubtedly, the world’s largest living bird, ostrich stands between 6 and 8 feet and weighs between 225 and 35o pounds. They have noticeably featherless long necks and strong, long legs, which allow them to run up to 70 kilometers per hour when necessary. They can also stride up to eight meters. Moreover, they are incapable of flying because of their reduced wing size.
In the Philippines, breeding materials like Blue Necks (Southern African Ostrich), Red Necks (Northern African Ostrich) and African Blacks (domesticated ostrich) are commonly used for commercial purposes.
Between the three classifications, the latter is more docile, has higher egg production that reaches up to 100 eggs per year, and has lesser meat of approximately 35 kilograms. And Gross adds: “[African Blacks] is the result of a crossing between the different subspecies, with selection for nice fluffy feathers, high fertility and easy handling.”
Blue Necks, on the other hand, carries hardier chicks with a higher survival rate and lower egg production. Red Necks yields more meat and has also lower egg production.
“The selection of breeding material depends on the aim of the enterprise,” underscores Gross, adding that the breeding aims for such kinds of ostrich are safeguarding and upgrading of their health and performance.
In order to achieve a high level of productivity, Gross adds female and male birds should have “high fertility rate, and fast and healthy growing offspring.”
The raising of chicks is one of the most crucial parts of the whole production process. The age of 0 to 4 weeks is where the highest mortalities are experienced.
“As an industry, it will be imperative that through experience, research and knowledge, we learn to reduce mortalities,” says Gross, adding:
“Increasing our production numbers is an important step towards delivering a consistent supply of meat, and by-products like leather, oil, and bone-meal into the commercial marketplace.”
Gross, who started his ostrich-farming business in 1999, suggests some important chick-rearing guidelines:
An important factor in managing chicks, of any age, is ventilation. According to the Gross Ostrich Farm owner, ventilation is frequently disregarded, but is tremendously important, particularly during the rainy season.
“Young chicks up to three months of age require proper environmental controls,” he adds, “such as heat, humidity, draft-free conditions and controlled weather parameters.”
Gross also recommends that young chicks must be raised with other ostrich chicks in groups. “They are very social animals and not easy survive on their own. They learn by mimicking other birds,” he says.
Also, he underlines that it’s not a good idea to let visitors pick up or handle young chicks. “They’re not like other interesting small animals or pets that they are curious about,” he says, adding that young chicks require lots of exercise for proper leg and foot development, and overall well-being.
“Feed and water containers placed at opposite ends of the pen encourages exercise,” he says.
Ostriches need grit for proper grinding, digestion and assimilation of feed, he adds.
In short, the general key factors in chick rearing are: genetics, health status, management, weather conditions, nutrition, brooding practices, facilities and environment, and stress conditions.
Juvenile birds between 3 and lo months of age can be maintained in a similar, but larger facility, as young birds. For convenience, access to the indoor facility should be available openly from the outdoor pen. However, “shelter is not needed except in extremely heavy typhoon areas,” says Gross.
The amount of space per bird, for both indoor and outdoor facilities, should be increased for this age bird as compared to that available for younger chicks. Outdoor pens can be of any type of substrate but ground cover such as grass, clover, or alfalfa is ideal.
Grass should be kept at a strictly mowed level mainly when grass begins to dry out or turn to seed, as impactions are more common at this time. “Daily mowing may be necessary during some periods of the year,” shares Gross.
On the other hand, facilities for adults vary considerably. “Most farmers maintain adult pairs or trios in facilities that range from 600 sq.m to 800 sq.m or more. In general, a 600 sq.m-pen is good for three ostrich breeders,” he reveals.
Common fences and line of sight access to neighbouring pairs is often enviable but may not be workable with overly aggressive males, he says. Housing or shade is usually provided although not always utilized. If birds are accustomed to being fed and watered in a shed, he says they will be more easily confined when necessary and may build the nest and lay indoors.
He says: “Alley-ways for movement of birds from pen to pen, access for haling, and provisions for confinement for veterinary care should be considered at the time of construction.”
Fencing is essentially dependent on “personal preference and economics.” Chain link is good but may result in problems related to leg and foot injures. Tubular cattle type fence is suitable and offer some benefits and others types of woven wire fencing are routinely used.
Ostriches are, on the whole, burly and healthy animals. And they should remain so if strict hygiene conditions are adhered to and good husbandry is maintained.
“Adult ostriches are hardy animals-not prone to diseases,” Gross emphasizes, saying most problems can be controlled with precautions.
Diseases in ostriches have to be regarded in the same context as with poultry in relation to their influence to working staff and ecology.
In general terms, disease problems with ostriches are of minor importance than with poultry.
Primary origin would be rather impaction (of the stomach or duodenum), or stress which causes birds to easily become susceptible to secondary bacterial infections, says Gross.
The digestive tract is the most common sort of infection by bacteria, he says, “ergo, constant observation of ostrich is essential.” A healthy ostrich generally holds its neck erect and its head high, spends much time feeding or pecking around, stays with the group, remains curious and lively, walks with a `springy’ gait and have `clean’ lines along the back and the abdomen, Gross underscores.
But once the symptoms of diseases are visible, it is often too late for help. “Prevention is more important,” he exclaims.
Sick ostrich, he says, usually has a droopy head and neck, poor appetite, stays listless and not with the group, and has a peaked back and abdomen if they have lost much condition.
“They adopt a depressed or submissive posture,” he says.