Ostrich Farming in South Africa
South Africa's Ostrich Farming Industry

Ostrich farming in South Africa is small compared to the local beef, chicken and pork farming industries, but contributes up to 75% of the world’s production of ostrich products. The main ostrich products from South Africa are fresh and processed ostrich meat, leather products and feathers.

©Nationaal Archief of the Netherlands
Ostrich farming in South Africa started with the feather industry, exporting to fashion houses in Europe.

History of Ostrich Farming in South Africa

Around 1820 South African ostrich feathers were first exported. These feathers were harvested from wild hunted ostriches, but in 1821 a law was published, which prohibited the hunting of ostriches in South Africa. Ostrich farming started during the 1860s in the arid regions of the Karoo and Eastern Cape in South Africa.

These hardy birds were well-adapted to the dry and open inland areas of these regions. In 1865 there were only 80 tame ostriches in South Africa, but numbers increased rapidly, particularly when the use of egg incubators became popular. Ten years late in 1875, South Africa had more than 32 000 ostriches.

For decades South Africa was the sole provider of ostriches in the world, with strict laws preventing the export of live birds. However, the huge, and expensive, demand for ostrich feathers for the fashion industry in the 1860s lead to the start of ostrich farming in the Southern US and Australia.

After WWI, the feather industry collapsed and suffered a slow-down until the end of WWII, when the ostrich trade slowly recovered, by including ostrich products such as skins and meat.

The first ostrich abattoir in South Africa started operating in 1950 and in 1993 the first abattoir for the export of ostrich to Europe was built. In the town of Oudtshoorn, the ‘ostrich capital’ of South Africa, ostriches provide an additional source of income in tourism.

Ostrich Producers in South Africa

Historically, ostrich production centred around the town of Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape. Even today, Oudtshoorn is considered the ‘ostrich capital’ due to the volume of ostrich products from this area. Wild ostriches prefer arid regions with small shrubs, therefore, the commercial production of ostriches flourishes in areas with a hot and dry climate.

Between 80% and 90% of South Africa's ostrich production comes from the Western Cape with various volumes from the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and some production from Limpopo, where a small ostrich abattoir slaughters about 8 000 ostriches annually.

The main production areas for ostriches in South Africa are mainly in the southern Cape areas from George to Swellendam and in the Klein Karoo.

Some ostrich production occurs in the Eastern Cape, around Aberdeen/Graaff Reinet and Aliwal Noord/Burgersdorp, with a little bit in Fish River irrigation area. In the Northern Cape, ostriches are produced around the Fraserburg/Merweville area. There is limited ostrich production in the Free State and Limpopo Provinces.

Small-scale Ostrich Farmers in South Africa

Ostrich farming is a high-risk industry, which demands a consistent supply of a very high-quality product. It is also very capital intensive and can take up to 30 months before money can be obtained from the business.

The Peddie small-scale ostrich farming project in the Eastern Cape managed by the Klein Karoo Group Transformation Trust started in 2010 after being remodelled from the Kula Sizwe initiative.

Kula Sizwe started in 2003 with 12 farmers taking loans from Eastern Cape Rural Finance Corporation (ECRFC). This project grew to 60 farmers producing about 10 000 ostriches a year by 2015, representing 10% of Klein Karoo International’s raw material supply.

Klein Karoo International is a major producer and exporter of ostrich products. This project was put on hold after an export ban, which resulted in diminished returns for the small farmers, but continues to be a practical model to include new ostrich farmers in a profitable and economically viable way in the ostrich export business.

"They are directly exposed to mentorship, export and direct marketing as well as commercialisation”, says Dr Adriaan Olivier, the veterinarian previously responsible for enterprise development of the Peddie project. Various other empowerment projects are working in the ostrich industry both as workers trusts in processing and value adding or primary production of ostriches.”

By Marinda Louw