In one of my Limeblast’s this year I mentioned that the ostrich industry did some very clever merchandising. In fact, in the past, the ostrich provided only feathers and skins, whereas now virtually each part of the ostrich has its use in our consumer society.

Alan Stables of Alani Exotics read Limeblast and contacted me. He now sends me the newsletter of the ostrich industry on a regular basis and I note that the ostrich industry is actually doing what I think the leather industry as a whole should be doing: clever PR and self promotion. Alan sent me the following article which I would like to share with you:

South Africa remains the largest ostrich producing country whereby they release some 200,000 to 250,000 ostrich skins on to the world market per year. This year is likely to see an increase in production levels, wherein over 300,000 ostrich skins will be produced in South Africa alone.

A further 200,000 skins are expected to be produced around the world, with other major players being Australia, China, Israel and Zimbabwe, each expected to produce in excess of 25,000 skins.

Ostrich meat has risen in popularity mainly at an expense of the fall in demand for beef due to the BSE scare. In Spain alone, this rise has been a staggering 600% over the previous year’s consumption. Other major consumers of ostrich meat are Switzerland, Belgium, Germany and France.

Certainly the current world demand for ostrich meat exceeds supply, as even South African processors are unable to fulfil their orders.

All this has caused renewed interest in ostrich farming, as both the demand for slaughter birds and hence live breeders and chicks reaches new heights.

This is good news for the meat market, but not so good for the leather industry. And the effects are being seen already. The increase in supply of ostrich skins has led to a fall in the price of tanned leather from $26 per square foot for a grade one to about $18 per ft2. This is certainly something the major players in the leather market would not like to admit to, but it’s reality.

There are certainly two divides. In South Africa, birds are raised for their skins which accounts for at least 60% of the income from its products, with ostrich meat being about 30% and feathers 10%. In Europe, however, the emphasis is on producing meat where it accounts for 75% of a bird’s income; 25% the skin.

The two major markets for ostrich leather products are Japan for fashion accessories and Mexico for ostrich leather boot manufacture destined for the USA. The fall in the Japanese economy, or rather the uncertainty, has caused the demand for high value ostrich leather products to fall. Yet another drawback for those involved in the ostrich leather industry.

The solution is to look for new markets – the automobile industry may be a taker – and also to look at new leather finishes to increase its fashion appeal. Though certain inroads have been made such as nubuck, metallic finishes, brush-off and waterproof, there is a lot more to investigate. Ostrich tanneries that fail to develop new techniques in this changing world are likely to be those left sitting on the fence.

Report by Alan Stables of Alani Exotics. c/Herreros2-P, Velilla de San Antonio, 28891 Madrid, Spain, tel: +34-91-660 8699; fax: +34-91-660 8095; email:; website: [http://www.ostrichleather]

I have been very impressed by the newsletters I am getting on a regular basis from the ostrich industry. These newsletters contain useful information for people who want to start ostrich farming, or whoever just wants to know more about the industry and where you can buy its products. I really suggest, even for curiosity’s sake, that you check-out Alan’s website.

My culinary curiosity was also raised and I went to a restaurant that serves ostrich meat, and was surprised that it was juicy red meat, tasting similar to beef, rather than the white meat, similar to chicken and turkey, that I had expected since an ostrich is a bird and not a mammal. Like the ostrich industry there are other potential alternative sources, that could find their way to our tables and footwear. Deer is already an important player in the field.

Alligators and reptiles in general will probably follow, as they can be relatively easily bred in captivity on specialised farms, even if such farms may be more difficult and complicated to set up due to the nature of the animals themselves. Ostriches seem to adapt well to different climates, which may not be the case with reptiles.

Ostriches are generally still considered exotic animals, rather than farm animals. The fact that they will definitely become more and more popular and farms will certainly increase in numbers, means that prices of ostrich products will fall to popular levels. It seems possible to farm ostrich as a secondary job, as a garden industry. All you need is a nice stretch of land sufficient for the birds to be comfortable.

In my view, contrary to the doubts expressed by the major South African players, there is nothing wrong with a drop in prices caused by an increase in supply. I don’t think that it is the unit price that counts for the meat and leather industry.

What really matters is the actual profit percentage and the quantities that can be produced and sold. Alternative meats and leather may even be helpful to stabilise food and leather markets, and maintain prices that are affordable for the public, and profitable for the industry.

Due to the FMD and BSE scares hide and beef prices shot up and almost doubled in just 18 months, dragging along both goat and sheep prices as well. If there had been some alternative sources with sufficient supply, this might not have happened. Prices might have remained stable, or at least less aggressive in their rise.

With hide and skin prices at a lower and more stable level, we might possibly have enjoyed a longer period of industrial happiness, rather than experiencing the steep drop in orders and prices that we have seen in the last three months, and which, just to show some optimism, I think may last for another three months.

Sam Setter