A Brief History of the Ostrich Industry
The Ostrich industry in the United States probably started when feathers were in demand and the first ostriches were imported from Africa in the late 1880’s. The industry rose and fell when the fashion demand for feathers waned. A brief rebirth occurred in the late 1930’s before falling once again. Almost a hundred years after the first ostrich farms appeared in America, the industry was again reborn in the very early 1980’s when an American embargo interrupted the importation of Ostrich leather and disrupted the American leather industry. As a small American flock was being grown and processed, it was discovered that Ostriches produce red meat that mimics beef, but with significantly lower fat and cholesterol. As Americans were becoming more health conscious and aware of the importance of a healthy diet, an expected demand for such a healthy meat became the driving force of the industry in addition to the leather.
The Breeder Market
The mid 1980’s when “The New Alternative Agriculture” was the mantra.
The ostrich breeder market was a crazy place back then. Many individuals invested in ostrich without ever seeing them. Brokers got into the business of buying and selling ostrich without ever taking possession of a single bird. Investment packages in ostriches and their potential production were being marketed without verification. Investors eagerly poured funds into such investments and prices climbed to unreal levels.
An Egg For Several Hundred Dollars?
The market for ostriches climbed rapidly with breeder pairs priced in the tens-of-thousands of dollars. Single eggs were being sold for several hundred dollars each; with no guarantee the egg would even hatch. With such demand, eggs and chicks were being smuggled into the country by unscrupulous dealers looking to cash in on the frenzy. Several such individuals were caught, arrested, and prosecuted by the authorities. Scammers popped up around the country taking deposits on non-existent birds. The industry had been infiltrated by fraudulent scam artists who often sold investment packages of non-existent ostriches to unsuspecting individuals seeking to enter the industry.
A Fragile Foundation
All of this occurred because of promised returns and production levels that never materialized. Although a projected marketplace that would have meat buyers flocking to the door was not without a foundation, the reality was that only a few ranchers were actually sending birds to be processed at the time. The demand from those seeking to invest or buy breeding stock was simply too great and most ostriches were sold at higher prices in the breeders’ market rather than at lower prices for processing. This left the commercial processing market without a supply of ready and available birds. In general, the meat industry operates economically on volume and such a volume of birds for processing was not going to happen in a frenzied breeder market. A few attempts were made to create a customer base by a few hardy souls that ventured into starting up processing facilities, but they failed under a mountain of debt. Moreover, there were few standards and little infrastructure in place for the distribution of ostrich products at the time.
A Hard Landing
When the industry fell in the late 1990’s, it fell really hard. Although many bad actors contributed to the collapse, they were not entirely to blame. During the 1990’s, the USDA changed importation regulations, causing an immediate industry overload by increasing the numbers of eggs and live ostriches that could be brought into the United States through USDA approved quarantine facilities. This contributed to a great rise in ostrich numbers in a short amount of time creating an oversupply in the market. A perfect storm continued to build when South Africa enacted policy changes that had adverse effects on the previously stable world-wide price for Ostrich Leather as well.
Take The Money And Run
Brokers and marketers disappeared quickly. Small brokers imitating ranchers because they actually had birds in their possession were hit first. There was little demand for the birds they had been “flipping” at higher prices and such flippers were stuck with birds they could no longer sell for a profit. As the market prices for ostriches continued to tumble, the little ranchers that started and invested with the best of intentions sold their birds off very cheaply which had a snowball effect of driving prices down further and faster. There were instances where ostriches were given away for free if someone would just pick them up. As the dust settled from the collapse, some unscrupulous individuals found themselves defending civil and criminal litigation due to allegations of fraud, smuggling, and violation of securities laws.
Ostrich 2.0 - Starting with a History Helps the Future
Good Bye Ostrich 1.5 - Hello Vigilance.
The American Ostrich Association was formed in 1988 and during the prior turmoil, the AOA felt all the bumps but continued to stay on course identifying and confronting issues and implementing many accomplishments towards the creation of a respectable, and sustainable agricultural industry. The first USDA Agricultural Census to include ostriches (in 2002) showed there was still a strong presence of ostrich with almost every state reporting some ostriches.
The Current Ostrich Industry Is Focused And Vigilent
The ostrich industry in the United States had not died out completely with the collapse of the frenzied breeders’ market. The demand for ostrich meat in America must have remained, since off-shore competitors certainly knew it. While our domestic producers were busy trying to figure out how to move forward, a mass importation of off-shore, poor quality and mislabeled ostrich meat cuts that left many consumers and restaurants disillusioned, offered a direct challenge to American producers. Here in plain view was the actual domestic market envisioned in the 1980’s. It was just covered up by the breeding frenzy. American producers with the help of the AOA took on the competition by entering the supply chain with high quality American grown products.
Large Demand - Short Supply
Today there are USDA inspected processing facilities around the country that are processing Ostrich. The demand for domestic ostrich meat is large and continues to grow, while the production from these plants is far from meeting the need. A significant and growing base of customers who purchase meat and products regularly, often find them in short supply. Some restaurant chains have removed ostrich from their menus due to the inability to consistently acquire product. As the shortage continues to grow, new distribution channels have opened up for ostrich meat via local Farmer’s Markets where many restaurants now visit to purchase items for their menus. Chain supermarkets have also entered into the local farm-to-fork movement and are carrying local ostrich at the behest of regional management.
Certified American Ostrich™
The AOA continues to be at the forefront of a true legacy industry. Members of the AOA continue to produce a locally-grown, high quality product that consumers prefer. AOA members that are meat producers have access to the registered “Certified American Ostrich™” logo to use on their packaging to insure the highest quality and accurate labelling. Registered “Genuine American Ostrich Leather™” and “Certified American Ostrich Oil™” are available to member businesses that serve those marketplaces as well.
Perhaps one of the most significant contributions the AOA provided to the industry was the day the USDA finally included Ostrich in the Mandatory Inspection Regulations used at all processing facilities. This act removed the expense of inspection from the ostrich producer and put ostrich on a level playing field with other meat animals that are USDA inspected.
Tools and Tasks
The American Ostrich Association is dedicated to representing the American Ostrich industry globally through:
- Positive methods of marketing, promotion and monitoring of the marketplace.
- Research and development.
- Advocacy to governmental agencies and other organizations.
- Cooperation with other industries and entities.
- Working to insure a legacy industry.
- Providing our members with information.
Our goal is to establish the standards for the highest quality American products, to ensure the long term viability and integrity of the American ostrich industry.
There are always new tasks to accomplish in a constantly changing world. The AOA is continually re-inventing itself to be relevant and current. The AOA seeks to supply its members with tools they need to help them succeed in the industry. For example, members have access to our upcoming webinars, member networking, periodic meetings, conferences, forums and our focus on helping members access the marketplace.
New On-Line Forum is Open to the Public
New with Ostrich 2.0, the AOA will now be vigilant and is providing the public with a section in our on-line forum to report those that would take advantage of others through false promises, bad business practices and failed transactions. The AOA will monitor the marketplace to provide members with factual knowledge and technological tools to facilitate safe transactions in the selling and purchasing of Ostrich.
Every industry has bad players and there’s always more coming. The new age of the Internet has opened up a vast array of illicit opportunities and continues to educate an entire generation to question their trust indicators in a more complete fashion.
Members of the American Ostrich Association agree to a code of ethics and demonstrate through their business activities that the logo of the AOA serves as a symbol the public can trust.
Welcome to the world of Ostrich 2.0, where new history is being made every day.