Heart of the Ostrich Industry
Oudtshoorn is the ostrich capital of the world and visitors to this town, set against the backdrop of the Swartberg and Outeniqua Mountains, can expect to have an encounter with this amazing bird.
Oudtshoorn is the largest town of the Klein Karoo. It enjoys the largest number of sunny days of all South African towns, and while summer can be excruciatingly hot, winters are mostly mild and dry.
Oudtshoorn’s rich history is closely intertwined with the rise and fall of the ostrich industry. The once thriving ostrich feather industry played a significant role in the transformation of the little village into the richest Ostrich Capital of the World.
During the ostrich feather boom in the late 1800s and early 1900s, prime ostrich feathers were globally considered as an invaluable fashion accessory for wealthy ladies, who were willing to pay large sums of money to obtain these feathers.
Up to that stage, farmers in the area were mostly subsistence farmers, who barely eked out a living for themselves and their families. They were often transport riders, who would load their ox wagons with processed produce of their land to be sold in the interior of the country.
When the feather industry boomed, farmers jumped to the opportunity to make money. Traders, who were often foreign businessmen, settled in Oudtshoorn and played an important role in the export of the feathers. Everybody basked in the resulting prosperity the ostrich feathers had brought about.
Farmers and traders spent their money on building extravagant ostrich feather palaces: beautiful mansions built with locally cut sandstone and heavily decorated with palatial turrets, stained glass windows and cast-iron work, also referred to as “broekie” lace.
A number of these sandstone mansions remains, including the Welgeluk Ostrich Feather Palace at Safari Ostrich Farm.
Interesting facts about ostriches
Ostriches belong to the Ratite family of flightless birds. These pre-historic birds have many fascinating attributes.
Here are just some of them:
- One ostrich egg is equivalent to 24 chicken eggs
- One ostrich egg in the shell can take up to 1, 5 hours to boil
- The ostrich egg is the biggest in the world, but in ratio with its body size, it is the smallest
- A group of ostriches is called a flock.
- An ostrich can run at a speed of up to 70 – 80 km/h.
- Despite their long, thin necks, ostriches cannot choke on their food.
- It is urban legend that ostriches stick their heads in the sand/earth.
- The ostrich’s brain weighs about 40 grams, while one eye weighs about 60 grams.
- They have excellent eye-sight and can see an object at a distance of 3,5 km during daytime.
- Ostriches do not have sweat glands.
- The male ostrich is called a rooster, and a female ostrich is called a hen.
- Ostriches are fully grown at 18 months, yet they have a life span of 50 – 60 years.
- Ostriches cannot fly and use their wings for cooling, balance and an exquisite mating dance to impress a female.
- During mating season (June to November) the male ostrich’s beak and legs turn red or pink to attract the female for mating.
- The male has black feathers while the female is grey.
- They share breeding duties.
Males and females have a similar appearance until they are about nine months old. The males then turn black, while the females turn grey.
In order to protect the eggs in the nest, this colouring offers camouflage when the male sits on the nest during the night, while the grey female blends in with the landscape during the day.
Besides doing his duty during incubation, the male also helps to take care of the chicks once they are hatched. Both parents are often seen tending their offspring while feeding in a camp.
All ostrich chicks are mottled brown when they hatch. This is colouring acts as camouflage as it helps the vulnerable, flightless chicks to blend in with the dusty brown environment of their natural semi-desert habitat. This protects them from birds of prey on the lookout for lunch.
Ostriches have very flexible necks which they can lower to the ground without any discomfort. In addition, when they hold their necks parallel to the ground while sitting on the eggs, they resemble a large, grey rock instead of a bird.
Health benefits of ostrich meat
Medical practitioners and dieticians recommend ostrich meat as the healthiest choice for red meat lovers. Ostrich meat is regarded as healthier than chicken meat, as it is even lower in kilojoules, saturated fats and cholesterol. Ostrich meat also has high iron content, which is beneficial for people with an active lifestyle.
Ostrich meat is lean with a low fat content. Although the meat contains fat, the fat is occurs on the outside of the muscle and is easily removed during processing of the meat.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa approves ostrich meat as a outstanding source of protein. Due to the healthy pH balance of the meat, it is less susceptible to contamination by harmful bacteria such as E-coli or Salmonella, as is the case with chicken. This makes ostrich the ideal meat for the preparation of Carpaccio and even Sushi.
In short, ostrich meat is low in cholesterol, fat and kilojoules, but rich in protein and iron.
Preparation of ostrich meat is easy. It is best to serve ostrich fillet or steak medium rare, as overcooking may result in dry meat because of the low fat content. Fillet and steak can also be pan-fried or cooked over the coals. Ostrich neck stew is ideal in winter. Ostrich meat is also available in the form of mince, goulash and sausages, as well as biltong and dried sausage.