These birds can’t fly, but they have the potential to take you to new heights

Kabelo Lekalakala had worked on a farm in the Oudtshoorn district (which is the ostrich capital of the world), but in 2019, he decided to take a leap of faith and become an ostrich farmer himself. So, he loaded 15 chicks in the back of his car and travelled all the way back home to Brits, where he started Pitso Ostrich Farm.

As ostriches require a dry climate for breeding, the ostrich farming industry has traditionally dominated in the Western Cape in the Klein Karoo and Southern Cape regions. Kabelo, however, forms part of a new niche community of ostrich farmers in North West, Mpumalanga and Limpopo, where he mostly supplies chicks to other emerging ostrich farmers who are keen to capitalise on the market demand too.

Almost every part of a slaughtered ostrich can be sold on the market, including the meat, hide and feathers. Ostrich meat is becoming especially popular among the health-conscious, as it is rich in iron, protein and zinc and has around two thirds less fat than beef (which helps to maintain lower cholesterol levels).

It is also a great alternative for people who are allergic to red meat, because even though an ostrich is a (very big) bird, its meat tastes and looks more like red meat. The hide of the ostrich is in high demand by producers of luxury leather products. Apart from its unique look and texture, which fans have come to love, it is known for being pliable and durable, with plenty of natural oils that help prevent cracking.

The feathers of the ostrich are used to manufacture household items, such as feather dusters and cushions, as well as hair accessories and trimmings for handbags. Until a few decades ago, South Africa was the only producer of farmed ostriches in the world, and this monopoly was maintained through a law that made it illegal to export live birds.

Ever since the liberalisation of agriculture, this restriction has been lifted and other countries could start importing ostrich eggs, chicks or birds to start their own industries. Regardless, South Africa still exports more than 90% of its local ostrich products, and we still own 75% of the international market share.

Despite a decline in local ostrich farming, the market is expected to continue growing. This is due to not only the continued demand for ostrich products but also the fact that ostrich farming is a perfect fit for the recent global shift towards production of livestock that emit less greenhouse gas.

There will always be those doom prophets and naysayers who will tell you all about the risks and challenges emerging ostrich farmers face – from how difficult it is to raise ostrich chicks to how expensive your capital layout will be. While it is important to take note of these risks, Kabelo’s story paints a very different picture.

In this picture, anyone can make it, against all odds, and in spite of the pitfalls of this particular industry. According to Kabelo, one should not step into the trap of first trying to calculate what ostrich farming will cost you, before you consider it. “Just sacrifice some of those luxuries and invest in a farm that can become the future of generations to come,” he says.

He also advises emerging ostrich farmers to never forget who their most important stakeholders are – other ostrich farmers – as they are the ones you can learn from the most. So instead of burying your head in the sand, take the first step to becoming an ostrich farmer and reach out to Pitso Ostrich Farm for some pointers.

Be sure to follow @NicheFarmers on Facebook so you can share your own progress and inspire others to become niche farmers too.