Saturday, 26 September 2009

Is It A Bird? Is It A Pain?

It's a fair bet that you're at least familiar with ostrich meat, even if you haven't yet tried it for yourself.

The ostrich can be a very strong-willed creatureA quick search for "ostrich" amongst the bloggers indexed on Elise Bauer's Simply Recipes site proves far more successful than my search for "camel", turning up ostrich steak tartar from Rosa's Yummy Yums, scotch ostrich egg from Blogjam, ostrich with brandy, cream and wild mushrooms, ostrich liver, ostrich with honey and apple sauce, ostrich with plum and ginger sauce, ostrich with black pepper and honey sauce and ostrich 'yakitori' from Living To Eat, Greek ostrich burgers from Amazing Dessert Recipes, ostrich chop suey and ostrich tapa fried rice from Home Cooking Rocks!, ostrich fillet steak with hand-cut oven fries and ostrich steak strips stir-fry from The W.H.O.L.E. gang, ostrich sausage rolls from Gluten Free In South Africa, ostrich strips with broccoli gratin and mint carrot salad from My French Kitchen, tofu omelette with ostrich sauce from Feast With Bron, tarragon scrambled ostrich egg from Folkmann, ostrich risotto from The Amateur Gourmet, ostrich Steak with a Simple Paprika Sauce and ostrich Wellington from Good Food, ostrich steak from Domestic Goddess In Training, ostrich egg frittata from Fresh Kitchen, ostrich burgers from Gild The (Voodoo) Lily, ostrich steak with brown beech mushrooms from Food Stories and several more.

No wonder this ostrich is sporting such an indignant look, with all those food bloggers ready to eat him.

Meats low in fat and cholesterol are very much in fashion right now. I've been very fond of ostrich, which fits a similar profile, since Izzie introduced me to Sue Farr's Gamston Wood Farm stall at Borough Market three years ago. And we ate ostrich from Weatheroak Ostrich Farm in Preston one day during last Christmas holidays. After my failure to discover a big gastronomic future for camel meat in Britain, I thought it was about time I discovered something about the country's apparently more successful ostrich farming sector. How many farms are there in Britain, I wondered, and is there much demand for ostrich meat?Sue Farr serving me ostrich meat in Borough Market

Ostrich shares the same characteristic that led to the demise of goose as the meat of choice at Christmas and its replacement by turkey - it's very difficult to battery farm these stroppy creatures. When intensive agriculture became the norm in the 1970s there was little demand for free-range food, which was generally viewed as a throwback to a bygone age. Now that ethical consumerism is very much on the agenda and free-range farming is rapidly expanding its share of the food market, demand for 'exotic' meats is also on the rise. Especially with the internet providing a new channel to market through e-commerce. Once we're through the current global recession, demand for ostrich meat is likely to take off in a big way. So how difficult can ostrich farming be?

Raising chickens is a lot easierYou're dealing with an animal that stands 7-9ft tall, weighs in at over 100kg, can jog alongside your car at 30mph and is quite capable of kicking you to death. "OK", you think to yourself, "I'll get clever and stand behind it. After all, it can't run or kick backwards." Do that and it's likely to sprint away from you at 45mph, after it's emptied its bowels and given you an experience you won't forget in a very long while. How far can it go? In the wild, ostriches range daily over an area as great as 1,000 km² while foraging for food and they live in groups of up to about 50 individuals comprising several possessive males each with a harem of females. For those who can't do the maths, I make that 5 tons of ostrich meat running around an area two-thirds the size of Greater London. So if you thought you'd just raise the odd one or two alongside the chickens in the back garden, you'd better think again.

Then, of course, there are the problems with feeding, breeding, finding an experienced vet and all those other little issues associated with animal husbandry. For anyone able to address the physical management issues, there are the regulatory ones to face. When ostrich farming took off in Europe in the 1980s, governments were very slow to support the initiative, classifying ostrich as farmed game bird in the EU at a time when the British government was subjecting it to the Poultry Meat Regulations. Confusion over the regulatory framework for farmed ostrich made it very difficult for British producers to develop a successful industry. And to make things worse, this was a period when the supermarkets were establishing a stranglehold on the food market and retail butchery was in severe decline.

Unlike almost all other forms of livestock production, all ostrich units in Britain are independently inspected and licensed on an annual basis. The vast majority of ostriches are processed through dedicated, specialist facilities operated by the breeders' trade body, The British Domesticated Ostrich Association, all members of which are subject to independent monitoring by DEFRA officials and by the Humane Slaughter Association. So ostrich farming involves considerably more oversight than almost any other animal farming in Britain.The British Domesticated Ostrich Association

Despite all of these issues and the huge investment needed to turn ostrich farming into a viable business, several families decided that it was for them. As a result, Britain now boasts a number of breeding farms selling meat and other ostrich products, including Westcountry Ostrich in Devon, Riverwood Ostrich Farm in Berkshire, Oslinc in Lincolnshire, Gamston Wood Farm and Ostrichfayre in Nottinghamshire, Bisbrooke Ostrich Farms in Rutland and Pathfinder Ostrich Farm in Buckinghamshire. If you're just planning to buy some meat, you shouldn't have too much trouble. And if you're a vegetarian you can always wander along to Eden Ostrich World, the award-winning family farm visitor attraction near Penrith in Cumbria, where you can learn about our feathered friends without actually eating them. But do be careful if you're planning to invest your life savings in ostrich farming. Eight years ago investors poured £875,000 into a new development in Swansea, only to discover that the whole deal was a gigantic fraud. Beats chasing those big birds round the field as a way of making money, I suppose. Until it's you who gets caught.

Finally, devoting your life to ostriches isn't all boring, hard slog. There can be some fun, too.

5 comments:

James said...

Inspires me to try it again. Wonder if I'd get any takers.

The Boston Foodie said...

Cool post!

Mallika said...

V interesting. I tried ostrich steak at a dinner party and loved it! Bring it on I say.

The Trinigourmet said...

remind me never to stand behind an ostrich! lol :D

Seb said...

Great post! This is very helpful. I'm sure I'd visit your site more often. Anyway, you can drop by my favorite online hang out too, by visiting the Students Union bar, where I'll buy you a drink. Thanks!


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