Ostrich & Emu
[Ostrich Struthio camelus of family Struthionidae | Emu Dromaius novaehollandiae of family Dromaiidae]
Ostrich has often been described as "the meat of the future", because it looks and tastes similar to beef, but is very low in both fat and cholesterol. There is a problem though - price. It is often said that as production ramps up, the price will come down, but, due to the nature of the beast, and problems encountered in raising it and preparing it for market, the potential for price reduction is limited. This is a wild animal, not one that has been domesticated and carefully bred for 10,000 years.
Price also limits ramping up production - an ostrich and egg problem. A market certainly does exist, though the prices it will currently pay provide marginal profit. One factor that partially offsets the problems is that ostrich skin is highly valued for high end leather goods due to it's attractive pattern. The feathers are also sellable, as are empty egg shells. Photo by Andrew Massyn contributed to the public domain. .
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General and History
Ostriches, native to Africa, can grow to as much as 350 pounds and 9 feet tall. Emus, native to Australia, are smaller, growing only to 130 pounds or so. Unfortunately, much larger birds (up to about 880 pounds and over 12 feet tall) were hunted to extinction by the natives of Madagascar and New Zealand between 1500 and 1700.
Ostrich and Emus have wings that are small and weak and have no breast bone keel to attach strong breast muscles to. This does not mean the wings are useless, they are very important. Cheetahs are the most dangerous predator for ostriches. An ostrich can run about 45 miles per hour, but cheetahs are considerably faster - yet their kill ratio is low. In a pursuit, as the cheetah closes in, the ostrich will spread its wings and uses them as airfoils to execute a turn too sharp for the cheetah to follow. Cheetahs have only short endurance at speed, and the chase is often over. Other predators rely on ambush because they can't run fast enough, but ostriches have been known to kill lions with a single kick.
Ostrich farming has been a very uncertain business. In most places it has been a sort of pyramid scheme, with the early entries making a huge amount of money selling breeding pairs at high prices. Once the market for breeders is saturated, most farms go out of business. Namibia, Brazil and Israel invested very heavily in ostrich farming, and crashed out on grounds of profitability - and in Israel ostrich and crocodile are now illegal to farm - not kosher.
South Africa has been the largest producer since the late 1800s, and has plenty of low cost labor available, but even there it's been up and down. In 1990 there were over a million ostriches on South African farms, and in 2012, 250,000, with the industry threatened by extinction from bird flu (not the deadly Asian variety).
North America is a relatively stable producer, but again, relative to what? Australia went into ostriches in a big way back around 1990, but profitability has been highly ellusive and most smaller operators are gone. Remaining operators have shifted to optimizing for hides rather than meat.
While Ostrich may look and taste a lot like beef, its lack of fat makes it quite different for cooking.
These birds are not parted out into whole joints as turkeys are, because of size. A 6 pound drumstick is just a little too big for the plate. Instead, these birds are disassembled into separate muscles. This increases the cost of processing, you can't just dump the bird in a shrink bag and send it to the market. It does make cooking more convenient, as there are no bones to deal with at the consumer level.
A significant amount of meat cannot be recovered as cuts, so it is used to produce ground ostrich meat and ostrich sausages, which sell at a significantly lower price per pound than the cuts.
At this time, naming of the cuts is not well standardized, and differs some among North America, Australia and South Africa. Click on Image for larger.
The drawings below will be replaced with photos as time and