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From the zoological point of view the ostrich is the last living species of the family of Struthionidae within the order of Struthioniformes, which it shares with emus, kiwis and cassowaries. It is the largest living species of birds (lat.: Aves). Ostriches are flightless birds, native to the veldts and savannas south of the Sahara. They form small flocks of several females and one male during breeding season but live solitary or in pairs during winter. Several females use the same communal nest. Their eggs weigh between 1100 and 1600 g. Farmed ostriches may produce up to 100 eggs per year. Adult ostriches may become 2.5 m tall and weigh up to 150 kg.

Ostriches have a long, slender neck, a pink or blue throat and a small, flat head with large shiny eyes. Their beak is straight, flat and broad with a rounded tip. The nostrils are in the middle of the beak. The ostrich's strong legs are featherless. The skin colour depends on the subspecies but is mostly flesh-coloured or grey-brown. The body is rounded. The plumage of the male is black or blue and white at the tips of wings and tail. The female has grey-brown plumage and only few black feathers. Their feathers are soft and serve as insulation.

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History of ostriches

Ostrich farming started in the middle of the 19th century in Africa. In the beginning they were farmed mostly for their feathers. The main focus point of early farmers was the quality of the plumage. Today the focus has changed towards the quality of the meat. In Africa the commercially most important species of ostriches are Struthio camelus camelus in North Africa, Struthio camelus massaicus, Struthio camelus malybdo-phanes in Somalia and Struthio camelus australis in South Africa.

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Ostrich farming

Ostriches are farmed all over the world. Outside of Africa the main ostrich farming countries are Australia, Israel and the USA. Farming ostriches is not easy. The birds need a large game reserve of about 1 hectare per ostrich pair. Additional females need less space, additional males should have about 1000 qm. Ideally the climatical conditions should be similar to their native countries but ostriches may adjust to cooler, wetter climates.

Like other poultry, ostriches feed on seeds, grass and other plant matter. They are able to digest high-fibred plants extremely well.

Young ostriches are fed to about 75 to 100 kg before they are slaughtered. They have a meat content of about 45 percent. Ostrich meat is very lean and has a low cholesterol content of 60 mg per 100 g meat on average. The thighs are the part with the largest meat content, as can be expected with flightless birds. Ostrich breasts are comparably small. The dark red meat is similar to beef in looks and taste. Ostrich meat has no visible marbling though, and its fibre structure reminds more of turkey meat than of beef. When prepared correctly, it is tender and juicy.

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