The recent news about the sale of ostrich meat at a retail outlet in Lahore created quite a stir, and people thronged to the place to witness the slaughtering of this long-necked bird.
The officers of Livestock Department didn’t approve of the idea and stopped the ‘show’ right in front of the visitors. Their point was that the sight of blood was too gory for them, especially as different television crews were also present on the occasion.
That said, the exciting part is that meat-lovers now have another option at their disposal — they can get ostrich meat at the rate of Rs1,500 per kg from an outlet named ‘Signature Shop’ in Township area.
The concerned government authorities as well as the investors in the business are hoping the price shall come down — to Rs800 or Rs900 per kg — when the supplies increase and reach an optimum value.
The shop in Township has been set up by an ostrich farmer who is also a former official of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)-UN. The sale/purchase has already been started as an exercise to test the response of the public and determine the actual demand that exists in the market. The shop staff can be seen noting down the views of the new customers as well as repeat ones.
Atif Bhatti, a resident of Faisal Town, says he tasted ostrich meat and found it better than mutton “thanks to its exotic taste and tenderness.” To him, it tastes more like deer’s meat that he claims to have tried too.
Bhatti says that even though the price of the meat is quite high, he wanted to give it a try because of “its medicinal benefits, high nutritional value, and low-fat and low-cholesterol content. Besides, it looks quite unlike mutton or beef. Its bone content is minimal, just like any other bird.
“As the bones [of ostrich] are hollow from inside and do not contain bone marrow, the edible part is bigger compared to what it is in other animals slaughtered for meat consumption.”
Raja Tahir Latif, the owner of Pakistan Ostrich Company (POC) and the co-owner of Signature shop, tells TNS that the response from the public has been overwhelming. “As the meat on sale was in limited quantity, it was quite easy to sell it off but the real test will come when it is offered for sale in large quantities.”
Latif also plays the role of an advisor and occasionally briefs the farmers and businessmen on the potential of ostrich farming and the returns they can get on their investment in a limited time. “A one-week-old baby ostrich can gain weight up to 110 kg in just a year’s time,” he says. “This makes it a highly viable option for the farmers.
“Besides, ostrich meat is disease-free and saves the farmers the investment to be made on vaccination of the birds and treatment of diseases.”
“There are several other benefits of ostrich farming that should attract the investors,” says Imran Ahmed, a dealer in exotic birds and an importer.
“Aside from meat, products made from ostrich feathers and skin are in great demand in the international market. They fetch a very high price and many leading fashion brands of the world have these in their inventory.”
According to Ahmed, the ostriches of age between a day and a week are mostly imported from South Africa and raised in Lahore for meat production. “There are plans in the future to breed them here and reduce dependence on imports.
“Although there are a couple of farms near the city, most are to be found in places near Sahiwal, Multan and some other districts of Southern Punjab. The major reason for this is that alfalfa grass (also known as Lucerne) grows here in abundance. The ostriches are very fond of this grass, and they are brought here as they grow better in warmer temperatures.”
Sharing information about the feed of ostriches, he says, “Besides grass, they have to be fed grit and gravel that help in grinding and digesting the food they eat. If they are not given these, the grass consumed by them can choke their system and they can die. “The ostriches do not have teeth to break down grass, so the gravel comes in handy. It also contributes to adding calcium to the meat.”
Raja Tahir Latif says he has moved most of his business from Karachi to Lahore because the Punjab livestock department is highly supportive. “Earlier, ostrich fell under the category of wildlife and there was restriction on movement of even its eggs from one place to the other without the approval of the concerned department.
“For some time it was also considered an animal and not a bird. In 2016, the Punjab Assembly passed an Act that declared it a bird and, as a result, its farming was streamlined.”
Latif claims that the doctors’ community has been the first to adopt it. “Several leading pharmaceutical companies are asking for ostrich meat as the doctors invited to their events want it to be on the menu.
More than 80 per cent of ostrich meat is concentrated in its legs, “It (the meat) is very nutritious and full of fibre because of the extraordinary muscle movement of this hyperactive bird. It is walking or running all the time and hardly takes rest.”
Naseem Sadiq, Secretary Livestock, Government of Punjab, tells TNS their target is to have 5,000 birds ready by June. “Some 3,200 birds are already in the pipeline and shall be ready for meat production soon.
“As 35 birds matured before time and gained optimum weight, they were slaughtered before the date set for the purpose.”
Sadiq reveals that the government is also planning to set up hatcheries and breed ostriches here so that the imports can be brought down. “The farmers are offered an annual subsidy of Rs10,000 per bird which has encouraged them to enter the field.”
He also speaks of the Food Conversion Ratio (FCR) of ostrich which is very high, “This means the food it consumes converts into meat at a higher rate than that of many other animals grown up for meat. “I’d highly recommend to people to enter the field, or they will miss the bus,” he concludes.