Ostrich farming takes off in the Czech Republic

10-02-2005

Ostrich meat is not a regular feature on Czech menus, and its distinctive dark red fillets are yet to reach the supermarket shelves. But ostrich farms are springing up all over the Czech Republic, and the market for ostrich products is also on the rise. Can the growing amount of ostrich farmers convince the public that their meat is more than just a curiosity? Rosie Johnston sets off for the country to find out...

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK Jana Smejkalova is showing me around her ostrich farm just north of Prague. With 50 birds all in all, the farm is modest in size. What the farm produces, though, is surprisingly varied. Jana sells decorated eggs, feathers for costumes and, on request, ostrich meat used to make goulash. She describes the way that she and other ostrich farmers in the Czech Republic do business:

"Right now, there is not a big market for ostrich products in the Czech Republic. Farmers sell their meat at their farms to people that come and visit, but the majority goes straight to specialist dealers. Very little ends up in the shops. I think that one day normal butchers will start to sell ostrich meat, which is becoming more and more common, and ostrich feathers will be used as decorations in flower shops."

What you are hearing is ostriches chasing each other. This is quite something to behold, with ostriches reaching speeds of up to 60 kilometers an hour. What's more, they're huge - hovering at well over two meters in height. This combination makes them look like difficult creatures to handle. But Jana insists that they are really very easy to rear, and that her problems lie elsewhere:

"The ostriches aren't particularly demanding, they only need feeding twice a day; in the morning and in the evening, obviously when the chicks hatch in the summer they need to be fed more often. But what I find hard is learning the farming techniques. I find tending the fields and these sorts of things really demanding."

Having learnt that ostriches are partial to a stroke on the neck, and that the male and female take turns to sit on their eggs, I almost don't want to ask the inevitable question: Just how does ostrich meat taste?

"Ostrich meat is like beef or venison. It is a dark red meat and its advantages are that it is low in fat and cholesterol."

Yum! Well it all sounds delicious in theory, but can Czech farmers like Jana change the ostrich's image? It may just be a matter of time before roast ostrich becomes the centerpiece of every Sunday lunch.

10-02-2005