New cases of bird flu a blow to ostrich farmers

The H5N2 avian influenza virus that has plagued the local ostrich industry since it was first detected on a farm near Oudtshoorn in April last year has reared its ugly head again

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This has effectively crushed farmers’ hopes for the reopening of the ostrich export market. Piet Kleyn, acting CEO of the South African Ostrich Business Chamber, confirmed that two new cases of the highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza virus were detected on two farms in the southern part of the Western Cape during routine testing. One of the farms is close to Heidelberg and the other is in the Riversdale region.

According to Kleyn, all ostriches, about 6 000 birds, on both farms will have to be culled. Roughly 43 000 ostriches have been culled since the start of the outbreak last year. The industry recently started a re-registration process of ostrich farms according to the latest Veterinary Procedural Notice. Many farmers were confident that once this onerous process was completed, the market for ostrich meat exports to the European Union (EU) would reopen.

This is no longer the case since the EU requires a three-month disease-free period before export can be resumed. “About 20 farms have been inspected and 15 registered since the process began. I urge farmers to register as soon as possible,” said Kleyn, referring to the veterinary requirements. He said that the industry was conducting a survey to see how many ostrich farmers were still in operation. Many had stopped farming as a result of the H5N2 outbreak.

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“Last year there were 741 ostrich farms in the country. Preliminary surveys suggest a significant decline in the number of farms,” he said. “The only good news is that prices for ostrich leather and feathers have gone up by about 50% because of the dwindling supply. “Farmers can now earn between R800 and R1 100 per raw hide compared to about R600 in 2011 and up to R600 per bird for good quality feathers compared to roughly R300 in 2011,” said Kleyn.