Ostrich leather is a luxury product that is deemed unique because of the presence of feather follicles – which not only makes the quality better but also makes for a beautiful skin and ultimately a stunning leather bag.
The skin of the ostrich is regarded as one of the primary products of the ostrich industry. Currently the ostrich leather makes up about 60% of the income in the industry compared to about 35% for the meat and ironically the feathers only make out about 5% of the income. Ironic in my opinion because the ostrich industry as such started over a 140 years ago because of the feather fashion in Europe and North America.
The relative contribution of the skin to the total slaughter income varies considerably, mainly depending on the quality of the skin. The farmer must therefore try to ensure that the skin or the ostrich reaches the abattoir in the best possible condition, taking into consideration all the factors affecting quality.
Skin size, visible skin damage (this is mainly due to fighting between competing birds and thorns from Acacia trees that can leave scratches on the skin) and follicle development determine the price. If a skin does not meet certain minimum standards, its value is reduced, in which case the producer could suffer large financial losses.
Skins are classed according to size. This is done in the processed phase. Skins with a minimum size of 140 dm2 reach the highest price per dm2, with a decline in price for smaller skins. A slaughter ostrich should weigh at least 95kg before slaughter in order to be reasonably ensured of a processed skin of more than 140 dm2.
Skin damage generally increases with age, with skins from older birds obtaining poorer grades. This is most likely due to the increasing incidence of aggressive behaviour as ostriches mature, together with the longer period of risk.
Kick marks and scratches are the most common types of skin damage – the sharp toenails of ostriches play a major role. Other types of damage that lead to downgrading are chafe marks, tick and insect bites, feather pecking and sunburn damage. The above mentioned types of damage mostly cause permanent scars that will result in downgrading of skins at slaughter and hence a reduced price offered to the farmer. It is therefore crucial that damage is limited, even from a young age.