A WINCHELSEA ostrich farmer says the dry summer has been “fantastic” for ostrich breeding, but keeping up with meat demand is challenging.
Michael and Victoria Hastings supply ostrich products to countries including Japan, Canada, Italy, Europe and the United States.
“It’s been a very interesting year this year, we’ve had such dry conditions,” Mr Hastings said.
“Dry conditions are fantastic for the ostrich, so we’ve had a really great breeding season for the birds but terrible drought conditions for the cattle.
“With the dry conditions it means the egg quality is better because we’ve got cleaner eggs throughout the whole season.
“The more stable the weather conditions we basically get more productivity out of the birds and also rearing the chicks out, our heating costs are lower and the conditions allow us to get the chicks out into grower paddocks at younger ages.
“So all in all it just makes and requires less labour and improves our efficiency,” he said.
Mr Hastings said diseases, including bird flu, presented challenges for the poultry industry and market access for avian exporters.
He said bird flu had become a bigger threat to the industry due to the expansion of free-range poultry farming.
“There’s been two outbreaks of bird flu in Australia in the last four years whereas there had hardly been any for the last 20 years,” Mr Hastings said.
“That impacts on our industry because we are 99-per -cent export, if there’s a disease outbreak in Australia, all the countries just say they won’t take any avian products from the whole of Australia until it’s all eradicated and stopped.”
Mr Hastings said keeping up with overseas demands for ostrich meat, which was 80 per cent of the business, had made business “more stable” but meant having surplus product to supply businesses within Australia was a challenge.
“It’s really just a case of struggling to have enough product to be able to do both; we only produce around about 50 to 60 tonnes of meat a year,” Mr Hastings said.
He said he sent a B-double truckload of birds to a game processing plant at Myrtleford in north-east Victoria every “two to three weeks”.
“We’re basically putting chicks on the ground every week and by 10 to 11 months of age those birds are up to 100 kilos and at that age we process them.”
Mr Hastings said he also exported leather, eggs and day-old chicks for breeding in other countries.
“Our customers from all around the world, they’re fantastic to us, we’ve built them up over many years and they rely on us and look after us and we look after them,” he said.
Mr Hastings said he would be supplying ostrich eggs to Winchelsea’s Hunt and Gather Festival’s Eat Local Night.
“The hunt and gather festival is really shaping up to be a fantastic event and on the Sunday we will actually open the farm for tours and run a couple of tours on the Sunday,” Mr Hastings said.