February 1998

The Ratite Meat Industry

Francine A. Bradley Extension Poultry Specialist University of California, Animal Sciences Department, Davis, CA 95616

The following article was contributed by:

Richard Adams, Ph.D., Animal Sciences Dept., William Stadelman, Ph.D. Food Sciences Dept., and Hubert Schmieder Chef, Restaurant, Hotel, Institution Management and Tourism Dept. Emeritus Professors, Purdue University

The time is now for the ostrich, emu and rhea meat industry. The high priced breeder market is a thing of the past. The future of the ostrich and emu industry will depend greatly upon the successful sale of the meat. The rhea industry will depend upon its sale of the meat as a health product.

Ratite meat is an expensive meat and must be handled and sold as such. It must be marketed as a premium meat and sold on its high iron- low fat content. Its "healthy" meat aspect must be promoted. Ratite meat cannot compete on a cost basis with beef, pork or poultry.

The success of the ratite meat industry will depend upon: 1) sound breeding (the ratite must yield a high percentage of meat, 2) good nutrition and management (a good feed to gain ratio), 3) efficient processing procedures and 4) an aggressive marketing and promotion program. An in-depth discussion of 3 and 4 follows.

Ratite growers must have a cost effective way of getting their birds processed and marketed. Federal inspection must be paid by the federal government.

Processors include those who:

  1. Kill, dress, cut up, package and sell the meat.
  2. Kill, cut up, package the meat. It is sold by someone else.
  3. Kill and dress. Cut up, packaging and selling is done by someone else.
  4. Cut up, package and sell.
  5. Cut and package. It is sold by someone else.

Regardless of the manner in which the meat is handled, there must be an adequate supply of quality meat to furnish the needs of the market on a regular basis. Meat from ratites that are not well fleshed or that are too old should not be sold as quality meat. This meat should be incorporated into by-products that do not require the degree of tenderness of high quality meats.

Processors and others who prepare ratite meat for sale must know, or be trained, to put out high quality meat. The meat must have all the "silver" removed. "Silver" refers to the thin tissue, which is silver in color, that covers each muscle. When cooked it becomes tough, resulting in a tough mouth feel to the meat.

Packaging needs to be done as it relates to the type of customer. Ratite meat to be sold to retail customers should be in a package with an attractive picture of the ready-to-eat meat on the front. How to prepare the meat, its nutritoinal content and other pertinent information should be included. There should be one or more openings on the package so the customer can see the meat. Ratite meat to be sold to the institutional trade, and this includes restaurants, need not be packaged as elaborately.

Ratite meat to be sold as whole muscles require a method of identification. This is especially true of meat being sold through brokers and being exported to foreign countries. Identification of ratite muscles by numbering the muscles with reference to their scientific names is the simplest way and the most widely accepted procedure. The American Ostrich Association in their Meat Buyers Guide lists numbers for most of the ostrich muscles. The International Ostrich Meat Buyers Guide lists numbers for all of the muscles. The numbers of the two groups differ somewhat. The American Emu Association is working on numbers for the emu muscles. The Australian Emu Association has a different set of numbers. No numbers have been developed for the rhea muscles.

Promotion of ratite meat is paramount in the movement of the product. Promotion needs to be done by all involved in the ratite business and must be directed to the segments where the meat will be marketed and/or consumed.

Today, the major market for ratite meat is foreign countries. Tomorrow, the United States could become a major consumer. Success depends upon the determination of the growers, processors and sellers to market high quality products that consumers want.

Birds Ill or Dying? Where To Go For Help.

The California Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory System (CVDLS) is part of the University of California and is made up of five diagnostic laboratories. It is important to understand that the mission of the CVDLS is to provide services that assist in controlling poultry and livestock diseases in California and to provide support for equine health. The labs are diagnostic facilities. No treatment is provided at these facilities. You may submit animals that have recently died. You may also submit live animals showing symptoms, but these animals will be killed and examined.

All of the labs are open Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and no appointment is necessary. As of this writing, the fees are as follows:

                                 Quantity         Fee
Ratites                             1            $53.00
Ratite eggs with embryos            1            $53.00

To obtain information on how to properly submit birds and/or eggs and for information on the courier service, you should contact the lab nearest you.

California Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory System

Davis Central Reference Laboratory
University of California
West Health Sciences Drive
Davis, CA 95616
(530) 752-8700; Fax (530) 752-6253

Turlock Branch Laboratory
1550 North Soderquist Road
Turlock, CA 95381
(209) 634-5837; Fax (209) 667-4261

Fresno Branch Laboratory
2789 South Orange Avenue
Fresno, CA 93725
(209) 498-7740; Fax (209) 485-8097

Tulare Branch Laboratory
18830 Road 112
Tulare, CA 93274
(209) 688-7543; Fax (209) 686-4231

San Bernardino Branch Laboratory
105 West Central Avenue
San Bernardino, CA 92408
(909) 383-4287; Fax (909) 884-5980

Billing Office
(800) 553-6878 (in-state)
(530) 752-4613 (out-of-state)

Ratite Associations

There are numerous local and county organizations. It is recommended that you contact a national or statewide group first. Those groups can refer you to current leaders in your area.

American Emu Association (AEA)
Active membership $100.00; entitles member to monthly mailing of the AEA News and access to educational seminars and the annual trade show. P.O. Box 8174
Dallas, TX 75205
Tel. (214) 559-2321
Fax ((214) 528-2359

American Ostrich Association (AOA)
Annual dues $150.00; members receive subscription to: American Ostrich.
3950 Fossil Creek Blvd., Suite 200
Fort Worth, TX 76137
Tel. (817) 232-1200
Fax (817) 232-1390

United Ratite Cooperative
Write for membershp application to:
13620 Lincoln Way, Suite 290
Auburn, CA 95603
Tel. (916) 885-9825


American Ostrich
Official publication of the AOA; non- members may subscribe for $80.00 per year. See AOA listing for address.

The Ostrich News
Monthly trade magazine; contains articles on cassowaries, emus, ostriches and rheas; also advertisements from industry suppliers.
Subscription $46.00/yr.
P.O. Box 860
502 ?C? Street
Cache, OK 73527-0860
Tel. (405) 429-3765; Fax (405) 429-3935


Ratite Management, Medicine, and Surgery
Edited by Thomas N. Tully, Jr., DVM MS and Simon M. Shane, BVSc. Ph.D. MBL. dip.ACPV 1996. Hard cover text covering ratite farming, diseases and surgery.

To order send $59.00 plus $5.00 for shipping to Krieger Publishing Company, P.O. Box 9542, Melbourne, FL 32902; (407) 724- 9542.

The Ratite Encyclopedia.
Claire Drenowatz, Ed. 1996. Hard cover text with over 200 color photographs. To order send $89.45 (includes shipping). Checks or money orders in U.S. funds payable to:
Ratite Records, P.O. Box 790365, San Antonio, TX 78279-0365. Credit cards: call (210) 308-8998; Fax (210) 366-1657.


The Australian Emu Embryonic Development.
The authors are Poultry Specialist Francine A. Bradley, U.C. Cooperative Extension and Assistant Professor Mary E. Delany, U.C. Davis, Department of Avian Sciences. March 1997, Publication 21559.

The 19"x24" poster uses color photographs to show the normal development stages of the emu embryo, as well as abnormal embryos resulting from common incubation problems. The poster also gives recommended incubation conditions that should produce healthy emu chicks.

This poster is an excellent diagnostic tool for emu breeders. Suitable for hanging in the hatchery's egg break-out area, the poster can be referred to for estimating the age at death and possible explanations for the embryonic mortality observed.

With its photographs of emu embryos, chicks, and adults, the colorful poster is also appropriate for the classroom.

To order send $7.50 per poster to University of California, DANR Communication Services-Publications, 6701 San Pablo Avenue, Oakland, CA 94608-1239. Payment must accompany order. Price includes applicable sales tax. Please make check or money order payable to UC Regents. You may also order by telephone or fax using a purchase order, MasterCard or VISA. Minimum order: credit cards $5, purchase orders $25. Telephone: 1-800-994- 8849 or 510-642-2431; Fax 510-643-5470.

Embryonic Development of the Ostrich. Weekly Intervals.
R. Jeffrey Buhr, George N. Rowland, James D. Strawser and Kip Carter. 20" x 30" laminated poster. To order send check for $28.00 to American Ostrich Association (AOA listing for address).

Ostrich Meat Chart Poster.
An 18" x 24" full color enlargement of the Ostrich Meat Nomenclature Chart. Suitable for display. To order send a check for $6.00 to American Ostrich Association (See AOA listing for address).

Ostrich Nomenclature Chart.
An 8" x 11" color print of 11 ostrich meat cuts. $1/each for AOA members; $3/each for non-members. Make checks payable to AOA (see AOA listing for address).