Farmers in the Bekaa Valley  have found a new cash crop: ostriches. Several villages in the area have established ostrich farms, claiming that the giant birds are a profitable investment. According to experts in the field, profits from this sector are higher than those in all other agricultural projects which specialize in animals and poultry.
Mohamed Yaseen started his ostrich farm in the town of al-Labwa in northern Bekaa after the July 2006 war destroyed his ostrich farm in the South. The farm has over 200 birds and, according to Ali Nasser al-Din, the agricultural engineer who runs the Labwa farm, ostriches are successful in the area because “many of its requirements are provided for in the nature and climate of the northern Bekaa.”
The ostrich, at over two meters high, is distinguished from other birds by its inability to fly and its quick running speeds. It can be used almost in its entirety. “Nothing is wasted,” said Nasser al-Din, who explained that the bird’s profits stem from its tender flesh, a kilogram of which could bring in $20. “Each white feather is sold for $3, while black feathers (male) and grey feathers (female) are sold at $300 per kilogram,” he said.
Ostrich skin is the most expensive of all poultry and sells for over $300. Oils extracted from underneath the skin are used in medical ointments and cosmetic creams. Even its eyelashes are used. Its eggs, which can weigh in at one and a half kilograms, are sold either for food or decoration, while its claws are used for polishing diamonds. Some believe that production costs are too high when compared with the profits, but Nasser al-Din said that economic studies show that it’s more economical than raising cattle.
He explained that the price of an ostrich, depending on age, is between $500-$2000. A single cow requires ten kilograms of animal feed a day, while an ostrich puts on one kilogram in weight if it eats two kilograms of feed. Moreover, each spring, an ostrich lays between 50 and 70 eggs.
Saleh al-Bazzal, who owns an ostrich farm in the town of Burqa, decided to abandon traditional farming and turn to ostrich farming because it was “more successful.” He has equipped his farm with hatcheries and incubators in preparation for the project, but he still acknowledged the difficulties, such as the high temperatures during the hatching season which necessitate air conditioning and cooling chambers.
There’s also a lack of interest from the government. Recently, the Ministry of Agriculture withdrew an animal feed subsidy from the farmers, providing it to only cattle and sheep farmers in the Bekaa. Bazzal said that because of the crisis in Syria , the price of animal feed has risen considerably, the price of a ton rising to over $400.
Meanwhile, in Beirut, ostrich meat has been met with great fanfare. At the Yassen Butchers on al-Jamus street in the southern suburbs, there is always a long line due to its offering of ostrich meat. Fans claim that the meat is “tender and tastes good” as well as “high in protein and low in fat.”
“The flesh of this bird is easy to cook, tasty and rich in calories, providing high energy because it is rich in iron and protein,” said Yaseen, the owner of the shop and source farm. He also pointed out that it is “one of the meats recommended by the American Food Association against heart disease, cancer, and diabetes because of its perfect balance of PH.”
From the Labwa farm in northern Bekaa, the ostriches are brought to Beirut, where they are slaughtered and their meat sold fresh. The meat is used to prepare various Lebanese starters, as well as some main meals such as “kofta, raw kibbeh, kebab and hamburgers.” Sometimes it is made into sausages, mortadella, and ham. For some in Lebanon, ostrich has become a regular meal.
Would you be happy buying beauty products made from ostrich fats? Do you disagree with this kind of farming? Or do you think the lack of waste is a good thing? Let us know your thoughts below.