30 October 2007

O is for Ostriches and an old feather duster

The Ostrich is a familiar sight in the Eastern Cape, either in the wild or as domesticated birds. They are also important players in the economy of the region, either in eco-tourism or for commercial purposes.

Female Ostriches at Holmeleigh Farm outside Port Elizabeth. Feed them, but don't pet them

This area was once the centre for the supply of Ostrich feathers to the fashion houses of London. Paris and New York.

Feathers plucked from wild birds were first exported in 1826. Commercial farming with domesticated birds started in about 1867 and the great feather boom started around 1870. At its height, there were more than 750,000 domesticated ostriches in the Little Karoo and about 450,000 kilograms of Ostrich feathers were exported a year.

A male Ostrich will reach a height of about 2,4 meters and weigh up to135 kilograms.
This one was photographed at the Addo Elephant National Park


There was a big boom in Ostrich farming in the Oudtshoorn area at that time and many farmers became extremely wealthy as a result. Many of the old "Ostrich Palaces" can still be seen and visited in that area. The main market for the sale of the feathers was in Port Elizabeth.
Composite pictute of the Feather Market Centre taken from Govan Mbeki Avenue

Situated in down-town Port Elizabeth is the Feather Market Hall, which owes its existence to Ostrich feathers. Its history goes back to the 1870's, when the City Council decided to build a trade centre for the booming ostrich feather industry. The Feather Market Hall was completed in January 1885 and the first auctions started soon after.

The roof of the main hall of the Feather Market Centre, facing Castle Hill


Fashion changed with the advent of World War I and was never the same again. The leading fashion houses changed their designs, to fit the austerity of war effort and the demand for Ostrich feathers declined to almost nothing. Many of the people who supplied the feathers lost their fortunes and the fancy mansions they had built. Oh the fickleness of fashion.

Entrance to the main hall from Castle Hill


Today the Feather Market Hall is one of the premier venues in the City and is used for conventions, conferences, trade shows and concerts
A pipe organ installed some years back for recitals. As a total peasant I avoid these recitals like the plague.

The Ostrich industry still thrives today, but with a different focus. Ostrich meat has become very popular, because it is a red and is very low in cholesterol and calories and is almost fat free. Leather from ostrich skins is the strongest commercial leather available and very fashionable. Ostich biltong (jerky) is popular and there is a growing demand for their eggs.

And there is still a market for the feathers in fashion and decor worlds and of course lets not forget the humble feather duster that still consumes its fair share of feathers.
Oh, and if anyone out there still thinks that Ostriches stick their heads in the sand.............they don't
Acknowledgements and thanks to Suzi-k for the pictures of the Feather Market Hall

22 comments:

Oswegan said...

Where do you think that saying comes from, because that's the first thought I had reading this.

"He needs a photo of an ostrich with it's head in the sand"

~Oswegan

Old Wom Tigley said...

Great 'O' post.. very interesting. I was driving my old land rover down a tight country track in Derbyshire here in the English countryside. I got quite a scare when there was a break in the trees becuse one of these buggers stuck it head right out as we slowly drove by.

dot said...

How interesting! First time I saw one in the flesh I was surprised at how big it was. Someone in our neighborhood was raising them a few years ago.

Kerri said...

Wow! This is what I LOVE about blogging.... you learn so much from so many different people.
Great post!

PS - are the eggs for wanted for eating???? If so, Ewwww!

photowannabe said...

Fascinating "O" post. I learned much from it. I didn't know about the Feather Market. Very interesting and the pictures are great.

Mike said...

Ostriches never seem to look happy do they.

MedaM said...

Thanks for dropped by on my blog and for added me to your blog roll.
I really enjoyed your post today. Photos are beautiful and the story about Ostrich is very interesting.

kml said...

Love your ostriches! I have noticed the meat at the market, but have not been adventurous enough to try it yet.

hpy said...

I haven't tasted ostrinh yet, either, but have heard that it's good.

RUTH said...

Fabulous and informative post. We used to have an Ostrich farm near here at one point...not sure if it still exists though. Happy ABC hunting :o)

Ackworth Born said...

We thought about trying ostrich meat when we were touring New Zealand as it was becoming very popular there. In the event we never had any, but shortly after returning home we saw some for sale at a farmers market in Holmfirth. We got some and tried it but as I recall we weren't impressed. Maybe it is time to try it again though.

Neva said...

I am with Oswegan...ostrich with his head in the sand....Maybe a hole? That saying has to come from somewhere....love your alliteration(fickle fashion feather etc...) Great post...I love that I learn so much about different things!

mrsnesbitt said...

I agree with neva, I am learning so much!

ackworth born...we heard that ostrich tastes like chicken!

Digital Flower Pictures said...

I would love a pair of Ostrich boots. There are a few people around here that raise them. I always thought is was for the eggs but maybe not.

Susanne in Key West said...

I like this funny looking birds! You captured them well. Interesting post, Max!

Mr. Mapper said...

I used to have a duster just like that.

Kate Isis said...

I like the feather duster. I wonder if ours are made from our emu feathers.
Australia went through the whole ostrich farming bit until the market declined.
Still the feathers are just gorgeous when used for fashion.

Lynette said...

What an interesting ABC Wednesday post. Thanks.

Lynette said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WalksFarWoman said...

What a fascinating post. I never realised before that Ostrich farming was such a viable trade. The feathers are wonderful and I do recall them making ladies look fabulous in a bygone era. I'm almost sure we are starting to have ostrich farms in Scotland.

Peter M said...

Interesting O, I love birds and the ones with feathers too, I have been out the last couple of days taking shots of our local dear, look out for v for venison

Max-e said...

Thank you all for your comments. Today I will be different. Instaed of responding to all the comments, I will do a separate post