The ostrich has spawned an entire industry in the Western Cape’s Little Karoo region, where ostrich farming has flourished for decades.
The world-famous Oudtshoorn ostrich is a cross between the resident Little Karoo breed and birds from North Africa, and it is thought that the idea of farming ostriches for their feathers may have originated in Algeria.
By the 1880s the ostrich industry was firmly entrenched in South Africa. At first, these birds were fancied only for their feathers, worn during the Art Nouveau period in Europe and the United States. The industry went into decline in the build-up to World War I, but began to gather momentum again after World War II.
It is now a sustainable, dynamic industry, no longer exclusively reliant on fine feathers for its survival. The main appeal of the modern ostrich is its meat. In a world that prefers healthy, leaner cuts of protein, the ostrich fits the bill. Ostrich skin is also used for jackets, handbags and shoes, while the eggshells are used for decorative purposes. Feathers are still a fashion item, albeit not as prominent as a century ago.
Oudtshoorn is easily accessible by road from the Eastern and Western Cape. From Cape Town to Oudtshoorn travel along either the N2 or Route 62. From Port Elizabeth go down the Langkloof Valley past Uniondale until you find the Oudtshoorn turn-off on your right.
Outshoorn is small enough to explore on foot, but as some of the ostrich farms are out of town, you will want to arrange some kind of transport if you don’t have a car.
The 2 prime natural attractions of the area are the Cango Caves, a deep fantasia of limestone and crystal, and the spectacular Swartberg Pass, leading over the mountains to the village of Prince Albert.
One of the activities on offer at ostrich farms is the riding of ostriches. Another is ‘walking on eggs’ where visitors can experience first-hand just how resilient an ostrich egg can be.
Accommodation ranges from backpackers and B&Bs to luxury lodges. Self-catering options are also available.
Oudtshoorn has a number of excellent restaurants specialising in ostrich meat.
There is a wide range of ostrich products for sale in Oudtshoorn.
You can easily spend a week exploring Oudtshoorn and the surrounding area. If your schedule is tight, allow at least 2 days to explore.
Oudtshoorn remains the capital of the ostrich industry. The town’s prosperity is evidence of the very good business these big-eyed birds have become, providing jobs and attracting tourism in addition to the export and sale of ostrich products.
Visitors to the Little Karoo can tour a number of Ostrich farms, particularly around Oudtshoorn, where tours are organised on a daily basis. Here, at a working ostrich farm, you can see how the birds are bred as well as the various ways in which ostrich products are fashioned and marketed.
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