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China's taste for ostriches is growing

Child eating
Chinese ostrich farmers hope to someday find ostrich meat on every dinner table   
December 26, 1997
Web posted at: 4:49 p.m. EST (2149 GMT)

BEIJING (CNN) -- Two years ago, there were no ostriches in China.

Then eight of the birds were imported. Now there are 80,000 ostriches and 400 ostrich farms spread throughout China. And ostrich farmers hope their industry will continue to thrive.

So what are the Chinese getting from their ostrich industry?

Feathers for pillows and winter coats. Leather that can be transformed into handbags, and other items. And meat.

"Ostrich meat is high in protein, calcium and iron," said Fang Wei, of the Golden Ostrich Gourmet Food City -- perhaps the only Chinese restaurant serving ostrich meat. "It's low in fat, cholesterol and calories. It fits the needs of a modern people."

CNN Bureau Chief Andrea Koppel reports from Beijing
icon 2 min., 5 sec. VXtreme streaming video

But customers are not flocking to Fang's restaurant. The price of ostrich meals may be one reason. While the average Chinese dish costs about $3, the ostrich meals are about $6.

Ostrich farmers hope their product will become a favorite in coming years.

Ostrich eating
Ostriches have adapted easily to China   

And China's Ostrich Breeding Association expects that will happen as more and more farmers grow to appreciate the advantages of raising the big birds instead of chickens, pigs and cows.

Ostriches, breeders say, adapt easily to China. They are easy to raise, can live in almost any climate and do not eat much grain.

"In China, especially in the poor parts of the northwest, there are areas where you can't grow grain, vegetables or even melons," said Song Hong of the China Ostrich Breeding Association. "But grass is no problem."

The association hopes the Chinese who live in poor agricultural conditions can benefit economically by raising ostriches. No only are they easier to feed than traditional farm animals, but ostriches are more prolific.


"A cow will bear one calf a year," explained Zhao Chunli of the Shoujia Ostrich Breeding Center. "But not an ostrich. At an absolute minimum, an ostrich will give birth to at least 10 ostriches per year. In five to 10 years, it'll be laying 50 eggs a year."

The birds mature faster too.

By the time an ostrich is a year old, it already weighs about 200 pounds. By two years, a fully grown ostrich weighs 240 pounds.

Beijing Bureau Chief Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.


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