are used for numerous products. From fashionable boas, capes and long, luscious plumes for wedding creations to the colourful daily-used feather dusters. The plumes – also known as the miracle feathers because they are virtually perfectly symmetrical and can hardly be improved upon – are the jewels of the ostrich feathers.

The period between 1875 and 1880 is described as the First Ostrich Boom. During this period, there were 32 247 farmed ostriches according to a Cape Colony census, with ostriches becoming the 4th most valuable agricultural product after tobacco, viticulture and wheat.

Ostrich farming was a very lucrative business and farmers accumulated wealth rapidly. In 1884, the Cape Government imposed heavy export taxes on live birds to protect the local industry. In 1885, export value of ostrich feathers reached its highest level ever. In 1885 there was a collapse in the market price of feathers do to over production and poor feather quality. Many farmers were faced with bankruptcy but many continued to farm with ostriches hoping that the market would improve.

In 1886, a decision was made to import ostriches from Barbary (North Africa), to improve the local strains. By 1890, breeders began to use selection, crossbreeding and rigid culling to improve feather quality.

The Second Ostrich Boom started in 1897. By then most ostrich famers were concentrated in Oudtshoorn, Grahamstown, Cradock and Graaff Reinet with Port Elizabeth the headquarters of the feather export business. Land prices rose significantly and ‘feather palaces’ were built. The second Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902) had an indirect adverse effect on the industry; feathers could not be moved to auctions. The feather trade improved once again after the war ended and some of the most opulent of the feather palaces in Oudtshoorn were built.

In 1913, ostrich feathers were the 4th largest export product from the Union of South Africa after gold, diamonds and wool. Government passed laws to prevent the extinction of exotic and rare birds in 1913 which affected the practices of the Ostrich Industry. The advent of World War I had an enormous impact on the global socio-economic situation which had favoured ostrich plumes for half a century and producers did not foresee the feather trade recovering from the slump. The Great War marked the collapse of the ostrich feather industry and the beginning of the decline of the feather trade. Logistical difficulties with sea freight during the war made export difficult. The invention and manufacture of the automobile by the Ford Motor company further contributed to ostrich feathers going out of fashion; ornate hats became impractical. Fashion, a fickle business, had changed and ostrich feathers were passé. An estimated 80% of ostrich farmers lost their livelihoods in this period.

In 1926, the ‘Suid-Afrikaanse Volstruisboere Koöperasie Beperk’ was established, in an attempt to develop the industry, regulate the market and stabilise prices. This organisation failed as the decline in feather demand continued. The number of birds declined from one million to 23 000 in 1930. Only the best breeding birds (in terms of feather quality) were kept. In the 1940’s, the quality of ostrich hides for leather products was discovered and led to a resurgence of interest in ostrich as a commercial farming enterprise.

Harvesting of Feathers

No immature or green feathers (feathers that are not yet ‘ripe’, also called blood feathers) may be harvested on the farm.

The wing feathers of juvenile ostriches are harvested when they are ripe, usually at a live weight of 60kg or more, it is important to harvest the feathers at the right time and degree of ripeness in order to ensure a good crop at slaughter. Feathers are harvested post slaughter at the registered abattoirs.

The ripe feathers of breeder birds are harvested during the rest period.

Types of Feathers

Wing quills (whites or feminas): the first row of large plumes at the edge of the wing. The feathers are used in show costumes, boas, fashion, decorations and are striped to make fringing.

Byocks: the 3 to 5 pied (black and white) feathers at the end of the row of white wing feathers. The feathers are used in show costumes, boas, fashion and are striped to make fringing.
Long upper wing coverts: the second and third rows of feathers on the outer edge of the wing, above the wing quills. Used in automotive industry in automated dusters to polish cars before spray painting.

Lower wing coverts of floss: usually only one row of soft, downy feathers underneath the wing. These feathers are used to make dusters.

Tail feathers: the long feathers on the tip of the tail. These feathers are used to make dusters.
Sides (bodies): the feathers in front of and behind the thighs. These feathers are used to make very fluffy dusters.

Why Ostrich Feathers

Ostrich feathers add more glamour to any design. It is soft, sensual and warm, and is a must-have fashion item for any woman’s wardrobe. The feathers give swing and movement to any dress.

Moulin Rouge in Paris is well known for their champagne, music, beautiful women and of course their feather costumes. Their production, Féerie, which is presented twice a day, seven days a week, is a massive operation, and the availability of ostrich feathers has a direct impact on the design of hundreds of new costumes.

The South American carnivals are unforgettable with celebrations, dancing, colour and thousands and thousands of ostrich feathers. Samba schools strive to perform better year after year, hoping to get better incentives, and with more elaborate costumes every year (never wearing the same costume twice). The ostrich feathers of South Africa have for decades been an artistic feature at carnivals across the world. The carnivals are known for their vibrant colours, many people and extravagant flair.

Genuine ostrich feather dusters offer ultimate dusting efficiency. The ostrich feather is a natural fibre with the rare ability to generate static electricity which attracts and retains dust. Ostrich feathers are very soft and clean fragile objects with ease and will not scratch delicate surfaces. The flexibility of ostrich feathers allows you to dust even those hard to reach places. To clean, just give the duster a firm shake to get rid of the dust. Replace every six months for best results.