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Prices for breeding stock in the ostrich and alpaca industries reach new heights.

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Tuesday, 15 November 1994




RICHARD PALFREYMAN: While the outlook for traditional farm products is improving, prices for more unusual produce are really booming. Auctions of breeding stock in the fledgling ostrich and alpaca industries have reached new heights. Twenty-five animals were sold at an alpaca show in Melbourne last weekend, raising $575,000, and a recent ostrich sale just south of Sydney grossed more than $700,000 for just 27 birds. Mark Tamhane reports.


MARK TAMHANE: Alpacas are a relative of the South American llama. The fibre they produce is renowned for its softness and warmth and is highly sought after in the quality end of the garment market. The size of the average alpaca herd in Australia is only about three or four—mainly they’ve been a sideline for hobby farmers. But that’s likely to change with the Alpaca Association saying Australia will soon be the main supplier of top-quality alpaca breeding stock to the world.


It’s an expensive and time-consuming process importing top-quality animals from South America, which explains the high prices at last weekend’s auction. The average price of a female was more than $24,000, but that’s a long way short of the highest price ever paid in Australia—$45,000 for a top-quality pedigree female some years ago.


Janie Hicks from the Alpaca Association says the animals are perfectly suited to Australian conditions.


JANIE HICKS: Because it’s the sort of animal that anyone looking for, I suppose, a pleasurable lifestyle, either on a hobby farm or even a genuine cocky, is going to find an alpaca extremely lucrative and yet you still have an animal that can actually be easily handled and easily reared. It doesn’t eat a lot, it’s similar to sheep, and it’s a very hardy animal. It suits Australian conditions extremely well. In fact, Australia’s a paradise compared to what it’s come from.


The returns are very high and I suppose underlying the whole alpaca market is the fact that a supply is very limited. The alpaca, on the worldwide basis, is only about three million head and most of them are in South America where exportation from there is very limited. They breed slowly, once they’re in Australia, and so the reproduction rate is kept at a minimum which means the prices don’t sort of blow out into a huge scale and then suddenly drop because there’s all of a sudden an oversupply. We don’t envisage that happening with the alpaca.


MARK TAMHANE: Janie Hicks from the Australian Alpaca Association. But while the top price paid at the alpaca sales was $34,000 for a pair of animals, quadruple that price if you’re talking ostriches. David Lagettie farms ostriches near Wagga Wagga in New South Wales, and he paid the amazing sum of $140,000 for a pair of African black ostriches that had been passed in at the recent auctions at Camden, south of Sydney.


David, you paid $140,000 for a pair of African black ostriches. Why were they worth so much?


DAVID LAGETTIE: Probably because at the present time the African black ostrich in Australia is a pretty rare bird. Compared the Australian grey bird, they have heaps better fertility rate if they’re chicks, and they also have a greater lay rate, like even up to twice as much.


MARK TAMHANE: So how many eggs does your average African ostrich lay?


DAVID LAGETTIE: Depending on their age obviously, but they seem to have a pretty high average of up to anywhere from, say, 50 up to, even numbers up to 120.


MARK TAMHANE: What, a year?


DAVID LAGETTIE: Over a six-month period, normally. They can lay an egg every, roughly second day. But they do lay the odd egg through the winter, in the off-season.


MARK TAMHANE: So one pair of birds could be responsible for up to 120 offspring?


DAVID LAGETTIE: Yes, and that actually has happened.


MARK TAMHANE: The industry’s pretty much geared, at the moment, towards ostrich meat and leather for the domestic and export market, but I understand that concentration now is very much on breeding and building those stocks up.


DAVID LAGETTIE: Yes, that’s correct.


MARK TAMHANE: And you also farm emus, I understand?


DAVID LAGETTIE: Yes, I have, I think, 28 breeding pair.


MARK TAMHANE: Right. And are they worth as much as imported ostriches?


DAVID LAGETTIE: No, not at all. You’re probably looking around, just a first-year breeders, second-year breeders, you’re looking around $2,000 to $3,000 a pair.


MARK TAMHANE: And what does ostrich and emu meat taste like?


DAVID LAGETTIE: Emu meat actually is a very nice meat, nice flavour. It’s a red meat. It’s pretty hard to class. It’s sort of a bit like a veal type of taste but it has a slight gamey taste, very similar to, like, venison, say, but it is a nice meat and I’m sure it will do well in later days when they start promoting the meat commercially. Ostrich meat, I was quite surprised actually, I’ve tasted it on two different occasions now. It’s a very fine-grain meat. You’d probably class it halfway between beef and, say, veal, but you don’t get that gamey taste and you don’t get that gristle build up as you do in normal beef.


RICHARD PALFREYMAN: David Lagettie, who’s an ostrich farmer.