We have all heard of the traditional farm animals - cows and chickens, goats, sheep and even camels. Like many countries in this region, the UAE farmlands are now breeding the usual poultry and livestock. But today, an unusual farm, and the largest known of its kind in the GCC, is catering for the most unique of tastes and is intriguingly merging what is a profitable South African industry with Emirati farming know-how.
Ostrich Oasis, nestling in the Nahel area of Al Ain, is 68,000 m2 of land generously gifted by the UAE President, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and home to around 2,000 of the prehistoric-era birds which first trod the earth around 25 million years ago.
Speaking to Khaleej Times during the farm’s recent soft opening, Fahed Alketbi, Founder and Chairman, said, “I wanted to start something different. People usually breed camels, sheep or goats. I tried to do something new.
“I started with 15 ostriches in the old farm, and I would like to thank Sheikh Mohamed for offering us this land to start the business, which was the main factor for the success of this project.”
The farm was initially established in 2012 and continued to grow before launching an intensive breeding programme in 2017.
Alketbi explained that compared with cow production, the benefits of farming ostrich lie in its sustainable resources, which include environmental benefits, high profit margins, and versatility, as every aspect of the bird can be utilised.
“Ostriches are a great source of food. Every year, a single ostrich can produce up to 30 chicks, compared with one calf for cows. Our plan is to breed around 3,000 chicks a year, which results in around 120 tonnes of meat.”
“Ostriches also consume far less than other animals and there is no major waste from the bird which helps keep the environment clean. They yield better production values as a sustainable business.”
The farm’s Managing Director, South African Dr Wim Raath, added, “The Ostrich Oasis is not just a farm, it's an industry. We utilise all of the bird’s components. We use its leather, its feathers, then also its meat. We have 15 other verticals that comes from one ostrich.”
“There are so many people here in the UAE who’ve never seen an ostrich, they cannot believe that we have 2,000 ostriches here!”
Dr Raath explained that the farm has created a new industry to support the UAE’s food security goals. “We are contributing to the initiatives of the UAE. Everything that we do on the farm is related to environmental sustainability and food security. We have started a movement to adopt a new product, one that can be introduced not just locally, but also internationally,” he said.
The farm includes a halal abattoir, a tannery operated by Emirati company EBL which processes ostrich skin into various leather goods like Arabic sandals, a mini-mart and a camping area. The farm is currently in talks with the retail giant Lulu Group International to resume selling their ostrich meat, which was on the market between 2018-2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic halted production.
Speaking to Khaleej Times, V Nandakumar, Director of Marketing & Communications at Lulu, said, “We plan to sign an MoU with Ostrich Oasis at the Gulfood event where we will also officially announce our partnership to sell ostrich meat,” adding that the meat will be sold across the GCC and not just the UAE.
Al Ain resident Clarise Esterhuyse, 23, who was visiting the farm during the soft opening, said, “I’m from South Africa, so I commonly see ostriches down there… you realise they are also well adapted here because they can live wherever.”
Dubai resident Courtney Doonan, 25, who camped at the farm overnight, described her experience, saying, “I learned a lot. We camped here last night, and it was amazing to hear the ostriches when they’re settling down to roost because they make a sound like a lion; it's absolutely beautiful to be here around the ostriches and around so many people who also enjoy the experience.”
The farm is currently open to the public two days a month (on the first weekend). It will open seven days a week from September when new facilities will be introduced, including a gift and art shop, a coffee house, an educational centre for school and university students and an exotic restaurant serving delicious ostrich meat dishes.
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