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Alex McCoy: 'Ostrich is by far the most environmentally sustainable red meat'

American Ostrich Farms CEO: It’s not like tons of young people are going into farming. But the contrarian in me said, hey, why not?

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By Elaine Watson+

Last updated on 12-Jan-2017 at 00:48 GMT2017-01-12T00:48:20Z

Ostrich meat
Ostrich meat "looks and tastes just like a high-end beef filet mignon," says American Ostrich Farms founder and CEO Alexander McCoy

Check out Alexander McCoy’s linkedin profile and you’ll see a string of corporate finance-related entries until you get to 2013, when he abruptly switched gears and took up ostrich farming.  

But this didn’t reflect a desire to slow down, even if it was partly motivated by his interest in doing something more meaningful with his life. Indeed, McCoy is laser-focused on building a truly scalable commercial ostrich farming operation (American Ostrich Farms ) in Boise Idaho, as opposed to the inefficient “Mom & Pop” outfits he claims currently dominate the industry.

“It’s not like tons of young people were getting into farming back in 2013, he told FoodNavigator-USA. “But the contrarian in me said, hey why not?

“We are way out in front of the ostrich industry today in every KPI we track – whether it’s hatch rates, mortality, feed costs (due to our proprietary feed technology), operational costs (due to our solar installations), and more -- and welcome future competitors to help grow the market for this amazing protein source. In the long run, we will compete with organic beef producers to take increasing market share from high end beef consumers.”

‘The feed conversion rates are phenomenal’

If you look purely at the numbers, says McCoy, who grows food (sprouted barley) for his ostriches hydroponically in huge used shipping containers on his 120-acre site, ostriches are actually a very good bet.

The birds – which are “like big chickens” – have an extremely high feed conversion rate, produce a ton more offspring than cows because they lay eggs, and require far less land, food and water, says McCoy, with each hen able to lay up to 100 eggs a year. The eggs are incubated on site for around 42 days before hatching and the birds are ready for slaughter in around 12 months.  

Unlike grass-fed cattle, they don’t require much land, he says. "We only have 120 acres here and we could probably raise 10,000 birds. In each 8ft by 40ft shipping container we can grow over 1,500lbs of food a day, so 10 of those gives you 15,000lbs of food a day."

Ostriches on McCoy's farm hatch after around 42 days

Ostriches are like big chickens but produce red meat that tastes like high-end beef filet mignon

97% fat-free, ostrich meat is extremely lean, but looks and tastes “just like a high-end beef filet mignon,” adds McCoy, who first tried ostrich meat while training for an iron man triathlon in South Africa.

I was eating the stuff every day in South Africa. Unlike a [beef] steak which makes you feel heavy and lethargic, ostrich meat doesn't, and I kept thinking why isn’t this huge in America? Americans love their red meat! "

As for taste, he says, "Some people who haven’t tried it think it might be gamey-tasting, but it’s not."

 When it comes to inputs, meanwhile, “Ostrich is by far the most environmentally sustainable red meat,” claims McCoy, whose birds are slaughtered and processed/packaged at a USDA certified facility 15 miles from his farm, frozen and then sent to foodservice customers, individual consumers, and people looking to make the meat into jerky or other meat snacks, something he is now exploring doing himself in future.

“Pound for pound, ostriches can sustainably produce far more meat per acre than any other red meat, require a third of the fresh water, and contribute only a fraction of the greenhouse gases as other livestock.”

Alexander McCoy, founder and CEO, American Ostrich Farms

We want to build something truly scalable

Right now, he’s selling (online) more than he can produce – typically to foodies, health-conscious red meat lovers, and environmentally conscious meat fans - and is looking to raise capital in the low single digit millions range primarily so he can hold back more young ostriches to become breeding ostriches.

Indeed, getting the right breeding stock was critical from the get go, said McCoy, whose wife Lauren works for a consulting firm by day but spends evenings and weekends working on the company's consumer marketing strategy and animal welfare and environmental responsibility standards.

When I started, I traveled all over the country talking to farmers and trying to acquire the best genetic stock, which took a couple of years.

"We know the demand is there. We're always sold out so we have to pre-sell it because we can't make it fast enough, so we want to build something truly scalable.”

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