Feathers may not seem like a product of cruelty, but they are obtained from a slaughter industry that kills ostriches, selling their flesh and their highly valuable skins for leather. There is no need to wear someone’s feathers for the sake of fashion, and if you like fluffy things, there are alternatives.

Image: Ostriches are sensitive, sentient beings. 

Breeding

Ostriches are currently bred ‘naturally’, though artificial insemination is being explored by the industry; further exploiting these birds for the sake of ‘genetic improvement’ would allow for higher priced skins and flesh to be sold from slaughtered ostriches. 

Investigators on ostrich farms have stated that they were ‘mesmerised’ and moved to see ‘how familial’ ostriches are in the wild, with females sitting on their eggs during the day and male fathers taking ‘the night shift looking after the eggs in the dark’. These investigators stated that the removal of eggs and chicks from these families was more upsetting because of this reality. 

When ostriches chicks are born, any who seem weak, ‘unthrifty’ or deformed are killed straight away, their spines dislocated or their heads decapitated. The expenses of caring for birds who are slightly different, or who are a little more weak, are too high for farms who are interested only in raising the healthy, easy to care for birds to an age they can be exploited and eventually slaughtered.

Image: Birds can be packed tightly in, despite enjoying running large distances quickly in the wild. 

Living conditions

Ostriches are most commonly reared outside, and there are no requirements for them to be provided adequate shelter in the form of man-made or natural tree shelter from the sun, wind or rain. In nature, these birds would be able to find shelter, not confined by fencing.

Further, lot feeding of ostriches is a possibility for farmers. In feedlots, animals are in even less natural conditions; ostriches are packed more densely and fed lucerne in a controlled system. Industries focussed on profit at the expense of animals are often uninterested in the wellbeing of them, with farmers stating that they became interested in ostrich farming when they ‘realised we could produce a lot of birds, in a small area’. 

In nature, ostriches can enjoy running at up to 70km/hour, with each step a far lunge. Some investigations have shown birds ‘biting the air repetitively’ and chewing at wire fencing, common signs of psychological distress and ‘poor welfare’ in confined animals.

Image: From an undercover investigation at the largest ostrich supplier in the world, of a hooded ostrich / PETA

Plucking and cutting of feathers from birds

When restraining the live birds, ostriches are often forced into a ‘crush’, which keeps them still, and ‘hooded’, a bag put over their head so that they are less able to understand what is happening around them. Ostriches are still known to kick and attempt to be free from what is happening to them. 

Live plucking of ostriches is illegal almost everywhere they are farmed, however investigators have stated that it still routinely happens. 

When feathers are harvested before ostriches are slaughtered, they are cut off the birds above the bloodline of the feather. Only certain feathers can be removed from birds before they are slaughtered, the rest are plucked from their freshly dead bodies. 

Image: An ostrich who is about to be killed / PETA

On farm slaughter

If ostriches are sick or simply not wanted alive for ‘production reasons’ – such as being too small or having ‘low quality’ feathers, skin or muscle – they are killed. These birds can be shot with a rifle in the head. 

 Image from a patent for an ostrich slaughter method.

Slaughter industry

Before ostriches are slaughtered, they are denied food for 24 hours.

In slaughterhouses, where ostriches are killed so their flesh, skin and feathers can be sold, they are stunned before they are bled out. This stunning can be either electrical or with the use of a captive-bolt gun. After they have been bled out, their head and legs are cut off, their feathers are plucked and they are skinned before their carcass is split in half. 

Investigations into these industries have shown ostriches having their throat slit while other birds watched on at the distressing situation, as well as workers striking and hitting the birds. The bloody reality of this industry is far from fashionable.

Environmental exploitation

Image: The land this ostrich farm sits on would once have been a biodiverse piece of nature. Now, it appears largely barren / Justin Mcmanus

An ecologically inefficient system

Animal agriculture as a whole is inefficient, using more ‘resources’ than it produces. This is detrimental to the environment because the more resources we ‘require’, the more land which must be cleared to grow and produce them. Biodiversity loss is a serious issue, which plays into species extinction, the release of greenhouse gas emissions, and other environmental crises.

Animals who are bred to be slaughtered must be fed, and it would be far more efficient if, rather than eat and wear animals, we ate and wore plant-based and even ethical, lab-grown products. The reason for this is that, generally, animals eat more food calories than their bodies contain when they are eaten. By this principle, it follows that to produce many plant-based materials, as well as man-made materials, far less land is required, thus protecting biodiversity. 

Waste and eutrophication

Nitrogen is released from waste on ostrich farms. This waste is made up of urine, faeces, dead birds, broken eggs, feathers and other organic matter.

This is a problem, because if waste is not disposed of effectively, nitrogen can contribute to eutrophication, which in turn can cause dead-zones in both fresh and salt water, killing aquatic life.

Human exploitation

The mental health of abattoir workers and farmers

Studies have found that slaughtering animals working in an abattoir can negatively impact a person’s mental health, and even cause PITS, or perpetration-induced traumatic stress. This disorder is one which refers to the mental suffering associated with committing violent acts. There is no doubt that being involved in this sort of violence is harmful and can change the way someone feels, thinks, and behaves. 

In fact, further studies have shown that violent crime like sexual and domestic violence occurs in higher rates around abattoirs, perhaps connected to the mental unhealth of workers. 

No one deserves violence, and taking part in systematic violence against animals is unnatural and unhealthy for most people today.

Alternatives

We do not need to wear the skin or feathers of ostriches. There are plenty of vegan leather alternatives and faux furs (if you’re looking for a fluffy alternative to feathers).

If you are looking for a distinctly ostrich-like alternative, there’s a gorgeous bag below.

Alternative to ostrich skin: Gunas the Brand

Made with the more sustainable polyurethane synthetic leather, not ostrich skin. Made justly in South Korea by artisans paid a fair living wage. 

This bag comes in a selection of other colours, including black and a light blush pink.