Ostrich feathers were responsible for the birth of farmed Ostrich and saved the specie, as Ostrich were on the point of extinction just for their feathers.  The domestication of Ostrich started  to satisfy the demand for feathers. The domestication of Ostrich stopped the hunting of ostrich threatened with extinction. Drawings and carvings indicate the Ancient Egyptians and Romans used Ostrich feathers for formal dress.

The industry collapsed at the outbreak of the First World War.  The primary reason was the stopping of all trade shipping, which left it impossible to service the markets.  This combined with the advent of the motorcar and a change in fashions.  Prior to the collapse, feathers were extremely valuable creating great wealth.  It was the 4th largest export from South Africa by value after Gold, Diamonds and Wool.

The feather market reawakened after the Second World War and has steadily grown since that time.  However, the demand for the Leather drove the main growth of the industry since the Second World War.  Further development of the feather market is limited by the limited and irregular supply.  In value, feathers are less than 5% of the total value of the slaughter bird.

Feathers today are harvested from slaughter birds after slaughter.  In South Africa there are adult birds maintained especially for the quality of their feathers.   These feathers are taken from the breeders by clipping where there is no blood in the quill (similar to cutting toe and finger nails).  To give an indication of size of the best feathers, the farmer holding the wings in Figure 1 is 6ft 3in (1.9m).

Figure 1: Red Male Wing Feathers

These are the type of feathers used by show girls and in carnivals – Figure 2 show several examples.