Robert von Ostertag, German veterinary scientist, studied medicine in Berlin and veterinary science in Stuttgart. He became professor of hygiene at the Tieraertsliche Hochschule in Stuttgart (1891-1892) and then in Berlin(1892-1907). In the latter year he became head of the veterinary department in the Reich Health Office in Berlin. He was particularly interested the diseases of cattle and pigs early in his career and published eight papers (in German) in this field during the four year period 1888 to 1891. During the eighteen-nineties he started a rigorous program of meat inspection in Berlin. He wrote many papers and a number of books on veterinary science and animal science, particularly handbooks dealing with the inspection of meat. For example, Handbuch der Fleischbeschau... (8 vols, 1892-1923); Leitfaden fuer fleischbeschauer (23 vols, 1903-1940); Die bekampung der tuberkulose des rindes (1913); and Lehrbuch des Schlachtvieh- und Fleischbeschau (1932). New editions of some of these books continued to be published up to 1955, long after the author's death. Some of his handbooks were translated into English, for example, Handbook of meat inspection (1904 and many later editions); Guide for meat inspectors... (1915); and Textbook of meat inspection (1934). The genus of brown parasitic stomach worms, Ostertagia, was named after him.
In 1910 von Ostertag conducted a veterinary tour of inspection throughout German South West Africa (now Namibia) on instruction of the German colonial authorities. He was particularly impressed with the work that had earlier been carried out in the territory by Wilhelm Rickmann*, who had developed the veterinary and bacteriological institute at Gammams, near Windhoek, where he performed research on stock diseases up to 1906. After von Ostertag's return to Germany he published Das Veterinaerwesen und Fragen der Tierzucht in Deutsch-Suedwestafrika [Veterinary science and inquiries into animal breeding in German South West Africa] (Jena, 1912). One of his recommendations was that the institute at Gammams be expanded into a research establishment comparable to that at Onderstepoort, near Pretoria. This recommendation was accepted and the task entrusted to Dr Hans Sieber*, who had taken over as Director in 1911. However, the institute was dissolved in 1915, during World War I (1914-1918).
In 1913 von Ostertag was sent to German East Africa (now mainly Tanzania) to investigate rinderpest. In 1920 he became head of veterinary services in Germany.