Ostriches may not be the brightest animals on the acreage, but for some farmers, the birds have turned out to be worthwhile additions. Brothers Todd and Lance Appelbaum found that to be the case when they began raising ostriches for meat, eggs, and leather at Fossil Farms (www.fossilfarms.com) in Sussex County, New Jersey.
The brothers bought their first pair of ostriches in the 1990s and gradually added birds as they got more requests for their ostrich meat.
"The demand for meat was through the roof, so we bought more breeder birds," Todd says. Today, the farm has about 500 birds.
Ostriches are classified as ratites - a family of flightless birds. They can weigh 300 to 400 pounds, making them the largest birds in the world.
Although the Appelbaums have found it profitable to raise them, many ostrich owners simply enjoy having them around as unique acreage animals. They are hardy by nature and usually don't need extensive health care or a large amount of land.
The main necessities for the birds are a covered shelter and an outdoor area where they can stretch their legs, Todd says. He uses a seven-strand high-tensile wire fence to keep the birds contained, but every once in a while an ostrich finds a way to wriggle out. Before long, however, the bird realizes the grass isn't greener on the other side.
"If a bird gets out, the next thing you know they're working their way back in," Todd says. "They're not very smart birds."
Like many large animals, ostriches can be unpredictable and become agitated when they feel threatened. They're also very fast; ostriches can maintain a speed of 40 miles per hour. The males, also known as roosters, tend to be especially territorial and can be difficult to handle during mating season. When Todd needs to go out into the field, he takes a pole with him in case an ostrich rooster gets too close.
Although it's uncommon for an ostrich to charge, be sure to take precautions when handling the birds. If you need to go out into the middle of an ostrich pasture, have an escape route. If it's a large pasture, drive your tractor or another vehicle to the center so you can seek shelter in an emergency.
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