Ostrich RideI'd never even seen an Ostrich before I set foot on South African soil so when I landed the job as a tour guide at Safari Ostrich Farm I was quite nervous about the whole thing. I spent 6 months as an Ostrich tour guide in South Africa and 1 year setting up and managing Wildlife Conservation Farms for Ostriches in Kenya.

Ostrich races...Ostrich injuries

Ostrich RaceHuge things with gangly legs that belong in a cartoon more than the real world. I soon learned how to deal with them and also some respect for them as especially during the breeding season they get quite temperamental. If you go near their eggs or young or even a breeding pair you have to be careful. One of our jockeys (yes, we had Ostrich jockey's and races at Safari) found out the hard way when his thigh was ripped by the claw like toe of one grumpy male bird. Ostriches always kick in a downward, sweeping motion using their claw-like toe as a lethal weapon.

Now I know its very unfair to say this, but Ostriches are seriously lacking in intelligence, in fact their brain is roughly the size of a walnut. I've seen them run straight at a tree for no apparent reason, and then try it again the next day.

The taming of the Ostrich

Catching OstrichBecause they are very slow upstairs it makes them impossible to tame properly. Everyone at Safari tried and tried but to no avail. The closest I ever got was to have one bird (Pop) tolerate me more than others, and not run away all the time.

OK, Ostriches are pretty stupid but they DO NOT bury they're heads in the sand and never have. The closest they come to doing this is lying flat on the ground covering they're eggs, or when predators get close to their eggs or young they will feign injury, run off away from the eggs and lie down so that the predator follows them and not the eggs.

The facts

Ostrich EggsOn average they live to the ripe age of around 45-50 but this depends on the environment. Safari had a bird in the past that lived to 70. They stand at 2-2.5 metres in height, and weigh 120-150 kg. In the wild the female will lay around 40 eggs a year. If you are thinking of eating one the eggs are the equivalent of 24 standard chicken eggs in mass, but in richness they are the equivalent of 36.

They really are tasty, but so rich its quite hard even eating a quarter of one. I did eat the odd egg here and there and I have to say I only ate the non hatching ones. Would have defeated the whole purpose of the conservation farm otherwise, wouldn't it. 

The Farm

Ostrich EnclosuresAs the Ostrich population in the Kenyan wild was dwindling (mainly due to eggs being stolen) a local guy I'd met decided to pay for an Ostrich conservation farm from scratch, with a very tight budget of around 3000. This had to have an Incubation system for the eggs collected from the wild (500 eggs), enough space for holding pens and good soil to grow the feed. The land to start this was decided on, in a region just outside Nairobi (Embakazi).

The first problem encountered was the incubation system. The temperature and humidity fluctuates a lot and the eggs have to be kept constant otherwise the chicks die (temp 36c.) (humidity 36%).  

The Incubators

Ostrich Egg RacksAfter experimenting with small incubators we decided on using 2 large metal lorry containers, with tightly insulated walls and ceiling. All the others we tried including; brick, cement and plastic were too porous and so the temperature fluctuated too much. A structure of wood was built around the containers to house Me, Simon and the chicks when they hatched.

Ostrich HatchingOnce this was built we were ready to collect the eggs. Altogether we got 400 eggs, put them in the incubators and waited nervously for around 6 weeks. During this time the eggs had to be turned manually every 3-4 hours to stop the embryo settling onto the inside of the egg shell, thereby killing it. Also in this time I was getting the enclosures ready for what was going to be a sudden and simultaneous production of around 300-400 chicks.

The Chicks

Ostrich CHicksThe time of telling finally came, and for a whole week the chicks were hatching constantly. I must have had about 12 hours sleep in that week because as soon as they were ready and hatched they had to be carefully moved to heated holding rooms.

It was hard going, but a huge success. A grand total of 260 hatched (about 65%). It was great fun and hard work looking after them as they grew, but worth it. You see allot of them develop certain characteristics. Sadly around 50 of them died, as they are very susceptible to diseases and bugs at an early age. 

Ciao Ostriches

me and baby ostrichAfter 9 months of feeding, nursing and chastising these little critters my work permit ran out and I was asked to leave Kenya so I had to bid a sad farewell to my flock of mates and carry on with my travels. I heard a few years ago that some of the birds released into the wild were named after me, which I was well chuffed with.

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