There is usually one stop on the tour that you think “really? this is a worthwhile place to visit? or wow, just another shopping stop for the tourists” (think that diamond store stop – really, who is buying diamonds on vacation at the tour stop?). When I saw that the Ostrich Farm was a stop, I was skeptical – did I really come all the way to South Africa to visit Ostrich? I wasn’t a child going to the petting zoo – the only animals I was interested in seeing on my South Africa visit were the Big 5 on Safari. Ostrich never crossed my mind. I knew nothing about them until we visited an Ostrich Farm in Oudtshoorn (Ostrich farming central) along the Garden Route tour. This section of the Western Cape farms the Ostrich for their feathers, skin and lean meats. It is a sustainable industry providing many jobs, attracting tourists and export/sale of the products around the world.
Our small tour began as we stepped on a disinfecting mat before entering the farm building with the guide. She introduced us to the world of the ostrich – the feathers, eggs and breeding information. Sadly no eggs were hatching this day so we left to walk the grounds, again stepping on a disinfecting mat to ensure we didn’t bring anything onto the farm to infect the animails. If you knew nothing of the ostrich like me, well, after this you knew almost everything (until the next tourist site overwrote the info in your head). The birds are oddly interesting – they can run up to 43 mph, live up to 40 years and don’t hide their heads in the sand when hiding. It was fascinating to watch them move and interact with each other.
While the female lays the eggs, it is the male ostrich that sat on them this day and watched them (good shared responsibilities for the parents). As it had rained, the grounds were muddy and still wet so the ostrich riding/racing was canceled. Visitors are encouraged to hop on an ostrich and have races against each other. The birds don’t seem that strong to hold an adult, yet they do – I would think it’s fun for children to do. Even if the weather were good, I was too heavy to ride an ostrich (there is a weight limit of 75 kilo – all those cookies I eat!) but even if I could ride one, I would have declined as I was having issues with this whole concept – I think because the birds seemed so fragile unlike riding an elephant, horse or camel.
After the breeding area, we settled into a nice pace of discovering all the different types of ostrich from around the world (plus an Emu) who live at the farm for the “show and tell”. They were kinda cute in a balding fuzzy way – their craned necks went up and down as the body moved along with them – they seem so oddly disconnected in a weirdly graceful way.
We had a bit of fun standing on an ostrich egg (quite large and sturdy holding up to 120 kilo) for the required photo opportunity before retiring to the dining room for lunch.
Before we arrived, we were told that lunch was included in our visit, did we want to order Ostrich? Wait, what? I’m going to visit the farm and eat the fresh killed animals? No thank you, I couldn’t do that – a restaurant far away from the animals is fine in my hypocritical world but there was too much guilt in person so I chose a toasted sandwich. Could you just have visited the fuzzy cuties above and then sit down to feast on them? I couldn’t. The rest of the room, however, was enjoying their ostrich meal. After lunch, we wandered to the store to check it out – there were feather boas, purses/bags and many other ostrich products in a rainbow of color options, all quite expensive. We would take only our photo memories with us from our visit.
The Ostrich farm was an interesting stop along the Garden Route as it gave me a glimpse into a different type of farming so important to this town in South Africa. I didn’t buy the diamonds (in this case the Ostrich feather boa and handbag) on the tour stop but learned something new and that’s always priceless.