All about big bird

Jerry, the friendly ostrich
HE stood close, looking me over curiously but I stared back, checking out his long eye-lashes and even longer and muscular legs. He was definitely tall, dark and handsome.

As we shared a heated gaze, my host came over and introduced Jerry, the tame and friendly ostrich which happily “escorted” us into the Ostrich Showfarm.

Clusters of curious ostriches safely corralled in pens, craned their long necks to get a better view of us while Jerry, my new-found feathered friend hovered nearby.

Ostrich farmer and entrepreneur Colin Teh is full of enthusiasm about his ostriches. He and his wife, Joyce, started the farm 13 years ago with 32 birds. In 2001, they moved to the present site when the numbers grew to over 300 birds.

Up to a dozen eggs are collected daily and when Teh put an egg into my hands, my arms sagged under its 1.5kg weight. Placing it on the sandy soil, a man stood on it to demonstrate the incredible strength of its shell. Using a power drill, Teh carefully bored a small hole and poured out its contents, equivalent to 24 chicken eggs, high in protein and low in cholesterol.

All About Ostriches

Ostriches do three things very well — eat, sleep and mate. Each bird eats about seven kg of a healthy vegetarian diet of grass, soya and corn with vegetable protein supplements daily. They can live up to 60 years and females aged between two and 25 years can lay up to 1,000 eggs each in its life span.

Newly hatched ostrich chicks

Ostriches breed in summer but since it’s summer all year round here, be prepared to answer your child’s curious questions if you happen to see the birds doing what comes naturally!

The farm keeps fertilised eggs in incubators at temperature of 40ºC and, at the end of 42 days, the chicks will peck their way out of the eggshells.

Pretty female ostriches
Newborns are kept in a constant-temperature warmer until they are strong enough to be moved to sheltered pens. These chicks have speckled necks and grey, damp-looking feathers but when they mature, a male like Jerry will look smart with a shiny sheen of black feathers tipped with white plumes.

Teh has trained his ostriches to dance ballet and the shakey-shake. One of the ostriches, Lulu, is tame enough to ride on. If you have a taste for more action, a kick-boxing show can be arranged. Ostriches will kick in self-defence, so it makes sense not to provoke them because one kick packs a powerful 500kg force!

Memories & Mementoes

In the souvenir shop, I saw some amazing products derived from ostriches. Ostrich skin leather, dyed in different shades, had been made into bags, pouches, wallets and shoes. Feathers dyed in pretty colours make excellent dusters because they are anti-static and do not trap dust.

Shoes and wallets made from ostrich skins

A showcase displayed an attractive range of eggshells painted with illustrations and Chinese calligraphy. When Teh flipped the switch, eggshell lampshades, fitted with wooden stands and bulbs on their base, lit up with a yellow glow.

If you enjoy exotic meat, there’s dried ostrich meat sold in sealed packets. It tastes like beef but is more tender and said to be healthier.

Teh said dried ostrich bones and tendons can be boiled and taken as a soup to help to relieve conditions like arthritis and ostrich oil ointment helps relieve skin problems and headaches.

After the interesting tour, I sat down to try a slice of ostrich egg crepe and I cannot forget the aroma and juicy flavour of ostrich meat grilled to perfection as skewers of tender satay.

Fast Facts

Located at EMR 15 Teluk Ramunia in the south-eastern tip of Johor, the Ostrich Showfarm is open daily from 10am to 6pm. Advance notice is recommended for group visits. The entrance fee is RM10 for adult and RM6 for child below 10. For enquiries, call 07-826 5846 or 019-610 8544/016-770 8544.

This article was first published in The New Straits Times, Travel Times on 1 December 2008

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