Anyone visiting the Whitecroft Valley of late may have noticed something a little unfamiliar to the landscape: six mature ostriches roaming around a large pen on the Schwanke’s 40-acre hobby farm.
The couple, who run Mountain Man Dog Sled Adventures every winter, had been seeking a small-scale farming option to complement their principal income, when Taryn Schwanke saw some ostriches while collecting meat trimmings for the dogs.
She brought the sighting up during dinner one night, and then the family began looking into the possibility of raising the animals.
“The more that we looked into it, the more that it started ticking the boxes of things that could work for our family,” said Taryn Schwanke.
The Schwankes received their breeding ostriches on Sunday, 27 May. There are six in total.
“It’s neat learning their body language and trying to figure out how they’re communicating with us,” said Schwanke, noting their peculiar mannerisms. “They do a lot of it through their beaks and pecking.”
Ostriches can produce a wide variety of marketable goods, including therapeutic oil and leather.
They can also produce meat. On average, a bird can produce 14 kg of meat, which is said to be low in fat but high in iron. The meat is considered a delicacy in parts of Europe.
Damaged eggs are also edible (not to mention ginormous). Each is said to be the equivalent of about two dozen chicken eggs.
Originally from South Africa, ostriches can grow to be 2.5 metres tall and weigh from 160 to 200 kg.
They can live up to 70 years in captivity, or 20 to 30 years in the wild.
The Schwankes are working with Omega Ostrich Inc. on the venture. The international company, which has a farm east of Vernon, B.C. will purchase the birds once they reach one year old.
As part of the deal, Omega Ostrich will purchase ostriches the Schwankes produce for a set price.
In addition to being healthier, Schwanke said the birds are more environmentally friendly than cattle to raise.
She pointed out that an ostrich hen can have 20 young a year and can be fertile for 50 years.
The animals eat far less than a cow and can be productive for far longer, she said.
“A cow can maybe be productive for three or four babies, and then that’s about it.”
So far, one of the most common questions the couple has received about the animals is if the family intends to ride them.
The answer is an unequivocal no. (Schwanke has seen videos of people doing so online, and finds it cruel.)
Going forward, she said the family may consider offering tours of their hobby farm.
The family’s ostrich farming journey has just started, and Schwanke said she hopes one day she will be able to proudly sell the fruit of her labour to the broader community.
“Hopefully, in the next couple of years, we’ll be able to have a table at the farmers market, which has always been our favorite event of our summer,” said Schwanke.