Thursday April 16, 2015 (Africa, South Africa)
We’ve gone from sharks to ostriches in a single day’s drive. Not bad!
We departed Gansbaai this morning with the goal of hitting Oudtshoorn by 4:30pm – the time of the last day tour of the ostrich show farm! It was a serene, relaxing multi-hour drive punctuated by evasive manoeuvres and pedal-to-the-floor braking as an eland bounded immediately in front of our vehicle on its way across the road. This was a big animal. We’re talking large buck, small moose size. Not good to hit with the rental, either for the car or its precious cargo: us. We got a demonstration of how high they’re able to jump as it leaped first in front of the car, and then as we passed it within a couple of metres it leapt again into the air and kicked its back legs way up in the air. Amazing, and great timing that we got to see it instead of strike it!
We arrived to Oudtshoorn and the Highgate Ostrich Show Farm just in time. We nabbed the last tour of the day.
The tour started in the incubation area where we were shown some feathers from various ages and parts of the ostrich. They’re often used for boas and feather dusters. The feathers were atop the original incubator used in the 1800s. It was heated by oil and the eggs had to be turned by hand which was a finnicky process. As a result, the yield on the eggs was not very good. Newer technology moved to electric with hand-turned eggs, electric with wheel-turned eggs, and finally the modern version that’s fully automated. The lockers could hold up to 800 eggs each!
We were told that an ostrich egg contains the equivalent of about 24 chicken eggs. Scrambling a single ostrich egg can feed 18 people. It takes about an hour and a half to hard boil one. Whoa.
Before we continue, I want to mention that many people became rich in this area back in the days when ostrich feathers were all the fashion rage. They were known as the “feather barons”. How cool is that? To be one of those “old money” families that made their fortunes in ostrich feathers? My kind of rags-to-riches tale.
Next we got to visit the babies. Lots of tiny ostrich chicks, and you could pick them up and hold them! Neat!
Feather duster making demo time. Good workers can make up to 200 a day! The feathers are first sorted by length to keep them consistent, and then they’re wire wrapped onto a wooden handle to stop them from falling out. The dexterity of the demonstrator was incredible – he made a perfect one in what seemed like no time at all!
We were shown hollowed ostrich eggs that are decorated and sold as shells. Most of them are decorated with a paper ink transfer (not entirely painted), then glossy spraypaint coated. The shells are 2-3mm thick.
Now we visit the adults and have a chance to feed them! The crazy ostriches would smack their blunt beaks into your hands so forcefully that they’d accidentally knock most of the corn feed onto the ground. Patience is a virtue, my friends! Take it easy and you’ll have so much more corn! At one point we attempted the reverse bucket approach, causing many ostriches to neck-hug you as they dove into the bucket headfirst. Fun!
Following that, we drove over to another area of the farm to try sitting on the ostriches, and riding them too! Sandra and I each took a turn. You’ll see the video at some point, I’m sure. I am placing the image of me sitting ATOP an ostrich with full knowledge that it may appear… unsavoury. Multiple parties can confirm I was indeed merely sitting on it as instructed. No funny business.
Finally we were given a demo of ostrich racing by three ostrich jockeys. The birds can run at speeds of 50-60km/h for about 3km. Yikes!
As a bizarre icing on the cake, we were invited to a paddock for a demonstration of ostrich egg strength. They can each withstand about 100kg of mass, so one is able to easily walk on them. Of course it’s a bit nerve-wracking as you’re expecting to smash through all of them, but it really works!
It’s caving time tomorrow in the Cango Caves. Spooookkkyyyy!