‘If this works I’ll eat my hat’

Ostrich farm­ers dis­cover risk worth the ef­fort ... for a while

Warwick Daily News - South West Queensland Rural Weekly - - Market Reports - Lach­lan McIvor

ALAN and Patti Jaenke are not afraid to take a risk.

Based in Esk, they tran­si­tioned from one of the big­gest wa­ter­melon grow­ers in the coun­try to farm­ing os­triches in the early 1990s.

To start off their new ven­ture they bought two pairs of the birds, at a cost of $100,000, to start breed­ing.

As the birds were just un­der a year old and don’t start to lay un­til they’re around three-years-old, the pair used the time in be­tween to start putting the frame­work in place, in­clud­ing yards, pens and an incubator room.

“Alan said if this works, I’ll eat my hat... well he had to eat it,” Mrs Jaenke laughed.

Soon enough, the birds be­gan to lay ahead of sched­ule and the Jaenkes very quickly got a size­able re­turn on their ini­tial in­vest­ment.

“I just never left them at all, they got the best of feed and the best of at­ten­tion, they per­formed all right,” she said.

“It was very in­tense farm­ing, we had to be there, we couldn’t take the chance of our birds get­ting hurt or dam­aged or any­thing, es­pe­cially our chicks, you had to be with them 24/7.

“One hen laid 120 eggs (in the first year) and that’s her body weight... out of that 120 I got around 90 saleable chick­ens.”

The chicks would sell for be­tween $6000-8000 each.

The Jaenkes would in­cu­bate for a decade be­fore prices in the in­dus­try dropped and they de­cided it was about time they hung up their hats as ostrich farm­ers.

“Where the ostrich in­dus­try fell down, I can say hon­estly now is that Queens­land never had an abat­toir built for them,” she said.

“They’re dif­fer­ent to cat­tle; you can’t put their hide through the ma­chine like you put the cat­tle hide.

“They’ve got lit­tle hills on them where the feath­ers are plucked, so the bird has to be killed, and they have to be plucked, and then they have to be skinned by hand be­cause the ostrich hide is the Rolls Royce of leather.”

As the ostrich in­dus­try be­gan to die down, they de­cided to ramp up the fish farm on their prop­erty.

It gave vis­i­tors a chance to tour the farm and check out the in­cred­i­ble di­ver­sity of bird species on the Esk prop­erty, be­fore spend­ing a few peace­ful hours with a rod in hand.

Cur­rently the prop­erty is in­hab­ited by two os­triches, now hap­pily re­tired, emus, black swans, geese, guinea fowls and a whole host of other wildlife.

“The peo­ple with the tourist buses that come in, they just love that, the city peo­ple just love the free­dom down there,” she said.

“No traf­fic noise and the wildlife. They just come to me, I don’t have to ad­ver­tise, they just show up at my gate.”

But the Jaenkes are now ready to take the next step in their lives and they have be­gun to wind down tours of the Bris­bane Val­ley Ostrich and Fish Farm.

“I can’t put a time­frame on it, we are wind­ing down a lit­tle, ev­ery year it’s a bit less and less,” she said.

“This year I prob­a­bly have only done five dif­fer­ent groups (whereas) I usu­ally do two or three a week.

“It’s time in our life again now to take an­other step PHOTO: LACH­LAN MCIVOR back and get a life of our own... we have three beau­ti­ful grand­chil­dren and we’d like to spend more time with them.”

Where once hun­dreds of os­triches roamed the farm, now just two re­main – Jill and Cap­tain.

The pair no longer pro­duce eggs but their feath­ers, par­tic­u­larly from the male bird, are still in de­mand.

❝ It was very in­tense farm­ing, we had to be there... — Patti Jaenke

RUFFLED FEATH­ERS: Patti Jaenke with Jill the fe­male ostrich at the Bris­bane Val­ley Ostrich and Fish Farm, which is wind­ing down slowly.

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