Kowhai Grove Ostrich, Halcombe, NZ
Ostriches provide a unique diversification to Rosemary and Ian Blunden’s Halcombe farming operation, and these majestic birds get off to the best start in life with a helping hand from Sharpes.
Kowhai Grove Ostrich raises 150-200 ostrich chicks per year, predominantly farmed for their meat, which the Blundens market themselves and sell directly to retailers, like top-end restaurants. They also sell young birds to zoos, farm parks, and lifestyle block owners.
The ostriches live at the 100 acre home farm, which is river flats. The main 400-acre block just down the road is used for the sheep and cattle enterprises, with some cropping thrown in the mix for good measure.
Rosemary says the ostriches have become a bit of an alternative side-line over the last 23 years and, although not the most important part of the operation financially, they provide a point of difference the couple loves.
“We used to grow asparagus on some leased land. That was coming to an end and we had good friends who wanted to get into something different. We looked at growing flowers under cover but then Ian went to the Central Districts Field Days and there was a woman marketing ostriches. She must have been a good salesperson!”
From one breeding pair, the ostrich enterprise grew and when their friends sold and moved to town, the Blundens took over the whole operation from incubation of eggs and raising chicks to farming the breeders.
The ostriches are taken through to 100kg live weight (which they usually reach at about one year old) and killed, yielding about 27kg of meat per bird.
“The meat is beautiful, absolutely amazing, and very lean. It looks a bit like venison and needs to be treated like a good fillet steak or venison steak – cooked medium-rare. We probably eat it once a fortnight. The mince makes lovely patties too.”
Rosemary gets a real buzz from seeing their meat on the menu in restaurants. “A friend said she had eaten ostrich in a restaurant in Dunedin and it tasted amazing. I knew exactly which restaurant it was because I sell direct. When you get feedback like that it’s like yes, this is cool. We don’t get that with the lamb we sell.”
Ian enjoys working with the ostriches and Rosemary describes them as very curious and quite majestic animals. “In Ian’s words, they don’t need dagging! They’re just something different and it’s a real talking point – people are always interested when you say you farm ostriches. We often have groups come to visit.”
The Blundens have been feeding Sharpes crumbles and pellets for as long as she can remember, and nutrition is vital for the birds.
Chicks are fed crumbles from four days old, and pellets are introduced at four weeks old. By four months old, they introduce barley, which is grown on-farm. Breeders are also fed pellets over the egg-laying season to keep their nutrients up.
“From two weeks old they go out on the grass and the quality of that grass is very important too. Fresh growth is really good. The pellets and supplement are even more important if the grass isn’t there, or in a drought.”
The breeders start laying in August/September and finish at about Christmas time. The eggs are collected and incubated for six weeks. Rosemary explains that weight gain before winter is key. “The better weight we get them to before winter, the better they do and survive through winter.”
A plus of having large numbers of birds is they are able to order a tonne of feed at a time, which is delivered directly to the farm on a pellet.
“We just sold 12 chicks to the South Island and he couldn’t believe they were only six weeks old, size-wise, which I guess is a testament that the feed is doing the right thing. The animals, if they are healthy and doing well, romp away and grow very quickly.
“Sharpes are just awesome to deal with. They are always so friendly on the phone, get our orders out promptly, and are fabulous to deal with – I can’t fault them. We’re very happy with the service, and the product.”