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Ostriches on the market

August 04, 1998

Ostrich FarmerBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer [enlarge]




FAYETTEVILLE, Pa. - "Wanna buy a duck?" was the trademark saying of Joe Penner, a personality in the golden age of radio. The line drew a laugh whenever Penner delivered it.

"Wanna buy an ostrich?" could well be a saying for Donald Jones, 60, of Fayetteville, who got out of the ostrich-farming business a year ago, but who ended up with five birds he doesn't want or know what to do with.

Jones retired as a heavy equipment operator in the lucrative Alaska oil fields. His last job was helping clean up the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.

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In 1994, he returned to Franklin County, Pa., and took up ostrich farming.

"I saw in a magazine where you could make big money in it, that it was becoming a big business. I went to South Africa in 1993 to learn about ostriches before I started," he said.

In 1994, he rented 14 acres of land near his home on U.S. 30 about 10 miles east of Chambersburg, Pa., and built pens. He bought four pairs of month-old chicks for $18,000 as his breeding stock.

Jones, who grew up in Waynesboro, Pa., raised his birds to breeding age, usually 2 to 3 years old, and watched as the eggs started coming. He started up his incubator and soon had his own flock of chicks. He felt confident that he would make big profits once his chicks reached slaughter age, usually 12 to 14 months old.

Ostrich meat, which is dark, lean and tastes a lot like beef, was selling for about $18 a pound, he said.

It seems Jones' timing was bad.

"By the time my birds were ready for market, the price had dropped to $2.50 a pound. It was just starting to get good when it went sour," he said

Mark Young, a spokesman for the American Ostrich Association in Fort Worth, Texas, said that while there is a growing demand for ostrich meat and hides, worldwide overproduction last year created a market glut.

"Five years ago, a good breeding pair sold for $40,000. Today the same pair sells for $1,000," Young said.

Jones decided to cut his losses by selling his flock, then up to about 16 birds, in August to an Amish farmer, who took them to slaughter, he said.

When Jones sold his birds, he had five eggs in his incubator. The buyer didn't want them for fear they weren't fertilized and wouldn't hatch, he said.

They hatched and now Jones is stuck with five ostriches, all about 6 feet tall, running around his place.

He had to build a pen near his house to hold them and lets them out to roam around his gravel driveway for a couple of hours a day. He said he grows more tired of them every day.

Jones isn't afraid of the big birds and they aren't afraid of him. He walks in among them, teases them and they retaliate by pecking at him every chance they get.

Adult ostriches can reach 9 feet tall, weigh 450 pounds and live for 80 years.

"I hope somebody buys them soon. They'd make good pets if someone has a little room. I'd sell them for $1,000 a pair," he said.

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