So Chip and two workers push her to the opening of the
truckdoor as she sits on the ground. They put their hands
under her feet and lift. She is half way in the air and she
kicks her feet away from them. They grab her body and wings
and force her on the truck. She sits hanging off the side of
the door. They push her in most of the way and shut the door
behind her to push her the rest of the way in. A bunch of tail
feathers are caught in the door. Her tail feathers are hanging
out as the truck drives away.
The Incubators Chip tells Ruben to show me the incubators
in his bedroom. One can hold 1,000 eggs, another 500. The
incubators have hard plastic cubicles on trays where they keep
the eggs, which hatch in 42 days. Neither is in use so I ask
if they also let the ostriches hatch the eggs. Fred said they
can but Chip doesn't want to let them.
Uncooperative = Stupid Fred says, "Ostriches are so
dumb." He says when they load the ostriches they try to go in
the other direction every time. The job is exhaustive because
the birds are too stupid to cooperate, he says.
Ruben goes to a metal cabinet. He takes out a needle,
thread, an Ostrich Master, antiseptic spray, and a bucket of
soapy water. He has to stitch up the ostrich who had her neck
ripped open by the hook in the attempt to send her to
Dead and Dying Ostriches We drive to an area I had not
seen yet. Fred points to an ostrich sitting in a corner of a
pen holding 50 birds. He says if she doesn't get up today,
tomorrow she'll be dead, because they go fast when they go. It
can be because of depression, loneliness, or simply the will
to die. There's no way to force them to eat and some stop
eating and let themselves starve to death.
I ask why one male had a large lump on the top and back of
his head. Ruben says he was hit. It would not have been
another ostrich but that they run into the fences and mess
their heads up easily.
Many birds have almost no feathers on their backs. Fred
says it's because the others eat them. Signs of stress: eating
feathers, lack of feathers, pacing along fences, lumps and
bruises on their heads and bodies from running into the fence
trying to escape.
Fred wants me to see the dead pile. We park and walk over
to where three ostriches lie dead. One is full grown and has
had his chest eaten away by a wild animal. One was three
months old and died in transit. The third just sat down one
day and never got back up. Fred said seven died last week and
showed me where they were buried. I take a picture of the
Herding Damages----Surgery We drive to where Ruben is
trying to catch the bleeding ostrich hen in the driveway
between pens. After her neck was torn wide open in an attempt
to catch her with the metal hook, the buyer rejected her.
The skin of the neck is so soft it cannot be made into
leather and it feels delicate like the skin of a house cat.
The cut opened her neck so that the muscles covering the neck
cartilage are totally exposed for about 14 inches. Ruben stops
her and puts an electric device trademarked as an "Ostrich
Master" on her beak.
She falls to the ground as an electrical hum is made by
the machine that lasts about 90 seconds. The sound stops and
her run slows, but she won't lie down or let anyone hold her.
She runs past us several times and regularly gets her leg
caught on the wire fence. Twice she falls so that her neck
hits the wire causing her to become tangled and frightened as
she struggles to get back on her feet.
Finally Ruben catches her and grabs her beak as she fights
to get away. He clips the wire on her upper beak and turns on
the electric juice. She falls to her knees and when Fred
attaches the second wire under her tail near her rectum, she
drops to the ground. As she continues to resist, the
electricity is turned up to 19 on the dial. Now she hardly
Ruben shows me how this process works by having me put my
hand on the base of the ostrich's head near the cut on her
skin. I can feel the electric current flowing through her. It
feels strong. As I hold my hand on her for 30 seconds I feel
the electricity being absorbed into my hand, like having my
hand in water where an electrical charge is.
Ruben washes her wound with soapy water and his gloved
hands (I watch him cut the suture wire with bare dirty hands)
and sews her up with stitches about a half inch apart. To call
a veterinarian costs $150-$200 just to sew her up, he says, so
they save money by doing it themselves. They learned to do it
this way because of the times the doctor arrived just to
charge them for the news the bird was going to die. A dead
bird is loss enough without paying for the vet, who usually
cannot save the bird's life.
Ruben is tying up a knot in the suture and Fred slaps the
hen on her thigh and says, "Now you're going to go for meat.
You could have gone to Brussels," and he laughs at her grave
error. The hen rolls over to the inside of the wire fence,
stumbles onto her feet, and dashes to the back of the pen.
Feeding Fred takes me in the van along the pens holding
up to 500 birds on this property totaling 80 acres including
the house, parking, etc. Pens 5 and 6 are about 30 X 60-80
feet each where they put the thin or sick birds. Here they get
"vitamins" in their food to keep them alive long enough to get
them to the slaughter plant. I see 12 to 20 adult ostriches
looking unhealthy and miserable in the sick pens.
We go to the young ostrich pen. The young ostriches are
pretty with their camouflage patterned feathers.
About half of the ostriches in the adult pens have bare
backs or buttocks. I am told the ostriches eat them off each
other because they are bored. Ostriches like to eat a variety
of foods they are not offered in their daily farm feed. Fred
adds there is no way to force an ostrich to eat once they
decide to stop. He says it is sad that these birds are so
depressed they will stop eating and starve until they die. The
farmers remedy the situation by slaughtering the starving bird
before it stops breathing. Otherwise they must count the dead
bird as a loss.
Aggressive Ostriches In a pen next to the sick pen are
two adult males who are said to be very aggressive. That is
why they are kept separate from the rest of the herd. This is
the smallest pen--30 X 50 feet.
Fred gets out to show me how aggressive these two are. He
enters the pen and picks up a large thin stick. He breaks off
pieces and throws them sharply at the ostrich closest to him.
The bird jumps back and freezes. Fred continues to throw
pieces of stick causing the bird to lunge away until both male
ostriches run to the corner of the pen farthest from Fred.
After quitting his attempted demonstration of how mean
ostriches can be, Fred excuses their behavior by saying they
did not attack him because of the truck engine sound.
Improper Fencing The pens have two types of fencing. One
is made of single strands of wire about 16 inches apart
running horizontally to posts 6 to 8 feet apart. This type of
fence results in broken necks and legs of many ostriches. They
suffer injuries from the impact of running into the fence
which does not evenly distribute the impact. The owner has not
replaced this fencing despite loss and damage of birds.
The second type of fence is made of small wire squares.
All the pens holding baby chicks have this type of fence
because of coyotes. The babies I saw spent most of the time
running along the side of the fence in a pacing fashion. In
the pen with the youngest chicks was a full grown female. She
was the only happy ostrich I had seen all day and her face was
very beautiful. Fred said she was picked to watch the babies
because she was considered the most protective. She would
chase away any animal that might try to enter the pen to eat
one of the young.
Feathers, Egg Shell, and Steaks at the Farewell I put an
armful of tail and wing feathers pulled out during catching
into my car. I cannot pick up all of them because there are so
many. They have no plans to use them so I say I want to wash
the poop off and put them in a vase when I get home. The base
of the feathers still has fresh blood and skin tissue attached
and lots of small bugs with a soft yellow back and small head.
I ask if they de-feather the birds periodically and am
told the owner wanted them to, but they refused because the
job would be very hard to do. They show me the freezer in the
corner of the office and hand me a sample of packaged ostrich
steaks. Chip owns a slaughterhouse as well as the farm and the
address is on the package. They encourage me to come back or
call if I have any more questions. A few weeks later I visit
the slaughterhouse and videotape the slaughter.