Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Travel Tuesday: Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch

The following review appears in this month's Times Publications.

"Ostrich bite." *

Truth in advertising at its best. Among things that were bitten at Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch last weekend: My hand, my camera, my shirt, my hair, and my son.

We’re going back as soon as we can.

If you're not heading to Picacho Peak, you might not even slow down enough to see the farm, off Exit #219 on Interstate 10, but you should. Nestled at the base of historic Picacho Peak Mountain, it's the largest ostrich ranch in the country. Over a thousand black South African ostrich hens live at the ranch, laying eggs and roaming its 600 acres.

Visitors can buy ostrich eggs (fresh, hollow, or painted), ostrich jerky, ostrich feather dusters (the owners insist they're the only kind that pick up dust), several other products at the entrance gift shop. But the real draw is participation.

Entrance is $5 for “kids 6 to 106,” and this includes a huge cup of pellet feed for the ostriches; as well as deer, goats, and donkeys; which can also be hand fed. The fee also includes a cup of nectar, which visitors can feed to rainbow lorikeets in an enclosed forest.

The products offered were fine, but I don’t think my son, David, has ever bypassed a gift shop so quickly. This should be a compliment, though -- he simply couldn’t wait to get to the animals. As we parked, a pair of ostriches peered over the fence at us. He was hooked.

Owner Rooster Cogburn (his given name’s D.C. Cogburn, but he took on "Rooster" in Oklahoma), sensitive to the fact that most people aren’t used to birds topping out 350 to 400 pounds, provides three levels of ostrich feeding. To stay unpecked, you can pour feed into chutes through the fence, where the ostriches will come and eat, safely on their own side. If you're feeling brave, walk up a wooden ramp and place the food in pans. If you’re insane, or are my son (OK, or me), you go immediately for the “ultimate ostrich interaction,” and invite the ostriches to eat from your hand. David was up the ramp, hand outstretched, in about 30 seconds.

Here's the thing: Ostriches are huge. You think you realize that, but it's a whole other thing to stand beneath a herd (“flock” doesn’t cut it) of giant, panting birds. These modern-day dinosaurs have presence. They towered over us at seven or eight feet, their enormous clawed, two-toed feet kicked up dust, and they breathed heavily, beaks wide open, waiting for food. Occasionally they’d get impatient and launch their heads over the fence in search of stray food. Unwary photographers focusing in the distance, leaning against the fence, are also ripe for enthusiastic pecking (something I learned firsthand).

With hundreds of ostriches wandering around the enclosure, you’re ensured a stampede of panting visitors. The humans learn the drill too -- hold your hand flat, down low, raise it slowly, and don’t curl up a stray finger. No leaning against the fence. Start small if you’re nervous. Feed the birds through the chutes first, and work your way up.

All of this makes the experience sound harrowing, and it was. But mostly it was ridiculously fun. It’s like the animal-feeding equivalent of riding a roller coaster -- everyone approaches it with a sense of foreboding and false bravado, a few folks scream or laugh, and as everyone walks away laughing and bragging, several people get right back in line.

After the ostriches, we took our nectar cups to the Rainbow Lorikeet Forest. The lorikeets are Australian parrots, and are absurdly beautiful, hence their name. They’re loud, playful, and inquisitive. David and I made our way to the back of the 5,000 square-foot enclosure, opened our nectar cups, and held out our arms. We were swiftly covered in a cacophonous blur of green, blue, orange, and yellow, as the lorikeets perched on our arms and sipped the nectar with their specially adapted tongues.

Many travelers make the ranch a quick stop on their way to Phoenix or Tucson, but there is plenty to occupy visitors. After the lorikeets, we refilled our pellets and fed the fallow deer (soft, adorable, and gentle enough for toddlers), the donkeys (frisky, and there are usually babies), and goats (from our lips -- you've got to try it). The ranch even runs 40-minute monster truck tours through the ranch and desert on weekends, for an extra behind-the-scenes look.

So, yes. Ostrich bite. But don't let that scare you off.

*In the printed version, you'll notice it's been amended to "Ostriches bite," which is quite correct. In fact, my son and I immediately noticed the sign's wording, but were a little distracted by the ostriches, well, biting. I imagine if you're warning someone, efficiency is more important than grammar.


Nathaniel W said... Best Blogger Tips

I love everything about this post. Especially those last two pictures.

Thérèse said... Best Blogger Tips

You have to check the Chandler Ostrich Festival,behind the scene, if you haven't yet, usually in March. There are emus too.

Carole DeAngeli said... Best Blogger Tips

Great post! Brought a smile to my face. Love the ostrich portraits. I will think differently about the ostrich farm as I pass it on the freeway.

Proud Mama said... Best Blogger Tips

I think this requires a field trip. I have driven past the farm, but never stopped. Thanks for the recommendation.

Ryan Barlow said... Best Blogger Tips

ha! this is amazing! reminds me of the drive to Tucson from Gilbert. Great story and photos! :)

Kim Hosey said... Best Blogger Tips

Thanks, Nathaniel. Those might be my favorites too. I love the hand vs. ostrich mouth.

Thérèse, I went to some of the Ostrich Festival activities a year or two ago, and we had a lot of fun. Can't say I'm too fond of ostrich riding, but the rest is great!

Thank you, Carole! They're really fun birds.

Proud Mama, yes, great field trip potential. You can make a short day of it and just go to the farm, or do it on your way to attractions in Tucson or Phoenix (depending on your direction). Definitely let me know if you go!

Ryan, thanks! You might be thinking of the same place. It's a little over half, maybe two-thirds the way to Tucson from Phoenix.

Mary Jo Cartledgehayes said... Best Blogger Tips

Hi, Kim! I just Pinned you on Pinterest, using the "Yes, ostriches bite" photo. Hope tons of folks come by to see your fabulous photos and read your blog.

Kim Hosey said... Best Blogger Tips

Mary Jo: Yea; thanks! I really have to get more into Pinterest one of these days. Glad you enjoyed the post. :-)

Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips

Looking UP to see a bird is really scary! But the eyelashes ... I covet the eyelashes.

I took a visitor from Mexico and she was freaked out.