Wednesday, Jun 20 2012 06:14 PM

Bird is the word at ranch

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    Children are frequent visitors to Indian Point Ostrich Ranch, whether on school tours or with their families.

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    A curious ostrich mugs for the camera at Indian Point Ostrich Ranch in Tehachapi.

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    Children participate in ostrich bonding, in which they feed the hungry birds alfalfa pellets, at Indian Point Ostrich Ranch.

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BY STEFANI DIAS Californian assistant lifestyles editor sdias@bakersfield.com

To learn more about the dinosaurs, you'd go to a natural history museum. For exotic animals, you'd hit the zoo. And spotting celebrities may warrant a trip to Hollywood. But if you and the family are all about one-stop fun, head to Tehachapi's Indian Point Ostrich Ranch, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary on Saturday.

The daylong event is the first of its kind for Indian Point, according to volunteer spokesman David Brust, whose uncle, Joel, started the 80-acre operation in 1992.

Related Info

Indian Point Ostrich Ranch 20th Anniversary

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday

Where: Indian Point Ostrich Ranch, 28101 Giraudo Road, Tehachapi

Admission: Free

Information: 822-9131

OSTRICH FACTS

One hen can lay 50 eggs or more per year.

Ostrich eggs incubate for 42 days and weigh 3 pounds.

Ostrich can live to be 75 years old.

Ostrich chicks grow 1 foot per month.

Ostrich run 40 mph.

Ostrich are curious and often quite friendly.

Ostrich leather is used in boots, jackets and purses. Hides from Indian Point are sold to companies that manufacture for Louis Vuitton and Gucci.

Ostrich feathers are harvested for fashion, dusters and commercial use. The ranch sells its own line of feather dusters.

Source: Indian Point Ostrich Ranch

"It's an opportunity for us to thank all the people who have helped us over the last 20 years."

The ranch is home to hundreds of ostriches, the largest living species of bird, which paleontologists say have close ties to the dinosaurs.

The free festivities will include a bounce house, refreshments and ostrich egg shell painting.

"Ostrich eggs are the largest (animal) eggs. We'll have pieces of eggs to paint with Crayola painting pens for no spills."

Activities are guaranteed for at least the first 100 children, though Brust said everyone is welcome.

"I don't want to disappoint anybody," he said.

That's unlikely, with the unveiling of the ranch's newest project titled "Beware of the Bird." Brust was tight-lipped on details of the project, which is safe for all ages. He would only say that it was inspired by the numerous calls he receives from people wanting to ride an ostrich.

One bird you don't need to be wary of is Ralph, Indian Point's animal celebrity. Although there are hundreds of birds at the ranch, Brust describes Ralph as "the most videotaped and photographed ostrich in the world."

A standout on any tour, the 17 1⁄2-year-old cross-bred bird (one of the first at the ranch) is ready for his closeup. When not canoodling with girlfriend, Connie, the bird greets visitors and TV and film crews, of which Brust said there have been many over the years.

"We've been on 'Iron Chef' with those eggs. We were on 'Fear Factor' -- the original, not the new one. Contestants had to swallow the contents of an entire ostrich egg. ... All over different shows on the Discovery Channel. We shoot pilots for different programs. There's one for a competitor to 'Dirty Jobs.' They had to catch a bird."

Catching an ostrich is no easy feat, Brust said. "To do it the right way, it's hard."

The speedy birds, clocking in at a maximum 40 miles per hour, would leave even Olympic gold medal-winning sprinter Usain Bolt in the dust, Brust said.

Most of the birds, which can reach up to 500 pounds, are friendly and curious, often encouraged by the bonding experience, which allows guests to feed them alfalfa pellets.

"You get nose to beak with the ostrich. You can never get that close to animals at the zoo," he said.

That's an interesting turn for the facility that started with no public component.

Brust said his uncle, who retired at a young age, aimed to keep the ag land he bought intact for lower taxation, under the Williamson Act.

"In the early '90s, we looked at pot-bellied pigs, llamas, emus, apples, grapes (to grow). What made sense to my uncle was ostrich because they make so many products from them."

That productivity is in full effect at Indian Point, which produces meat, eggs, hides (used for shoes and purses), oils and lotions (made from animal fat) as well as jewelry crafted from eggshells and painted by local artists.

Tourism is another component of the business that came as more of a surprise.

"The first three years of our existence we didn't do anything with tourism. We were raising the birds, but we had so many people visiting."

Hundreds of visitors come to the 60-acre ranch weekly during the peak seasons of spring and summer, when the birds breed.

The breeding birds, kept in pairs, are typically Namibia blue or South African black ostriches.

(The third breed, Tanzanian red, aka the "biggest, baddest bird on the planet," driven by testosterone, is kept on the 20-acre farm where birds are allowed to flock away from the public.)

Brust, who will be on hand for Saturday's event, has lots to share about Indian Point and Tehachapi itself. Not surprising since he serves as vice chairman of the city's tourism commission.

"We want families to come up, families being our No. 1 customer," he said. "We have one of the best golf courses. We have a Buddhist temple. You can go there, get your Zen on, ring the peace bell. You can ride a glider plane here. There are a lot of things off the beaten path here."

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