Wednesday, Jun 19 2013 12:36 PM

Big-bird alert: Ostrich ranch throws a party

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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

Ever heard that tale about ostriches hiding their heads in the sand? That's likely to ruffle some feathers over at Indian Point Ostrich Ranch.

"Put their heads in the ground? They don't. It's a myth," said David Brust, spokesman for the Tehachapi facility. Celebrating 21 years in business, the popular tourist destination will host a second "thank-you" event on Saturday for the community and guests who have helped it thrive.

Related Info

Indian Point Ostrich Ranch 21st Anniversary

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

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

Admission: Free; first 200 kids receive eggshell painting kit, tour and can feed ostriches ($2 to feed, $3 to purchase an egg shell piece, $4 guided tour after)

Information: 822-9131

Brust has a lot to discuss on the subject of ostriches, the largest living species of bird, with close ties to the dinosaurs, including the aforementioned tall tale.

"Now it's used more often to talk about politicians than ostriches. They (birds) are known to lay their head flat on the ground when a predator is around so they look like a rock."

There's no chance you'll miss the big birds, which can weigh up to 500 pounds and exceed nine feet in height -- like the ranch's big bird Bubba -- that populate the 60-acre ranch open to tourists.

"People are naturally drawn to them. They are the star of the show."

The massive flightless birds made the news earlier this month when the Powerhouse fire in the Lake Hughes area cut the power to an affiliate ranch, threatening the 50 incubating eggs just days from hatching. Joel Brust, Indian Point owner and David's uncle, delivered a generator and other supplies to the Quail Run ranch to help them along.

"That would have hurt bad if we lost those eggs," David Brust said. "Joel has really taken it upon himself to aid the ostrich industry across the board. Help them become a viable business like ours. We're franchising our store now with these other ranches."

Those eggs have hatched, although the hatchlings will remain at Quail Run for a few months before some make the trip to Indian Point. (Brust said to check back in mid-July for the young birds.)

The babies may not be on display, but the ranch offers an egg-cellent distraction with ostrich eggshell painting. Among the free perks for the first 200 children is a kit with paints and a piece of the massive eggshell, which, intact, holds the equivalent of 24 chicken eggs. Overseeing the painting station (which will cost $2 for children after the first 200) will be members of Southern Sierra Council Boy Scout Troop 3, many of whose members are working toward Eagle Scout status.

The Scouts will sell hot dogs and beverages after the free popcorn and soft drinks are distributed. Along with feeding themselves, guests will be able to feed the birds in the ostrich bonding area.

"They're getting nose to beak. ... The birds have a very small brain, about the size of a pea, most of what they know is instinct. Either they can see it or they can smell it, and they know there is food in the bowls."

Ostriches aren't very smart, Brust said, but can be friendly and curious. Only the best-behaved birds are on display for tourists, with more aggressive "rednecks" (Tanzanian reds) like Bubba staying behind the scenes at the farm.

For those with a sense of adventure, the ranch offers the Ostrich Experience, which provides guests with a photo of them riding an ostrich. Brust said much of the process is kept under wraps.

"That is the mystery. It is a mysterious process. It's a keepsake, especially for tourists."

Along with a commemorative photo, the ranch promotes its feather dusters, decorative plumes and line of ostrich oil and lotions.

"Our philosophy is to try and use every part of the bird that we can. They have a fat pocket and we render that. It's been used for thousands of years. Pliny the Elder, the reason he's famous, he was the first zoologist. The uses of ostrich oil, he called it 'liquid sunshine.'"

Although Brust could not get into specifics about what the future holds for Indian Point, he said innovation is key.

"Generally we're looking at getting more tourists to our ranch. Exposing them to the wonder of the ostrich. There are a lot of other new products that we can produce from the bird."

Promotion is part of the second annual event, which drew nearly 1,000 people to the ranch last year, but Brust said that's not the driving force.

"We really view this as a way to thank our neighbors, visitors, our friends that keep our business going for us. We're a small little mom-and-pop-owned ranch. It's important to keep our economy going for keeping us here 21 years."

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