North Carolina Newspapers is powered by Chronam.
nrwipr thp cim ******** d ^L"ngis6-7,0h
t4 I IvJLv^l Li lv_> OL41 X M' "" U rn Sports Pages , 8- 12
fm k mm
STAfF PHOTOS ?Y DOUG KUTTM
/M7 HEWETT'S ostriches eat right out of her hand. The Hewetts buy about 5 pounds of fresh kale every Meek BEST KNOWN FOR THEIR LONG NECKS, ostriches also have beautiful brown eyes
to give the birds as a treat.
Big Bird Breeders
'7/z Africa the lions won t even mess with
them on the prairie. You learn to respect
the big birds. "
? Roger Hewett, ostrich breeder
Ostrich Venture ,
Will Take Flight j
BY DOUG RIJTTER
Roger and Pal Hewett are really stick
ing their necks out. just like the big 4
birds in their back yard.
Strange as it sounds, the Hewctts are t
staking their future on the future of ostrich
They're convinced the goofy-looking,
long-necked birds will start showing up on
menus across the country in the form of os
trich burgers and ostrich fajitas. Anyone for
They're convinced we health-conscious,
cholesterol-hating Americans will start ?
craving osiricii once everybody finds out ii -
has fewer calories and less fat than beef or
They're convinced people will eventual
ly love carrying their cash around in os
trich-hide wallets while they're wearing os
trich-leather belts. Even housework won't
be so bad with ostrich-feather dusters.
As Brunswick County's only known os
trich breeders, the Hewetts believe all of
this will come to pass before the year 2000.
They're among a rapidly-growing group
of North Carolinians tapping into an indus
try that got its start in this country a few
years ago on the ranches of Oklahoma and
Mow in the world did they get involved
in something so bizarre?
They had always planned to run their
own business, but the Hewetts weren't
thinking about ostriches when they pur
chased land in the Town Creek area in the
They looked into all types of agriculture,
but nothing struck their fancy until two
years ago when they heard about ostrich
They visited a few ostrich operations in
Siler City and Charlotte, joined the N.C.
Ostrich Breeders Association and waited.
They were on a waiting list for one year be
fore two pair of 3-month-old ostrich chicks
For the Hewetts, raising ostriches has
been a learning process that started the first
day when Roger rented a van to transport
the baby birds to the new home in Town
"I expected them to be the size of turkeys
at 3 months old," Roger recalled. "The
biggest bird, the top of his head was touch
ing the top of the van. He was already
about 5 feet tall."
The three Hewett birds ? one died in an
accident ? are now 15 months old. They
stand about eight feet tall and weigh be
tween 325 and 350 pounds. That makes
them tough to handle.
"They're big and stubborn and danger
ous," Pat said. "They do have a wild streak
in them, and they'll kick you in a minute."
Roger knows about the kicking part first
hand. Ostrich kicks pack quite a punch
too ? 500 pounds per square inch. The birds
also bite and pinch with their duck-like
"In Africa the lions won't even mess
with them on the prairie," Roger says. "You
learn to respect the big birds."
Despite their size and awkward appear
ance, the Hewett birds move with amazing
grace around their sandy pen. Trudy, Vesta
and Novie can run 45 mph, but they don't
move that fast in their confined area behind
the Hewett home.
For now, the big birds live in a 6,250
square-foot pen surrounded by a chain-link
fence. Eventually, it will become the pen
for ostrich chicks after a new 10,800
square-foot "breeder pen" is completed.
A Brunswick County native, Roger used
to do construction work for a living. Now
he's using his skills to build the new pen
and an incubator for ostrich eggs.
The Hewetts hope their ostriches start
breeding next spring, but it could be anoth
er year before the birds mature.
"We based everything on three years,"
Pat said. "That's what we based our busi
ness on, but we're hoping for a stroke of
luck. We're hoping they'll start breeding
Most female ostriches lay between 30
and 50 eggs per year, but some have been
known to lay as many as 100 per year.
Ostriches live almost as long as humans,
and females will reproduce for about 40
The laying season usually starts in
March and runs through October, but the
Hewetts hope the season will last longer at
their ranch because of the warm climate
near the coast.
The Hewetts feed their birds tiny, green
pellets that look a lot like rabbit food. The
pellets contain alfalfa and other nutrients
that ostriches need in their diet. Fresh kale
MB. MFH ^ %'
OSTRICH BREEDER ROGER HEWETT pets the soft, black feathers of his male bird, Movie.
is served as an occasional treat.
But as Pat explained, the big birds are
not particularly picky eaters. Ostriches have
been known to consume rocks and nails.
"They'll eat anything they can get in their
mouth," Pat said.
That's why Roger walks the pen every
day, picking up loose sticks and anything
else that isn't healthy.
If these gangly creatures are ever going
to make it as alternative to ham or turkey,
they've got to taste good. Right?
"It's a real dark, ruby red meat," says
Pat. "It's real lean. There's almost no fat. It
has the texture and consistency of beef. It
tastes a little bit like beef, but it has its own
Pat says ostrich needs to be marinated,
because it tends to be dry. "I've substituted
it for beef in a lot of meals and it's great.
I'm a beef eater. I love beef, but I've
moved right over to ostrich with no prob
"Even ostrich burgers are delicious,"
adds Roger. "With everybody more health
conscious these days, ostrich is a great al
A 3-ounce serving of ostrich meat has %
calories, 22 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat
and 58 grams of cholesterol.
An equal portion of chicken contains 140
calories, 27 grams of protein, 3 grams of fat
and 73 grams of cholesterol. Beef contains
240 calories, 23 grams of protein, 15 grams
of fat and 77 grams of cholesterol.
Ostrich eggs? softball size with thick.
sturdy shells ? are edible as well. "I've
been told one of their eggs will make an
omelet that feeds 14 people." Roger said.
With fertile ostrich eggs selling for about
$1,50() each, though, that's a pretty expen
Ostriches aren't cheap by any means. A
pair of mature birds will run you between
$45,(MM) and $60,(MX). The Hewetts pur
chased their chicks for $6,000 a pair.
Chicks now sell for about $8,000 a pair.
To protect the birds from thieves, a tiny
computer microchip is implanted in each
bird's neck shortly after birth. Each chip
contains a different code that helps identify
the birds and discourage rustling.
Right now, there are about 25,000 os
triches in the United States. To grab a 1
percent share of the nation's meat market,
ranchers estimate they'll need to send about
200,000 to the slaughter house each year.
The slaughtering isn't expected to start
for four to six years. Breeders need to build
the ostrich population first. "Right now
people are selling their birds strictly for
breeding purposes," Pat said.
The nearest slaughter house is located in
Georgia. But the Hewetts expect one to
open in North Carolina within the next five
or six years.
"They're big in the European market.
Hopefully they're going to be big in the
United States once we get the numbers up,"
He sees ostrich ranching as a way to save
North Carolina farmers who have gone bel
ly up trying to grow tobacco or corn.
"A lot of farms have gone under here in
North Carolina," he said. "This new indus
try could pull those farms back out and get
them operating again."
Even though ostriches can't fly, the
Hewetts are convinced the big bird market
will take flight sooner or later. It'll take
time, but they're willing to wait.
"We're staying in for the long term,"
says Pat, who eventually hopes to give up
her job as a nurse at Cape Fear Hospital.
"We're real excited about being in this ear
ly. It's almost like pioneering."
There were only 16 members in the N.C.
Ostrich Breeders Association when the
Hewetts joined last winter. Now there are
over 100 members. More than 200 people
flocked to the group's meeting last month
"This will be in the long run a good busi
ness," Pat said. "You'll be able to buy os
trich at the store like lamb or deer. I think
we've got a good foothold in a pretty de
cent business. The signs that we see are ex
Twenty years from now, Pat pictures sev
eral pens in her back yard with hundreds of
birds running around, snapping their bills,
curiously craning their necks over the
chain-link fence at equally-curious visitors.
"When we first got into this we got
laughed at and ridiculed," Roger said.
"They're not laughing now. People are star
ing to come around and ask us about the