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Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Monday, October 23, 2000

Only turkeys
invest in ostriches

Charles Memminger is on vacation. Following is one his favorite columns from the early days of Honolulu Lite. This first appeared Oct. 11, 1994.

AN acquaintance with a better understanding of ranching than I have gave me this bit of advice: never raise anything that eats a lot or is hard to catch.

I thought that was good advice, even though I never planned to go into ranching. It also explained why cows are so popular among farmers. You never see a farmer in a footrace with a Hereford. The spunkiness has been bred out of most cows. They just sort of stand around and look disinterested in life, which is not a bad attitude to have for a future hamburger steak.

The reason I bring this up is that there apparently is a nationwide trend in ostrich ranching.

Proponents of ostrich ranching point out that ostrich meat is low calorie and low fat, even though it is considered a "red meat." Marketers think that's a great selling point. (Ostrich ... the OTHER red meat!) In addition, ostrich leather is so tough it can stop a bullet.

But while some investors are flocking to the ostrich industry, others are leery.

Investors in one partnership paid $500,000 for 11 pairs of breeding ostriches. That's not chicken feed. There are some 4,000 ranches raising about 75,000 ostriches in the United States right now. Yet last year, Americans ate only 6,000 pounds of ostrich, or about 75 birds. THAT is chicken feed. Especially when you consider that even the crummiest McDonald's in the worst part of a city moves about 4,000 pounds of hamburger per day, in between drive-by shootings.

Ostrich breeding may not be a great idea because it clearly violates both basic principals of animal ranching: ostriches eat a lot and they are hard to catch. It takes a hell of a lot of feed to keep a bird the size of a refrigerator happy. And on those 2,000-horsepower drumsticks, ostriches can run like the dickens. (Not to mention ostriches are just plain mean. They consider spitting an acceptable form of greeting and their favorite pastime is trying to peck out your eyeball.)

BUT there are still possibilities. With a few changes, ostriches may yet become a mainstream comestible and a good investment to boot. Or, as boots, even. And car seats, jackets and couches. Ostrich hide is as soft as the finest Corinthian leather, but as indestructible as the skin of a T. rex.

On the food front, marketers have to come up with a better term for ostrich meat than "ostrich meat." We don't eat "cow meat." We eat beef, steaks and sirloin. No one wants to think they are eating dead ostrich. I suggest marketers come up with acceptable edible terms for ostrich like fleetmeat, quickchick, turbochops, swiftlets, speedchuncks and skedaddle-dumplings.

And ranchers are going to have to solve this ostrich mobility problem. They've got to slow these buggers down. With those long necks, they can see the rancher coming a mile away and can be in the next county before the rancher can throw his lasso.

I suggest cross breeding them with slower animals, such as pigs. The resulting animal might look a little funny but think of possibilities! Imagine enjoying a bacon strip the size of a surfboard. And the pork-strich would actually be good for you.

If they could manage that, I'd call Charles Schwab tomorrow.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to

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