And the low cost of keeping ostriches helped make it possible to keep them when the market fell through. Where a cow eats 25 to 30 pounds of feed a day, an ostrich, Stepp says, eats "about 3 to 5 pounds a day, depending on the time of year. During the breeding season they can actually go down to a pound, pound and a half."
Handling the birds is a relatively simple process, though not without some danger. "Really there is only one danger," Stepp explains. "You see their backward knees. They lift that knee up, and they kick straight forward, and their legs are really strong. They get you with that big toenail, which is very hard. But we never fight with them. If they are aggressive, then we stay away. I tell my keeper, 'If they come up and hassle with you, wait for an hour. Don't test them, because you can't win. They will hurt you, maybe even kill you.' "
Stepp says he learned that lesson the hard way. "I got kicked once. After that I started figuring out better ways to handle the birds."
The chief factor that allowed Stepp to keep his farm, he says, is that he found markets for the meat. "I began selling to Japan, selling to England, selling to Venezuela," he says, "but this past year all my meat went to BJ's Distribution in New York City. So I think it may finally be catching on here in America."
Still, Stepp's ostrich operation isn't profitable. To "make the farm pay for itself" he grows flowers to sell to florists and pumpkins to supply Bates Nut Farm's Halloween pumpkin business. "But," he concludes, "I think we may see the ostrich market start to grow here soon."