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Imagine an egg, which weighs one and a half kilo and hatches into a chick as large as a full-grown hen. Imagine its long-necked mother, taller and heavier than most men, with powerful legs running as fast as a car. Imagine 600 of these creatures huddling as a herd in a farm nestled on the mountain. Fascinated yet scared, visitors of the farm are relieved to know that ostriches don't fly.
Raised as livestock animals weighing over 100 kilos each, around 600 ostriches - descendants of several pairs brought from Australia and the United States - found a home in the 10-hectare Philippine Ostrich and Crocodile Farms, Inc., an upland ranch owned by the Filipino-Chinese Limketkai family in Barangay Malanang. In the nearby Cagayan de Oro City, the Limketkai family owns one of the oldest and most familiar shopping malls.
The playful giant birds, unafraid of shorter humans, stretch their necks above the seven-foot barbed-wired fence to mingle with fascinated tourists. While they delight tourists simply by showing their huge form and round unsuspecting eyes, they are kept in the farm, primarily not for tourism, but to supply low-fat meat to fine diners in Metro Manila and other urban centers.
"The ostrich meat tastes good," assured Basilio Jampet, the farm supervisor. This, a group of farm visitors quickly believed when informed that a kilo of the premium cut of Ostrich meat, which tastes more like beef than chicken, is sold at P749. The visitors on that day were participants in the recently concluded 7th Southern Philippines Cluster Meeting of the Department of Agriculture held in the nearby Cagayan de Oro City.
Jampet said the choice cut of Ostrich meat sells for P439 a kilo while its ground meat costs P250 a kilo. Eggs, and there are hundreds of them that hatch each day, are sold between P250 and P500 apiece. A mother ostrich, from as young as 18 months to as old as 20 years, can lay three eggs a week. An ostrich egg has an incubation period of 42 days.
"Ostrich has a lifespan of 70 years, but their productive stage is only 15 to 20 years," Jampet said. "The slaughter age is eight to 10 months. Those that get sick, we have good use for them. We raise crocodiles."
Pioneering is not the only adjective that describes the Northern Mindanao ostrich farm. It is highly profitable. A mother ostrich could lay as many as 100 eggs each year, with a maximum selling price of P500 apiece. This means a mother ostrich can provide the farm a yearly revenue of P50,000.
On a daily basis, a matured ostrich consumes only two kilos of commercial feeds, the same food given to chicken, ducks and other domesticated fowls. Mortality rate is low among matured ostriches, which are sometimes infected with diseases common among chicken, like the Newcastle Disease. Among chicks below two weeks old, the mortality rate is 20 percent. Asked whether ostriches are also infected with bird flu, Jampet simply responded with a smile.
"It was difficult to raise ostrich at the start. But as we learned from our own experiences, we were able to adopt the proper technology to increase the ostrich population in the farm, which is the first and largest in the Philippines," Jampet claimed.
A proof of the farm's remarkable gains is the fact that it was almost non-existent less than a decade ago. Engineer Lorenzo U. Limketkai and his son Heintje first brought three pairs of ostriches from Australia only in July 1996. A month later, one of the breeders laid the first ostrich egg in the Philippines, although it didn't hatch due to poor facilities and mishandling. This was corrected after the owners upgraded their facility and purchased a computerized hatching and incubating equipment.
It was in February 1997 when the first ostrich egg was successfully hatched in the Philippines. The owners later purchased more breeders from Texas. In December 1997, the farm sold its first ostrich meat to those who have urbane taste for low-calorie meat.
Today, Jampet noted that the Philippine Ostrich and Crocodile Farms, Inc., is able to supply around 3,000 kilos of red meat from 30 ostriches to supermarkets and deli shops mostly in Metro Manila each month. The farm, which has only six workers, is famous for the blast frozen, vacuumed-packed Big Bird Ostrich Meat, named after the famous Sesame Street cartoon character.
The farm takes pride in what it called high nutrition value of ostrich meat. Jampet noted that while tasting like beef, ostrich meat has only 2.8 grams of fat for every serving of 100 grams, much lower than chicken's 7 grams, beef's 9.3 grams and pork's 9.7 grams.
The farm recommends a serving size of 100 to 140 grams of ostrich meat, which it said is enough to satisfy the diner's appetite for a night because of the meat's tenderness and high protein content.
Among the famous ostrich recipes are Asian ostrich kebobs, Asian satay with sesame seeds, baked ostrich burgers, chicken fried ostrich, ostrich and shrimp in garlic sauce, ostrich appetizer crescents, ostrich chili, ostrich cutlets, and ostrich cutlets diane.
There are also the delectable ostrich fillets with shallots and brandy, ostrich fillets with wild mushroom, ostrich hors d'oeuvres, ostrich schnitzel, ostrich steaks, ostrich steak marinated with fresh black pepper, ostrich tenderloin fillets, over roasted ostrich, peppered ostrich cutlets, stir-fry ostrich and tomato and sweet and sour meatballs.
While the visitors were not able to sample the ostrich meat during the tour, they were served with fascinated views of live ostriches in their most animated poses. Knowing that ostrich is the largest bird species in the planet, visitors could not ask for more.
The Department of Tourism (DOT) listed a visit to Philippine Ostrich and Crocodile Farms, Inc. as a part of the recommended itinerary for visitors in Northern Mindanao, which groups five provinces.
Apart from the ostrich tour, tourism in the region also offers wide possibilities of excitement - from the white powdered sand beach resorts and volcanoes of Camiguin to idyllic pineapple and vegetable plantations in the hinterlands of Bukidnon to the white water rapids of Cagayan de Oro River to the urban face of Cagayan de Oro City.
Cagayan de Oro City, for one, offers a glimpse of Mindanao seething forth with economic activities. The city is a favorite site of national or even international business conferences and draws all kinds of people, from upland farmers with their fruits and vegetable harvests to sophisticated foreign tourists on the look out for a unique travel experience.
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