So, I've always known that God has made some pretty interesting creatures, but today we got the low down on one of the most awesome, yet bizarre things He has made. Can you guess what it is? I'll give you some interesting facts to help you out.
This creature eats rocks to help it digest its food
This creature has a toenail that grows up to 7 centimeters (3 inches) long
This creature usually walks on its tiptoes
This creature eats its own eggs when it is lacking in calcium
This creature has two sets of nostrils
Do you know what it is?? Well if you haven't figured it out, I'll tell you. This amazing creature, that could have only been thought up by our creative God is the Ostrich. Today, after leaving Knysna, we headed north to Outdshoorn, the ostrich capital of South Africa. There are over 400 ostrich farms in the area, including a few that do tours and other ostrich related activities. We were about 10 km from Outdshoorn when Tyson started hollering that he had to use the bathroom. We saw a sign for a place called Chandelier Game Lodge about a km later, so we decided we may as well just check out the Ostriches here rather than making Tyson suffer for another 10 km. Thank God for Tyson's small bladder, because we had the BEST time.
As soon as we walked through the gate, Tyson forgot all about needing to pee. Right in front of us were a mom and baby zebra, a few bok, and lots of ducks and geese. We all headed right over to get a closer look. The mom zebra kept putting her head all the way through the fence, it was kind of like a corral, not a chain link fence. There was a sign that said “Pet and feed animals at your own risk”, so my dad started petting the zebra. How cool. Of course, I had to try it too. She was so soft and her mane was kind of bristly, but not really hard and prickly. I never thought I would ever pet a zebra, but now I have. There were a bunch of baby ducklings out on the pond, including one little yellow one that was swimming all alone. It was so cute. The kids loved seeing the animals, and we hadn't even started our tour yet.
The biggest reason that we had such a great time today was our tour guide. She had only been working there for 8 months, but I would have never guessed that. She was so patient with the kids, willing to answer all of our questions, and told us so much about the ostrich in a way that was never boring. Our first stop was a breeding pen. There was a male and female in one large pen, and right next to them was a pen with at least 20 ostriches, some adults, some adolescents. Darin and I both let the male “bite” our hands. Ostriches don't have teeth, so it didn't really hurt unless he happened to just catch a bit of skin. Both birds were right up next to the fence so we could get a really good look at them. They are pretty funny looking. I've always thought that an ostrich neck would feel like chicken skin, or like a roosters comb, but it was actually very soft. We learned that the female ostrich lays between 100-120 eggs during the egg laying season and that of these, 80-90 will hatch. The other 30-40 eggs are eaten by the female when she is low in calcium. The female sits on the eggs during the day and the male sits on them at night. Most birds sit on their eggs to keep them warm, but the ostrich sits on its egg to cool it down. It takes 42 days for the egg to hatch, and during the last two days, the male takes over all the egg sitting duties. When he hears the chicks calling from their eggs, he uses his breastbone to crack the egg and then chips away at it with his beak until the chick can get out. There are up to 16 eggs in the nest at one time, so he is one busy guy.
Next, we went into a pen with another pair of ostriches. We were hoping to pet some babies, which were one pen over, but none would come close enough for our guide to grab. She said she could not go into the pen because the male would charge at full speed, up to 60 km (40 miles) an hour, which makes it the second fastest land animal, second only to the cheetah. After he charged, he would then kick whoever was in his way and cut them with his giant toenail. So we didn't get to hold a baby ostrich, but they were cute. So we went in the pen with a pair of ostriches that only had eggs, not babies. We got to feed them pellets, pet them, stand on the egg (it can withstand up to 180 kg, or roughly 400 pounds) and learn more interesting ostrich facts. There were only 2 eggs in the nest, which was just a hole that the male digs in the sand. One of the eggs was actually just outside of the nest. Our guide said that the female pushed it out because she knew that there was a hole in it so there would never be a chick.
Now for some more ostrich trivia. Did you know that the when the ostrich hides its head in the sand, it believes that it cannot be seen? The male ostrich is dark with white feathers on the tips of his wings and tail. When he sits on the eggs, he digs his feathers into the sand to make them dirty so he is camouflaged from predators. Ostriches have membranes that shut over their eyes to keep dust from getting in them. They open and close side to side instead of up and down. They also have an eyelid that shuts from the bottom when they want to sleep.
Ok, next we headed over to a little arena and sat on some bleachers. The “jockeys”, which is what they call the workers who deal with the ostriches, caught a male named “Speedy” and put him in a little wooden blockade so he couldn't kick or run away. It was funny watching them catch an ostrich. 3 or 4 guys would run after one ostrich, corner it, then someone would grab the tail, and someone else the neck. Then they guy who grabbed the neck would slip a bag over the ostriches head. Once the ostrich can't see, it will follow where ever it is led. Speedy was a very nice ostrich. We all got a chance to climb on Speedy and give him a hug. We also found out some more interesting facts about the ostrich. Did you know that what looks like an ostrich's knee is actually it's heel/ankle? From that joint down is its foot, and while it usually stands on its tiptoes, it does rest on its whole foot at times. It looked really strange when it did. The knee of the ostrich is actually up where it's leg connects to it's body, or where you'd think a hip would be. If you pluck an ostrich feather too soon, the ostrich will bleed. You have to wait until the feather is fully grown before plucking it. However, if you don't pluck the feathers, they will fall out and some of them will not grow back in properly. An ostrich wing is actually like an arm. It has three joints, a shoulder, elbow and wrist, and there are also 3 little fingers hidden under feathers, 2 that you could see and one that is under skin. The male uses one of the fingers to help dig the nest. Our guide also demonstrated how flexible an ostrich neck is. She hooked one arm around Speedy's neck and pulled his head down and around with her other hand. There are 19 vertabrae in an ostrich neck and it can reach all the way around its body and peck at its own tail!
So, now we had learned all sorts of cool facts about these odd looking birds and we had been able to feed and pet them. All that was left now was to get on and take a ride. My dad went first. Two of the jockeys were holding on to the ends of the ostriches wings and my dad had to hold on under the front of the wings, wrap his legs around the ostrich's chest, lean back and ride. That ostrich was crazy fast. After about 10 seconds, the jockeys let go and PJ was riding that ostrich all by himself. It really was pretty funny looking. Then they told him to let go of the wings and slip off, a feat he preformed with great skill. Now it was time for the next rider. My dear husband was very disappointed to find out that the ostriches at this particular farm would not be able to accommodate his weight, so of course I had to step up and experience ostrich riding for the both of us. Once again I was wearing my flip flops, which would prove to be problematic. (Other times my flip flops have been an issue include the quad ride and bungee jump). I did feel pretty comfortable as I was told the jockeys do not let go of the ostrich for female riders, so I hopped on my ostrich, grabbed under its wings, wrapped my feet around its chest and away we went. Ok, this has been caught on video so I won't even try to lie about it. I looked ridiculous and sounded even worse. I was letting out little screams that sounded more like yips and had a look of terror on my face. I was trying to lean back and hold on and do all the things I was supposed to do, but then my flip flop started to fall off. So I unwrapped one of my legs and tried to wiggle my foot around to get the shoe back on. The jockey on that side said “put your leg down” and as I tried to do this, some part of the bird, it's leg or breastbone, connected with my ankle. So I'm yipping, with my face pulled back like I'm in a wind tunnel, the ostrich is tearing around and I am thinking for sure, these jockeys are going to lose their grip and I am going to get seriously injured. Then my flip flop fell off, I heard someone say “let go of the wings” and I was lifted off the beast, safe and sound. If you get a chance to see the video, you will hear my mom howling with laughter in the background. We watched it twice tonight and she was laughing so hard she almost cried. I am just glad I took the opportunity to ride an ostrich, ridiculous as I may have looked.
After hearing my screams, Tyson did NOT want to take a ride of his own, but Darin was able to get Jori to go on by promising to walk along beside her. She looked so cute. The ostrich the jockeys choose for her was really gentle and kind of plodded along, but it was still going fast enough that her hair was blowing backwards in the wind. After seeing that his little sis survived the ostrich ride, Tyson decided that he could do it too. He was so proud of himself and can't wait to show his friends the video of him riding an ostrich. My mom was definitely NOT going to ride an ostrich, so we left the bench area, walked down a fence line and then watched two of the jockeys race. Those ostriches were going so fast.
After all the ostrich fun, we had a little picnic over by the ducks and zebra. Then we got in the van and started making our way to Graaff-Reinet where we would be staying for the night. We were about 20 minutes down the rode from the ostrich farm when we had to make an unfortunate detour back into town. Poor Jori, who had been acting strange all day, threw up all over her blanky and in Papa's bag of cameras, papers and passports. Darin pulled right over, but it was such a mess we decided to turn back to the town of Oudtshoorn, which we had just driven out of. We pulled into a gas station, cleaned her up as best as we could, moved her to the middle seat, and were on our way again. Both kids ended up sleeping for a little over an hour, which was wonderful. Jori seemed to feel a lot better after throwing up, but was still looking pretty sad. I think we were all happy to pull up to our lodging for the night.
As soon as we got all of the luggage out of the van, my parents took off for town. There are several old churches and lots of Dutch architecture in this town, so they are happy as can be. Darin, the kids and I walked into town to get some medicine for Jori's fever and to look for dinner. Almost everything around here closes at 5, but we finally found a Spur that was open. So we ate, then went to the grocery store to get some pop. We ran into my parents in the store so we all walked home together. It is 10:30 right now, we're done playing cards and are getting ready to go to bed. It has been a busy, but very entertaining day. Tomorrow we head for Bloemfontein, the last night of our big trip to the Cape.