Drive an hour southwest of downtown Buffalo and you'll find yourself in another world, where ostriches make their home. It's Budda's Whitetail Acres Ostrich Farm and Cheese Shanty in Westfield. Don Haskin, who admits to being nearly 70, got the nickname Budda (his own unique spelling) after he shaved his head as a young man. And these whitetails aren't deer, they are hulking African Black ostriches with glossy black bodies and extravagant white plume tails.
Do your ostrich roam around?
Oh no, no. They're enclosed. You don't get in a pen with my ostrich. They're not friendly. They're in and out of the barns all the time, though. In the wintertime, they sit on the snowbanks. They're very tough.
What kinds are in your herd?
I have six breeder hens that lay the eggs and two big roosters. The rest are all process birds that I just raise for meat. I keep them a year to get the full maturity, and then the meat and the hide are both prime. I save all the feathers I can, because people use them for everything. Plus they use the egg shells that are not fertile; I blow them out and people paint on them and carve them; I have beautiful decorated eggs, along with ostrich leather boots and bags.
How large is an ostrich egg?
They weigh five pounds when they go in the incubator; they're equal to 15 chicken eggs. I eat them - it tastes just like a chicken egg, only it's higher in protein. The meat is very low cholesterol and very low fat. Ostrich meat is red, just like beef.
Is there a demand for the meat?
I had 40 birds last year and I ran out of meat. I have them processed at a place where it's all inspected, and I sell ground meat, steaks, summer sausage, snack sticks, which are like Slim Jims, and ostrich jerky.
How did you start on ostrich?
I've lived on a farm all my life, and I've raised everything, then I read about this around 10 years ago and decided to try it. I just got into goats, too.
Goats are cute, aren't they?
They're cute, but I don't have them for being cute. There's a growing market interested in goat meat. The hides are also in demand.
Is it hard to get people to try eating goat or ostrich?
It's hard to convert people from one thing to another, but once people try ostrich, especially, I've had a lot of repeat customers. It tastes like beef to me.
Do people come to your farm to see the birds?
Well, we're open all the time, yearround, and in the summertime, we do a lot of tours. We're very busy, being right in the heart of tourist area and just a little bit from Chautauqua. You'd be surprised at the people who have never seen an ostrich.
They're not cuddly, are they?
Only when they're two or three days old. I have to babysit them for the first month; they're very delicate the first month. When they hatch, they're the size of a goose. But once they get out of the shell, they do nothing but eat and grow.