Gerbi and Marco Beukeboom needed some sort of attraction when they opened their bed and breakfast in Lone Butte four years ago.
They considered horses, llamas and alpacas but they were already in abundance in the South Cariboo. After stumbling on ostrich farming, the Beukebooms decided to give it a try, buying a few big birds and six breeders before opening the Ostrich Feather B&B.
“We’ve noticed there’s a lot of interest because ‘who has them?’ especially in this area,” said Gerbi, who grew up on a dairy farm in the Netherlands.
The Beukebooms, who emigrated to Canada from the Netherlands with their children in 2009, now have about 16 yearling ostriches, six seven-month-old ostriches and a flock of 12 breeding birds, consisting of four roosters and eight hens. While one might not expect an African animal to do well in the Canadian climate, Gerdi said the birds can walk in the snow with no problem, even in temperatures as low as -30C.
Marco said the one downside is that ostriches breed with the weather. This means that while Cariboo winters are fine for them to live in, it makes their breeding season shorter. “Our chicks are always late, it’s not like a sheep with their lambs, we have to wait longer,” he said.
The breeding season usually starts in late April to early May and lasts until October. Each hen can lay up to 20 eggs a year and when they are fertilized, the eggs go into the incubator to be kept warm until hatching. The most critical part of ostrich farming comes during the first three months when the chicks are kept under heating lamps 24/7 in a converted carport attached to their house called ‘the daycare’.
As they get older, the challenge is keeping the birds from eating everything from pens to keys, phones and anything else in their sights.
“The eyeballs are bigger than the brains, you can tell by the behaviour. In the wild, only three percent of chicks survive,” Gerbi said, adding she needs to train them to only eat food.
The chicks grow fast and within a few months will be taller than Gerbi’s own six-foot height. Incredibly social and friendly, the birds will be moved into a pen and then into an old converted sheep barn before eventually being allowed to roam the property with the other yearlings.
Gerbi does much of the day-to-day work around the farm, such as helping out guests, caring for the ostriches and giving tours to locals and tourists. Marco, meanwhile, works a second job to help buy the feed for the ostriches and helps out around the farm whenever he’s off.
Knocking on wood, Gerbi said they haven’t had any issues with predators but added the bigger ostriches should be capable of defending themselves, as in the wild they’ve been known to kill lions. Ostriches can live up to 75 years, Gerbi said with a laugh, which means they’ll likely outlive her and Marco.
It may not always be easy to do, but Marco and Gerbi said they have no regrets when it comes to opening the farm. Marco said they love working with ostriches, which provide red meat that’s low in cholesterol and high in protein while being economical with land use compared to cows. Although the couple doesn’t sell fertilized eggs, Gerbi said she will sell unfertilized eggs, as they did last month when some of the hens laid early due to the warm weather.
The B&B side of the business had been doing well until COVID-19, Gerbi said, which wiped out a lot of their reservations from tourists. They still have a single room available per health regulations but otherwise are relying more on giving hour-long tours of the farm to groups of five for $25 a tour, Gerbi said. Anyone looking to set up a tour can give Gerbi a call at 250-395-6081.
“Hopefully when the COVID thing ends, we’ll have lots of bookings.”