OBSESSIONS: Prehistoric Poultry

ostrich

A 200-pound bird and her outsize egg.

EAST HAMPTON—Olivia the ostrich lives by the bay in Amagansett with her caretakers, Pam and Darryl Glennon. The Glennons own Spring Close Farm and Nursery in East Hampton. Mrs. Glennon works the Little Farm Stand on Spring Close Highway every day in the growing season, which is now being stretched as far as it can go before their holiday greenery starts to make an appearance. Onions, peppers and tomatoes are laid out in sparse rows on wooden tables. Jams and jellies are scattered here and there.

But what stands out in the little red shed is an outsize egg. It sits on the checkout counter as if it were the jewel of the entire farm. It is large, at three pounds, creamy beige, perfectly egg-shaped, hard shelled and smoothly dimpled. This eggshell, Olivia’s, is hollow. The egg was poured out through a small Dremeled hole, and the inside was bleached. The shell is so sturdy it is used to make bowls, as demonstrated on a shelf behind Mrs. Glennon.

Olivia is 12 years old. The Glennons found her through “a swap or sell it guild,” while visiting Mrs. Glennon’s Uncle Harry in Caanan, Maine, when the baby bird was only two pounds. Now closer to 200 pounds, Olivia is not a baby anymore. More like an eight-foot diva. Her roost includes two potbellied pigs, two cats, a pony, a horse and five dogs. She will hiss at strange dogs in the yard and sometimes she will try to bite the pigs’ tails. (Female ostriches are generally more easygoing than males.) Olivia has never seen another ostrich.

At one point the Glennons thought maybe Olivia would be better off at the Long Island Game Farm so she could meet others of her type, perhaps mate and have chicks of her own.

“They didn’t want her. The male would have killed her,” Mrs. Glennon says. “Once we heard that, we said, ‘Oh, no.'”

Since ancient times, ostriches have entranced humans. Roman aristocracy dined on them and coveted their long iridescent tail feathers. Even today, the skin is an exotic source of leather for shoes and handbags. And the feathers are used for dusting very expensive cars because they are so soft, they do not scratch. Olivia laid 27 eggs from January to August of 2009—one at a time.

“She just lays it and walks away,” Mrs. Glennon says, “Maybe if they were fertile, she might lay on them but she must know. I can usually tell when she is about to lay an egg because she doesn’t eat the day before. If I see food in her bucket the next day, ‘oh, Olivia’s going to have an egg soon.'”

Customers are not exactly knocking down the farm stand for these occasional layings. One regular buys two at a time at $20 a piece. “She beats it up and puts it in ice cubes trays and freezes it. Whenever she needs an egg she takes a cube out.” Mrs. Glennon says.

One ostrich egg may hold up to three dozen chicken eggs. An ostrich egg can last up to one week out of the shell in the refrigerator and up to a year in the shell. They are lower in cholesterol than a chicken’s egg and higher in omega-3 essential fatty acids. Cooks say they whip up light and frothy. (Ostrich meat, for that matter, tastes like beef, but is leaner, with little cholesterol and fewer calories than chicken or turkey.)

Olivia is fed five pounds of Purina Ostrich Chow green pellets in the morning and picks at it all day. For a change, she loves the soft hay used for the horses.

“She likes white stuff, like bread,” says Mrs. Glennon. “One time my daughter’s white bathing suit fell off the clothing
line. I said, ‘Heather, Olivia is going to eat your bathing suit. Heather…’ gone.”

As massive as she is, Olivia is every bit as graceful as more diminutive fowl. Like a dinosaur from a Japanese horror movie, Olivia looks prehistoric—particularly her taut face and wiry legs. In fact, ostriches can live to be 100 years old, which means there is a good chance Olivia could outlive her caretakers.

Just don’t tell Olivia that.

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