MAJESTIC: Jill the ostrich is now happily retired at the Brisbane Valley Ostrich and Fish Farm, based in Esk.
MAJESTIC: Jill the ostrich is now happily retired at the Brisbane Valley Ostrich and Fish Farm, based in Esk. Lachlan McIvor

From growing watermelons to breeding ostriches

ALAN and Patti Jaenke are not afraid to take a risk.

Based in Esk, they transitioned from one of the biggest watermelon growers in the country to farming ostriches in the early 1990s.

To start off their new venture they bought two pairs of the birds, at a cost of $100,000, to start breeding.

As the birds were just under a year old and don't start to lay until they're around three-years-old, the pair used the time in between to start putting the framework in place, including yards, pens and an incubator room.

"Alan said if this works, I'll eat my hat... well he had to eat it,” Mrs Jaenke laughed.

Soon enough, the birds began to lay ahead of schedule and the Jaenkes very quickly got a sizeable return on their initial investment.

"I just never left them at all, they got the best of feed and the best of attention, they performed all right,” she said.

"It was very intense farming, we had to be there, we couldn't take the chance of our birds getting hurt or damaged or anything, especially our chicks, you had to be with them 24/7.

"One hen laid 120 eggs (in the first year) and that's her body weight... out of that 120 I got around 90 saleable chickens.”

The chicks would sell for between $6000-8000 each.

The Jaenkes would incubate for a decade before prices in the industry dropped and they decided it was about time they hung up their hats as ostrich farmers.

Brisbane Valley Ostrich and Fish Farm owner Patti Jaenke with 'Duck' the gander.
Brisbane Valley Ostrich and Fish Farm owner Patti Jaenke with 'Duck' the gander. Lachlan McIvor

"Where the ostrich industry fell down, I can say honestly now is that Queensland never had an abattoir built for them,” she said.

"They're different to cattle, you can't put their hide through the machine like you put the cattle hide.

"They've got little hills on them where the feathers are plucked, so the bird has to be killed, and they have to be plucked, and then they have to be skinned by hand because the ostrich hide is the Rolls Royce of leather.”

As the ostrich industry began to die down, they decided to ramp up the fish farm on their property.

It gave visitors a chance to tour the farm and check out the incredible diversity of bird species on the Esk property, before spending a few peaceful hours with a rod in hand.

Currently the property is inhabited by two ostriches, now happily retired, emus, black swans, geese, guinea fowls and a whole host of other wildlife.

"The people with the tourist buses that come in, they just love that, the city people just love the freedom down there,” she said.

"No traffic noise and the wildlife. They just come to me, I don't have to advertise, they just show up at my gate.”

But the Jaenkes are now ready to take the next step in their lives and they have begun to wind down tours of the Brisbane Valley Ostrich and Fish Farm.

"I can't put a time frame on it, we are winding down a little, every year it's a bit less and less,” she said.

"This year I probably have only done five different groups (whereas) I usually do two or three a week.

"It's time in our life again now to take another step back and get a life of our own... we have three beautiful grandchildren and we'd like to spend more time with them.”

Jill the female ostrich with Brisbane Valley Ostrich and Fish Farm owner Patti Jaenke.
Jill the female ostrich with Brisbane Valley Ostrich and Fish Farm owner Patti Jaenke. Lachlan McIvor

Where once hundreds of ostriches roamed the farm, now just two remain - Jill and Captain.

The pair no longer produce eggs but their feathers, particularly from the male bird, are still very much in demand from brides to artists to military officers.

"We've recently just plucked, I always pluck the birds before summer comes, because I get the beautiful quality feather from the male bird... I do the girl as well, her feathers are just not as beautiful as his,” she said.

"That helps him produce another lot of beautiful feathers for next year, it's just like getting a hair cut.”

Mrs Jaenke creates art from various types of bird eggs and feathers and now teachers others how to do the same.

"I teach a lot of craft and I still collect eggs, I can't stop it... I seem to have had an affiliation with eggs and feathers all my life,” she said.

While she would continue to care for the wildlife on her property, there was no doubt Mrs Jaenke was going to miss teaching people about the incredible birds she has lived alongside for so many years.

"I guess I just feel so passionate about it and I love talking to people and making them happy,” she said.


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