Nestled in the countryside of Alden, Iowa lies a quaint, bird-filled farmstead. Helen and Arthur Wall–owners of the farmstead–wake each morning to feed their feathered friends, collect eggs, and make rounds through the flock.
Although this sounds like a typical day in rural Iowa, the Wall’s farm is far from ordinary. Unlike most poultry farms in the Midwest, ostrich have exclusively resided at the Wall’s Obviously Ostrich Farm since 1994 and will continue to be raised there for generations to come.
Decades of inconsistent livestock prices and little return on investment have driven many farmers to consider diversifying operations or forcibly sell-out. For Helen and Arthur, exploration and curiosity led the couple to the ostrich industry. Twenty-five years later, the Wall’s niche market has prospered, demonstrating the need for variation in meat options.
Mrs. Wall reflected on the start-up of the Obviously Ostrich Farm.
“We started in 1994, and bought eight, unrelated yearlings; four boys and four girls. We were looking for something in the alternative agriculture–not corn, soybeans, hogs, or cattle–that would have an income stream that could perhaps support or supplement income from the other commodities when their prices might dip.”
Value added means a lot to all aspects of agriculture, but Helen said all components of the ostrich are specifically essential to their operation.
“There is a huge untapped demand for the products. We can do value added with just about every aspect of the ostrich. We sell the meat frozen; we usually ship it or we sell it from the farm. We have leather purses, card cases, billfolds and things like that. We make some of the meat into smoked products like sticks, jerky, and summer sausage that are shelf-stable so that we can sell them anywhere; we don’t have to have a freezer or refrigeration.”
As the hype surrounding ostrich products continues to increase, the Wall’s vocalized the need for more producers in order to keep up with demand.
“Yes, we need more people to grow meat birds. The demand is there. We find ourselves trying to just get by to supply our regular customers and we have, sometimes, misgivings about trying to expand our market because we don’t want to run out for anybody that we’re normally supplying.”
Helen explained her customer’s appreciation and continued desire for the red meat.
“Ostrich is a very lean and healthy red meat. Sometimes we like to promote it [ostrich] as a heart-healthy meat. But once it’s been eaten, people like it because it tastes so good, that do you really care if it’s heart-healthy, if it tastes good?”