Ostrich farm opens to the public

Dan Nelson feeds a pair of ostriches at the Gilroy Ostrich Farm. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

The largest and heaviest bird in the world is also the fastest on land.

Ostriches can grow to 9 feet tall and weigh more than 300 pounds. While they can’t fly, somehow they can run more than 40 mph. And the round, gangly, yet muscular bird can live for roughly 50 years.

Dan Nelson has a simple description for these unique-looking animals.

“They’re beautiful birds,” he said.

Nelson, a Morgan Hill-based developer who has worked on projects in the South Valley and beyond, is the founder of the Gilroy Ostrich Farm, located on Pacheco Pass Highway near the intersection of San Felipe Road. He purchased the 114-acre property in 2018 to embark on a quest to bring the African native birds to not only the South Valley and San Benito communities, but to the state as a whole.

The venue is not only new to the region—the two closest ostrich farms are in Los Angeles and Solvang—but for Nelson himself.

“It’s a really new venture for me,” he said. “I’m spending a lot of time learning the behavior of ostriches.”

After a year of preparation, the farm recently opened to the public to much fanfare: Nelson said people have been visiting from all over the state to witness these gigantic birds in person.

“People seem to enjoy it,” he said. “It’s been getting busy.”

The farm is open Friday through Monday, 10am-6pm for self-guided tours, weather permitting. Guided tours for groups of 10 or more people are also available.

Although its name may suggest otherwise, the Gilroy Ostrich Farm is not just ostriches. The property also houses alpacas, chickens, goats, sheep, rabbits and pot-bellied pigs. Nelson said the plan is to add miniature horses and cows in the near future.

A completely remodeled barn near the entrance to the farm serves as a farm stand, where guests can purchase fresh fruits and vegetables as well as hollow ostrich eggs, which Nelson noted many people use for art projects.

But the farm’s namesake is the star attraction.

“When the kids come, they hang out here most of the time,” Nelson said as he stood in the middle of a number of ostrich pens neatly positioned across the property. “The ostriches are the feature.”

Signs posted next to the pens inform visitors about the different species of ostriches and their behaviors. Holes along the fences allow guests to feed the always-hungry birds themselves.

While holding a pan of food toward the towering creatures can be intimidating to some, an ostrich’s “bite” is no worse than its bark, since it has no teeth.

Unless threatened, all ostriches want to do is eat, not fight, Nelson said.

Ostriches maintain a diet of roots, leaves and seeds, as well as rocks, eating roughly four pounds of food a day.

The Gilroy Ostrich Farm once had dozens of ostriches on the property, but now has 20, as the remainder was sold to other farms due to costs.

“They are very expensive to maintain and feed,” he said.

A hen can produce up to 50 eggs a year, which weigh about 5 pounds each. Those eggs are then shipped to an incubator in Los Angeles, Nelson said.

However, it can be difficult to raise ostrich chicks, he noted. While many eggs never hatch at all, the ones that do suffer a high mortality rate within their first 90 days of life.

But once they survive those critical 90 days, they grow quickly, reaching their full height in nine months. As expected for the world’s largest bird, ostriches at birth are as big as a full-grown chicken.

Nelson purchased the birds from a farmer near Pajaro Dunes on the outskirts of Watsonville. He is quick to note that the ostriches are not raised for meat, but rather to educate the public.

“I love animals,” he said. “I wanted to open something to the public that would be educational not only for kids, but for adults as well. There’s nothing like this in South County.”

The Gilroy Ostrich Farm is located at 5560 Pacheco Pass Highway. Admission is $10 per person. For information, call 408.713.1338 or email [email protected]

Erik Chalhoub
About Erik Chalhoub
Erik Chalhoub is the editor of South Valley. Prior to joining the magazine in March 2019, he worked for seven years at The Pajaronian in Watsonville, the last four as managing editor.