Ostrich, the burger of the future?

January 28, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

Two all-ostrich patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles . . . ostrich patties?

Maybe not in the United States. But McDonald's is considering using the bird -- which produces a low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-calorie red meat -- in restaurants opening in India, a Union Mills ostrich farmer told the Carroll County agricultural community yesterday.

"Cattle is sacred in India," said Jack Untener during the second day of Mid-Winter Farm Meetings at the Carroll County Agricultural Center. "Ostrich is so close to beef that you wouldn't know the difference. So they plan to use that."

The fowl was one of two exotic livestock investments covered during the day-long educational seminar, which also included talks about septic tank and well protection, profitability through better management and farmer compliance with labor and environmental protection regulations.

Thomas Hartsock, an animal sciences specialist for the University of Maryland, discussed potbellied pig breeding with the group, a venture he explored primarily as a hobby.

"I don't have a boat, one of those sinkholes in the water, so this is something for me to sink my money into," he said.

The pigs, which Mr. Hartsock breeds with other small varieties of swine as an experiment, are only sold as pets, he said. Ostriches, however, have a broader market, including unfertilized eggs for crafts, and feathers to the automotive industry, costume shops and fly fishermen.

Car makers grind up the feathers and add them to high-luster paints, Mr. Untener said.

"I've got costume shops calling all the time," Mr. Untener said of his feathers. "But my best sales are from fly fishermen."

Farmers interested in exotic livestock should be outgoing and prepared to market their own product. Also, as with any exotic industry, farmers should only invest money they can spare, Mr. Hartsock and Mr. Untener said.

Prospective investors should start out thinking exotic livestock is a bad idea, then look for evidence to disprove that theory, Mr. Hartsock said.

"I got into this knowing it was high-risk," he said of his potbellied pig breeding. "Don't use money that you have to have."

Those at the conference also learned that well and septic tank maintenance can help protect land and water resources by keeping excess nutrients out of the Chesapeake Bay. Those nutrients cause algae growth, which kills the water-bottom plants that fish and other sea life use for food and shelter.

In Massachusetts and Washington states, about 90 percent of nutrient overflow problems can be traced to failing septic systems, regional agronomist Thomas Miller told the group.

"I'm sick of harping on farmers about nutrient management when I see what happens with the typical homeowner," he said.

To help with ground water protection, homeowners should always permanently cap abandoned wells, Mr. Miller said.

Although bacteria is only found within the top three feet of soil, an open well provides a path to the ground water where the organisms can live for up to three days, he said.

"[Sealing] will keep the bacteria from sliding down the tube," Mr. Miller said.

Also, residents with wells should avoid heavy application of fertilizer or pesticides near the well head; disinfect the water with chlorine whenever the system is disturbed; and install anti-back flow devices to keep chemicals from being sucked into the well.

In addition, homeowners shouldn't tie pets to a well casing because they might break the pipe or contaminate water with their wastes, Mr. Miller said.

Septic tank maintenance and protection includes using a garbage disposal sparingly to reduce the amount of solids flowing into the system, conserving water to avoid overloading, using proper amounts of detergents and not compacting ground or planting trees and shrubs over the drain field site, he said.

Residents should also maintain the septic tank by having it cleaned regularly. An average family of four should have the tank emptied once every three to five years.

"A lot of people say they never had a problem until the tank was emptied," Mr. Miller said. "Often, the tank had already failed, and they didn't know it until it was emptied.

"One hundred dollars to clean the tank out is a lot cheaper than several thousand to have the drain field dug up and your lawn landscaped again."

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