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Is it a bird? Is it a fowl? (Gasp!) It's an ostrich!
In Nueva Ecija, too!

An intriguing red tin signboard along Maharlika Highway in San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija tells it as it is: "Gross Ostrich Farm." At first glance, one will think that "Gross Ostrich" is such a whimsical name for a farm -- like "Wily Coyote"... or "Tasmanian Devil." Until one learns that the farm, indeed, raises ostriches, and is owned by a man surnamed Gross.

The Gross Ostrich Farm Import and Export Corporation Limited is hidden 
nearly two kilometers from the national highway, down a narrow road 
that runs beside an irrigation canal.

The farm is in Barangay Tagumpay, San Leonardo, with the access road turning
right from Maharlika Highway, just before Barangay Tabuating, going to Cabanatuan City.

Barely one year old, the one-hectare farm has a roughly finished hollow-block house,
a huge shed, water tank, and fenced-off areas. It looks like any other farm that raises animals, until one gets close enough...

and sees the giant creatures being kept inside.

The ostriches, imported from the United States as day-old chicks, 
stand six feet tall and could grow to as high as seven feet.
Upon maturity, they will weigh between 100 and 160 kilograms each.

A live ostrich, just a peck away.
This guy could live up to 60 or 70 years old!

Hi, chickie-chickie! 
They're generally gentle creatures, though they're known to kick when agitated.

The farm is owned by German national Michael Gross and his Filipina wife Liza.
Herr Gross worked for 26 years as chef in big-name hotels in Germany, 
United Kingdom, South Africa, Malaysia, Fiji, and New Zealand. It was while on a stint
in South Africa that he saw his first ostrich farm. In time, he hung up his
toque and apron, and settled down to start his own ostrich farm in Nueva Ecija --
the first in Luzon, and one of only two such farms in the entire Philippines.

Herr Gross plays with one of his 120 ostriches.

He personally attends to his giant birds with the help of four local farmhands.

Ostriches need space to run around, so they're kept inside large outdoor pens.

The huge shed is where the birds are sheltered when the weather turns nasty.

The ostriches subsist on commercial feed pellets, chopped kangkong leaves,
and grasses. They love to graze, and when they're through, not a blade or root of grass
is left, making their once green feeding area totally bereft of any vegetation.

What are ostriches for? They produce low-fat red meat akin to beef. 
The meat is highly valued as a gourmet food, and could sell for up to 
500 pesos a kilo. Herr Gross has been receiving inquiries for the supply of 
tons of ostrich meat from hotels and restaurants in Metro Manila,
but right now, there's is just no way he could comply with the orders.
Ostrich skin, which Herr Gross takes to Meycauayan, Bulacan for tanning
is highly valued by top fashion houses like Gucci as material for top-of-the-line
leather goods. Ostrich feather is used as gown ornaments by couture houses.

 If, one day, you should find flocks of ostriches dotting the landscape of the province,
think of Michael Gross -- the German chef who introduced the big birds to Nueva Ecija.

Digital photos by Ramon R. Valmonte