Just like the birds it is supposed to house, a proposed ostrich hatchery in West Bay may have trouble getting off the ground.
Located near Morgan’s Harbour, the hatchery has been bombarded by objections from the local community.
“I’ve just read a couple letters and I think it’s a ‘we’re guilty before we’re even charged’ kind of thing,” said Gregg Anderson, the Canadian ostrich farmer behind the project.
Together with Raldeen Petrie, director of Satara Farm Ltd., Mr. Anderson hopes to import ostrich eggs and raise the hatchlings for the production of meat and leather products.
So far, the Planning Department has received six letters and one petition with 78 signatures objecting to the proposal, according to Planning Officer Colleen Stoetzel.
Mr. Anderson said he has read only a couple of the letters.
“The concerns, I believe, were the scent and the effluence from the birds,” he said.
According to Mr. Anderson, however, the number of ostriches imported would not be sufficient to cause such problems.
“This is not intense farming,” he said. “I understand there was a chicken farm out here in West Bay … and there were issues with noise and odour, but this is nothing like that.”
Mr. Petrie believes misconceptions about the birds are widespread in the local community.
“These folks watch the Discovery Channel, see the birds in the wild, and come to their own conclusions about these birds,” he said, adding that the ostriches raised in Cayman would be fully domesticated.
In any event, the West Bay site is not meant to be permanent.
“We’re going to incubate the eggs there, hatch them and rear them to a certain age, and then move them out to East End,” he said.
Several sites in East End are being explored, he said, including one near the Health City Cayman Islands development, and a second planning application will be submitted shortly.
The importation procedures require rigorous quarantine and medical testing to ensure the health of the birds. Mr. Anderson said Satara Farm worked with the government to develop quarantine and importation procedures for the birds.
“Once you get the eggs, it takes six weeks for them to hatch and then, after the last chick has hatched, there’s a quarantine period of 30 days in which testing will be done to make sure that there’s no diseases or anything like that,” he said.
The standard practices for the farming of ostriches outlined by the Department of Agriculture include requirements for a contingency plan in case of an emergency, such as a hurricane, and a recommendation for double fencing to prevent the birds from escaping and to protect them from predators.
The guidelines also forbid the riding of ostriches and the sale or gifting of birds without written permission from government.
Approval to import ostrich eggs consists of several stages. Brian Crichlow, assistant director of the Department of Agriculture, emphasised that the eggs will be brought in only if all of the conditions have been met and an import permit is issued.
Although Mr. Anderson said the hatchery has received written approval from the Department of Agriculture, Mr. Crichlow said he was not sure at which stage the application was in the process.
Meanwhile, until the farm is established and the ostriches begin breeding, Satara Farm will import ostrich meat.
“We’ve got a deal with a company in South Africa to import meat in order to introduce ostrich meat to the island at some scale,” Mr. Anderson said.
While some local restaurants and individuals have embraced the project, many remain sceptical.
The objectors will attend a private Central Planning meeting on 18 September to discuss the proposal.
Both Mr. Anderson and Mr. Petrie expressed disappointment over the number of objections to the application.
“I think it’s a very poor attitude,” Mr. Petrie said.
Mr. Anderson said he approached the neighbouring residents a few years ago, handing out explanatory DVDs and his contact information in case anyone had concerns about the project.
“To date I have not received one phone call or email,” he said.
Ostrich farms currently operate in Jamaica, Aruba and Curaçao, among other Caribbean islands.