The small village of Ostrich in the Ardennes is aptly named: for more than 23 years, Claude Lambert has been raising emus, ostriches and rhea there, but he now wants to hand over. He is looking for a new dad for his proteges.
On the road map of the Ardennes department, the name of a village often attracts attention at first glance: it is Autruche, 73 inhabitants, near Vouziers. As soon as you pass the entrance sign of this very singular little hamlet, you instinctively start looking on the horizon for possible large necks and small heads that would protrude from a fence.
There would therefore be ostriches at Autruche, information well known to the Ardennes for 23 years. It was Claude Lambert, a breeding enthusiast who became mayor of Ostrich in 1989 who had the idea of surfing on the originality of the name of his village. But bringing animals from Africa and Australia to this little corner of France was not easy. It was a long journey through the meanders of administration, authorizations and health constraints, with a few thousand euros of personal investment along the way.
Getting to Autruche is already an adventure through the Ardennes Argonne. The 50 kilometers from Charleville-Mézières make it a place that has to be earned and obliges the visitor to leave the main roads.
Claude Lambert understood this very quickly in 1989 when he looked at his village from the hill opposite: it was necessary to attract the curious and make the village known.
In this mid-February 2022 still icy and enveloped in the damp fogs of the end of winter, the mayor receives us in his stables and takes stock of this beautiful idea.
“Initially, mayor of the town in 1989, I wanted to create an activity that would bring the visitor to Autruche. Here, we are not on a communication axis, you have to come there specially. We had to find an idea original that attracts tourists. Me, I was passionate about breeding, so why not raise ostriches. Then it took a whole process to come up with this project and get my certificate of proficiency.”
In all, 10 years of efforts were necessary to succeed in 1999 in bringing ostriches here, to Autruche. Since then, we have hundreds of visitors a year.Claude Lambert, mayor and breeder of ratites in the village of Ostrich
The breeder continues his observation, happiness in the eyes. “The objective was to discover the village, to develop activities there with individuals, groups, passing associations. I think I succeeded, the village is now known. We have integrated tourism in the sector a little bit, it is very beneficial for Autruche, my investment is rewarded.”
On Facebook, you can follow the daily life of the animals: Les ostriches d’ AUTRUCHE.
In his various green enclosures separating the three species of ratites, Claude is still just as motivated to take care of his residents. To this day, he is left with a pair of African ostriches, a pair of emus from Australia and three rheas from South America, one male and two females.
This morning, equipped with his boots and an Indiana Jones hat, Claude makes the rounds of the mangers and chats with Zoom, the dominant emu.
For the past few months, a large alleyway open to the public runs along the entire farm and invites the public to come as close as possible to the large birds. This is all the happiness of Claude, 70 years old, but a second retirement is now essential in this beautiful adventure with his ostriches: he wants to find a buyer, an enthusiast like him.
Like Bip Bip the famous ostrich from Chuck Jones cartoons in 1948, the race is on for a future change of ownership. Especially since these big ladies from 50 to 150 kg have a good appetite. Every day, no less than 30 kg of food are swallowed for the group.
In front of the ostrich enclosure, Claude details his daily work and all the comfort care that must be given to the animals. “The food is the most important item. I prepare the food myself, so it’s cheaper, but it’s still around ten euros a day. When you see the evolution of the prices cereal and no return on investment, it is a budget item that can scare off a buyer, not to mention the daily maintenance of the animals.”
When asked what future he sees for his breeding, the results are clear: Claude Lambert is looking for a successor, but the offer does notmay not be so attractive this in view of the fallout.
He confirms his analysis with emotion in his voice. “The challenge is that breeding has existed for 23 years, my wish is to consider stopping at one time or another. The difficulty is finding someone who will take over the activity. A farm which does not breed, which has no profit or commercial purpose, which costs money, but which does not bring in any, except the sale of a few eggs during the year, is not not a very promising activity for someone who would like to start a business.
For the moment, I don’t have a fixed date, no deadline, but I will make the decision to stop if I don’t have a buyer. I am also thinking about the future of my animals.”
The sale of ratite eggs is the breeder’s only source of income. For a full ostrich egg (about 1.5 kg to 1.9 kg) intended for consumption, it is necessary to count 20 euros. The same, empty for decoration, costs only 14 euros. Lhe smaller rhea egg is sold for 10 euros full and 5 euros empty.
Claude remains hopeful and watches over his ostriches with kindness. Their life expectancy can reach 25 years. He will not wait indefinitely for the next generation, but, for the moment, visits will be able to resume spring holidays on All Saints’ Day, every day from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. To have the privilege of enjoying a guided tour, you must make an appointment on its Facebook page.