by Myra Charleston
If you visited a college campus during the 70's, the occasional streaker might have startled you. These days a different kind of campus runner might catch your eye - one with feathers. Middle Tennessee State University at Murfreesboro, hosted the Big Bird Fair, a joint endeavor by the Tennessee Ratite Association and the Tennessee Emu Association showcasing the ratite industry.
This is the 3rd year for the fair, which is open to the public. According to TRA President, Tom Neff, the fair started out as training seminars for new ratite farmers, covering everything from hatching to bird nutrition. As the ratite industry has grown and evolved, so has the Big Bird Fair. While this years' guest speaker, Margie Baker of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture's Marketing Division addressed interested farmers on how to participate in the Pick Tennessee Products program, fair visitors browsed the many educational and products related booths. A great deal of conversation revolved around the market for these big birds. "I think we are in the positive turning point, particularly for ostrich, hopefully emu and rhea won't be far behind. For the first time ever, the major meat processors are having trouble finding birds, so whoever wants to sell, can." Neff went on to say that some were worried about a shortage of ostrich if people don't hatch in the next season.
While parents browsed through the many arts and crafts booths, shopped for leather, oil products or just learned more about the healthy red meat, children were amused by the various "kid related" activities available. Aside from the ratite "petting zoo" (which featured a 200 pound yearling ostrich, pair of emu, several emu chicks and pair of rhea) the most popular booth was probably "Kids Korner" which provided children with an opportunity to make a Arts & Crafts item from their choice of ostrich, emu or rhea feathers or eggs. Also available was the photo booth where they could put their head through a cutout and have their picture made as an emu. Fair Chairperson Madelein Jones was pleased with the turnout, "We wanted to introduce the general public to what we have - the meat, the oil products, the leather fashions, feathers - all the things that can be done with these birds that the public doesn't realize."
went on to say that the number of booths has grown each year, as have the
crowds. In addition to products booths, there were a variety of egg artists
represented, concession stands, a cake walk and auction. Throughout the
day, door prizes were awarded to fairgoers. Commenting on the steady flow
of fair visitors, TRA Board of Director member Tony Blalock remarked "I
think the Big Bird Fair demonstrates the benefits of Ostrich, Emu and Rhea
people working together. The fair's success is dependent on TNEA & TRA's
effort to get the word out." Judging from the number of visitors sampling
emu burgers, picking up information at the various booths and the laughter of
the children - the fair was a success.