A day at the ranch with the ‘big birds’

Jacquie Royce scolds eight-year old Sammy, right , for biting her finger as Big Al, 8, left and Corah, 8, look on at Quail Run Ranch in Lake Hughes, 041021. Dan Watson/The Signal

From its flightless birds to its growing orchard to its camping spots along the Pacific Crest Trail, Quail Run Ostrich Ranch is an adventure waiting to happen in nearby Lake Hughes.

Quail Run is primarily a working ostrich ranch, as its owners Lou and Jackie Royce have raised and rescued the world’s largest birds since 1996.

“Think cattle ranching — only with big birds,” Lou Royce said. “We raise and sell ostrich and all different types of ostrich products.” 

Through the years, the Royces have grown the ranch, which has begun to offer so much more, opening to the public for tours, hosting campers, weddings and other events on-site, selling farm-fresh products in their mercantile, holding tomahawk and archery classes at their outdoor range and even planting an orchard.

Lou Royce checks ostrich eggs in an incubator at Quail Run Ranch in Lake Hughes, 041021. Dan Watson/The Signal

Making the ranch a family affair

Royce was born on the ranch, and left only to go off to college to study zoology, with a specialty in ornithology, or the study of birds. 

After college, Royce found himself back at the ranch, building a home for himself and his wife, Jackie.

Since then, Royce has raised all kinds of different birds of all different sizes, from the smallest lovebirds and cockatiels to the second-largest emus then finally to the largest ostriches, as well as some endangered bird species, such as pheasants and hookbills. 

Royce’s passion for birds has rubbed off on his family, who now are just as passionate as he is, he said and his daughter, Jessica Byers, agreed.

“There’s three generations that live here on the ranch,” Royce said. “It runs deep in the family. We’re close to the Earth, so to speak, and we’re very close to the birds.” 

Logan Byers, left, examines an ostrich egg retrieved by Josh Byers from a pen with a 20 foot poll and net. Dan Watson/The Signal

While Byers has moved away at various points in her life, she always found herself returning to the ranch. 

“The ranch was home,” Byers said, adding that she soon realized the ranch was the family’s legacy. “Taking care of each other is the most important thing, and we do that by having our land and working it. … We want to be able to build wealth for our children to have something that they inherit from us.” 

Byers’ oldest daughter is very involved in the ranch, and has already told her grandfather she plans on continuing it.

“My daughter is an entrepreneur,” Byers said. “She’s only 10, and it may change as she goes forward, but she always talks about how she wants to be able to go do animal husbandry, she wants to be a vet, or a zoologist, like Papa, and be able to work on the ranch.” 

Ostriches at Quail Run Ranch say hello to visitors at the ranch in Lake Hughes. Dan Watson/The Signal

Visiting the ranch

In 2014, after rebuilding from the Powerhouse Fire, the ranch opened to the public for educational tours, teaching visitors about an ostrich’s life cycle, from egg to table, as well as giving them an opportunity to get up close and personal with some of these large birds for feeding time.

“It’s truly amazing to watch a youngster walk up and stare up at an 8-foot-tall bird — it just blows their mind,” Royce said. “And it’s cool to introduce these magnificent creatures to different human beings.”

It’s been a gratifying experience for Royce, who’s introduced people, who’d never even seen a chicken, to such large and unique birds, he added. 

“What sets us apart from other ranches is our willingness to share … and we’re willing to teach you all about the animals while you’re here,” Royce said. 

Grace Pullman and her kids stumbled upon the ranch when searching for a nearby market, an accident Pullman said ended up being the highlight of their weekend. 

Lou Royce stands outside the pen holding a group of young ostrich hens at Qualil Run Ranch in Lake Hughes, 041021. Dan Watson/The Signal

“You can tell he just loves what he does and his love for the ostriches is genuine,” Pullman said of Royce, who gave her family their tour personally. “These birds are just such odd, yet incredible creatures. The kids really enjoyed learning about them, and we will certainly be back.” 

The ranch’s mercantile not only sells ostrich products, such as chicks, both hatching and food eggs, as well as ostrich feathers and oil, but also local raw honey, orchard products, hand-crafted rustic decor, and unique souvenirs and gifts. 

Ostrich oil is one of their more unique products, which has been used for centuries by Egyptian, Roman and African cultures as a topical skin treatment, as it is similar to a human’s natural oils and is very high in omegas, which have anti-inflammatory properties, Royce explained. 

The family is constantly working to grow the ranch, such as with the archery and tomahawk range and the cherry orchard, which they hope to have open to the public for private picking tours by 2022, as well as their outdoor event venue and campground, which has a newly setup Sioux teepee available to camp in.

The ranch is also now offering horse boarding and hopes to also soon open a farmer’s market to sell fresh produce. 

Quail Run Ranch offers 30-minute guided tours to the public for $5 per person via appointment, as well as other amenities. The ranch, located at 44380 Shaffer Road in Lake Hughes, can be reached by calling (661) 724-1592 or emailing [email protected]. For more information, visit quailrunostrichranch.com.  

Four-year-old Fred. Dan Watson/The Signal

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