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One Tank Trips: Our visit to the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch

As part of our series visiting fun places you can go on a tank of gas, we headed to Picacho to check out the roadside petting zoo.
rooster cogburn ostrich ranch
Posted at 2:00 AM, Jun 07, 2024

PICACHO, AZ — As part of out 'One Tank Trip' series on Good Morning Tucson, we're bringing you to fun places all over southern Arizona, where you go there and back on a tank of gas.

If you haven't been, here's your excuse to go check out the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch.

You've probably seen the sign off the highway, right in front of Picacho Peak. Yes, the name is a nod to the old western movie 'Rooster Cogburn.' The man the character is based on, was actually a distant relative of the owners.

"We're the real Cogburns, John Wayne just made the name famous," Danna Cogburn-Barrett explained. She's the second of the three generation family business, running a 600 acre roadside petting zoo.

When you go in, you'll buy your ticket, get a big cup of food, and head out to feed the animals.

They also put on shows, with 50-minute weekend tours on their monster trucks.

"We go all back through the ranch," Danna said. "We teach all about ostrich farming, we talk about the Sonora Desert, we have rattlesnake education. It's super, super fun and informative, and then we go ostrich fishing."

And what is ostrich fishing?

"I can't tell you, you have to come do it," she said. "But it's an experience everybody loves ostrich fishing!"

On our visit, we started out petting and feeding the mini donkeys, which came from Italy. One by one, they've all taught themselves tricks to encourage you to feed them first. One nods her head when you talk to her - always answering "yes" to your question. Another smiles big when you compliment her, but only if she doesn't have food in her mouth.

Danna says the trick for them, is to hold your hands nice and flat with the food in your palm.

Next to the donkeys, you'll find the fallow deer from Europe. They're gentle and curious, and all have white spots on their backs, even as adults.

If you look up next to them, you'll see the fancy goats who hang out on a lifted platform, that you can feed with a conveyor belt.

They're right next to the "hole in the wall gang" of goats, which includes a kissing booth. You just put a piece of food right between your lips, and the goats will give you a big smooch to eat it up.

Then there's the main attraction: 1,500 ostriches.

You can go the safer route, and feed them through a funnel in the fence. Or you can go over the fence, if you don't mind a little nibble.

"They don't have teeth but they'll scare the bejeebies out of you," Danna explained. "You just take one or two pieces, hold it close to the fence, and make them reach down where they can just barely eat it out of your hand."

Slightly less terrifying, you'll also find bunnies (that are all fixed) to prevent them from becoming the main attraction. There's special food you get there to hand feed them.

Along with tortoises, some of which are rescues. The ranch gives you little clothespins to feet the tortoises, since they'll have no problem chomping off a finger.

There's also a scientific marvel at the ranch, some special sheep that shed their wool in the summer. Most of them came to the ranch from the University of Utah.

"12 of these are absolute identical clones because they use them for for medical research up there," Danna said. "The DNA has to be identical so that's not a factor in the research."

They've also got parakeets, which you'll feed with some birdseed on a stick. Along with lorakeets, that'll land right on your arms and head. The ranch will give you little nectar cups to feed them with, but don't take off the lids! The birds have learned to do that themselves, and it's very cool to see.

You'll round out your visit inside, feeding the cow-nosed stingrays. They give you a tray of squid, which you hold right between your fingers, and let the stingrays suck it up.

In all, plan to spend an hour or two there. They've got vending machines, but you should bring some water to drink, since you'll mostly be outside.

The drive from KGUN to the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch was 48 miles, about an hour drive.

From the highway, it was about half an hour north of Tucson, right in front of Picacho Peak. Depending on where you live and the gas mileage of your car, call it about four gallons of gas round trip.

To get in, the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch is $12, or $15 if you want food to feed the stingrays.

Kids five and under get in free, but it's $6 if they want to buy a cup of food to feed the animals.

Claire Graham is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. She grew up in Tucson and graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in musical theatre. Claire spent a decade in Washington state, where she worked in journalism, met her husband and welcomed their baby boy, before moving back home. Share your story ideas and important issues with Claire by emailing claire.graham@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.