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The Pros and Cons of Emu Farming

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The birds enjoy a shower during hot days.

The birds enjoy a shower during hot days.

Getting Started Raising Emu

When a couple of our friends started raising ostrich, they invited us to join them at a seminar on raising big birds. After learning the basics about emu farming, we decided to invest in this fast-growing business.

Our house was still under construction out in the rural part of North Texas. We both worked full-time in the city at office jobs. On weekends we tried to make a little progress on finishing out the interior of the house. With our limited construction experience, we set out on this new adventure, hoping to buy some birds and get started on our future.

Visiting an emu ranch near our house.

Visiting an emu ranch near our house.

Big Bird Business

This was the late nineties and the industry was booming with breeder pairs selling for forty to fifty thousand dollars for mated pairs. Birds with a track record of egg production were in high demand with prices rising.

The end market was anticipated as a healthy source of red meat along with eggs, feathers, emu skin products like purses and belts and other uses from the versatile birds. It all sounded quite promising, but there were some drawbacks. We were not farmers nor had we ever raised livestock. Hoping to learn more, we joined the Emu Association and met other farmers willing to mentor us.

This is an emu ranch that housed multiple breeder pairs, a hatching barn and dozens of birds.

This is an emu ranch that housed multiple breeder pairs, a hatching barn and dozens of birds.

Hatchling baby emu

Hatchling baby emu

We visited an emu ranch with breeders laying 11 to 20 eggs per season to study tracking methods for egg production, learn about incubators, hatching time, and assigning bird identification numbers.

With the cost of a breeder pair out of our financial reach, we decided to buy six hatchlings. While we worked on building our pens, the breeders housed our young stock until they were nearly six months old.

Emu hatchlings around two weeks old

Emu hatchlings around two weeks old

How Much Space Does an Emu Require?

Emu require space to run as they are quite active birds. A minimum of thirty by one hundred-foot (30 x 100') pen is recommended per pair. The fencing needs to be six-feet tall so they can't jump over the top. They are energetic jumpers. They also need shade for their feed pens, around eight foot-square for the food shelter, although, they don't stay inside the shelters at night.

Using a gasoline powered auger to drill fence post holes

Using a gasoline powered auger to drill fence post holes

Building the Emu Pens

We bought an auger to drill holes to set the fence posts in the ground around 18 inches deep, filling the base with pebbles, then, leveling the poles and setting them in quick-set concrete. We rented a trench-digger and dug two-hundred feet of water lines from the main line to the new pens to get water to the drinking troughs. Then, we started building the feed shelters. We soon discovered what farmers have known for years; farming is hard work.

Shelters provide shade and a safe place for the birds to eat their feed.

Shelters provide shade and a safe place for the birds to eat their feed.

Farm Work Is 24/7

Thankfully, we were used to hard work. After working our day jobs, we'd come home and drill holes in the clay-based soil to set fence poles and build the sheds. After that, we brought in truckloads of sandy loam and shoveled the dirt around the pens. Our office-worker muscles grew strong with the effort.

We named one pair of birds Hicks and Ripley after the movie "Aliens." The others were Scarlet and Rhett and Popeye and Olive Oyl.

We named one pair of birds Hicks and Ripley after the movie "Aliens." The others were Scarlet and Rhett and Popeye and Olive Oyl.

Emu End Products

Little is wasted of the harvested bird with 95% of the end product being put to use.

  • Emu skin is used in making leather products like boots, belts, wallets, and handbags.
  • Feathers are used in the automotive paint process for dusting.
  • The meat is lean and a healthy replacement for red meat, high in iron and protein and low in cholesterol.
  • Medical uses include parts of the bird-like veins for arterial replacement and corneas for surgical replacement.
  • Emu oil is used to treat arthritis, burns and stretch marks, eczema, and leg cramps.

The Birds Have Landed

Finally, the day arrived when we brought the birds to their new home. One thing became clear almost immediately. They need to eat every day whether it's Christmas or the Fourth of July, whether there's a winter blizzard howling and a layer of ice covers their water troughs or if it's blistering hot.

Every day, without fail they need food in their feed pens, clean water in their troughs, and a watchful eye to make sure they're healthy and safe.

Raising big birds in our back yard

Raising big birds in our back yard

Disaster in the Pens

One work day after arriving at my office, my neighbor called.

"The birds are fighting," he told me. Emus become aggressive during mating season as they compete for a partner. Hicks and Popeye were fighting over Olive Oyl. Once a bird is down, the rest of the birds jump in, kicking and plucking the injured bird. Hicks was badly injured and the neighbor was trying to keep the other birds off him. Without intervention, the birds would continue to attack a downed bird.

I had an hour's drive home over my boss's objections. When I arrived, Hicks was on the ground bleeding with the feathers plucked completely bare on one side of his torso. For the first time, Hicks let me guide him as he slowly made his way to the isolation pen. The vet gave me instructions on how to treat the wound.

That day changed my thoughts on staying in the emu business.

This is Hicks. Big birds are curious. They'll take pens and sunglasses out of your pocket and peck at anything shiny.

This is Hicks. Big birds are curious. They'll take pens and sunglasses out of your pocket and peck at anything shiny.

The Disadvantages of Raising Emu

This taxing and constant job began to affect my animal sensibilities as the thought of harvesting the birds became a reality. I had become attached to the birds with their individual personalities and quirks. They had become pets.

The cost of veterinary bills, the rising cost of their food, and the energy we were expending was nothing compared to the ominous idea of the harvesting. Getting fond of the birds and giving them names is not a good thing when they're destined to become food. Raised in a city with supermarkets, we had no true concept of where animal products came from and how they ended up on the grocer's shelf. Dealing with this was just not for us.

Are the Benefits of Raising Emu Worth the Costs?

The market for breeder pairs was beginning to decline. There were more breeders and a surplus of birds which lowered the price. Potential sales of red meat faltered without a viable marketplace. The price of breeder pairs plummeted to an all-time low.

When we'd finally had enough of the losses, we sold our birds at a fraction of what we originally paid and wrote off our expenses as a lesson in what not to do.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Peg Cole

Comments

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on July 25, 2020:

Sorry Laila. We do not have any more birds or baby emu. Best of luck in your quest to raise them.

Laila on July 24, 2020:

Hi I'm looking to buy some baby emu do you have some available

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on February 26, 2020:

Best of luck, Sofia. We sold all our birds.

Sofia on February 26, 2020:

I have about 9 emus but I need new emu's because we're getting a little close breeding's

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on December 12, 2019:

Hello Sufferingnomad, We sold the birds before harvest time. Best of luck with your emu adventure.

Sufferingnomad on December 12, 2019:

How did you cull for harvest? Did you see it through or hire another to rid yourself of adult birds? I have 3 males from eggs

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on April 18, 2019:

Thanks, Nick. Maybe Samantha can ask her about emu sales.

Nick on April 17, 2019:

I know a lady out of Conroe Texas she sells emus

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on April 16, 2019:

Hello Samantha, As I mentioned in the article, we are out of this business now. I no longer have any contacts with emu owners. I wish you luck in finding a friend for your bird.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on February 18, 2019:

Hello Dean, I'm sure you know that emu grow up to 6.5 feet tall and can weigh as much as 99 pounds. They are sometimes aggressive, pinching with their beaks and poking with their hard, sharp toenails if they're cornered. They also need companionship of their own kind to be most at ease along with a large pen, shade and room to run. Thanks for stopping by.

Dean Harvison on February 17, 2019:

I would like to buy a emu for my granddaughter

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on November 19, 2018:

Hello Maria, These birds do have distinct personalities. Some are gentle; others, not so much. There was a really bad fight between the birds when one male tried to approach one of the other male's chosen mate. The entire flock joined in to tromp the interloper and nearly killed him. It was awful. I'm sure you've seen this in the smaller birds.They were hard to catch when it came to inoculations and regular maintenance like toenail trimming, etc..

Thanks so much for dropping in to check out my experience with emu farming.

Maria B on November 19, 2018:

I've considered adding Emu to my flock, but am concerned they would have attitudes like ostrich do. They sound more trouble than they're worth! Thank you for sharing your experience with these interesting birds.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on November 05, 2018:

Hello Nithya, Yes, the birds are huge and they can do damage to you if you try to catch them. We had some rather funny experiences with trying to give them inoculations. We ended up hiring a couple of lady emu wranglers. Wish I had a video of that day's events.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on November 05, 2018:

Hi Pamela, We certainly learned a lot about the rigors of raising farm animals, mostly that they do not take a vacation from eating whether it's Christmas day or there's a blizzard outside. Thanks for coming by and for the comment.

tony okrongly on November 04, 2018: