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The Pros and Cons of Emu Farming

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Author of fiction novels, short stories, book reviews and other online content, Peggy Cole has been writing articles on HubPages since 2009.

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.

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Read More From Toughnickel

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:

This is an interesting article. Thanks for sharing your story. I live in East Texas. It sounds like you live closer to central Texas - hard ground. What part of the state are you in? It sounds like you never got to the point of incubating and hatching, is that true? I can certainly understand the process of getting involved based on an idea but less experience and then learning lessons the hard way.

I have actually raised meat animals for sale in a small scale production environment with meat rabbits. And I have quite a bit of experience incubating and raising chickens, ducks and such.

How long did you actually have the birds? Other than the fight what types of health issues did you experience? What were you feeding them? Your answers will help me as I move perhaps down the emu path.

Thanks.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on June 24, 2018:

Hi Pamela, Thanks for reading about the emu we tried to raise. We didn't mind the work as much as the market dropping out from under us. Plus, we fell in love with our birds and that wasn't a good thing.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on June 23, 2018:

Learned about Emus reading your article. It is tough to take care of them and they are so huge. But it is way too expensive keeping them. Wish things had worked out fine, take care.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 23, 2018:

This is an interesting article, and the amount of work involved in your emu adventure does sound like too much. I think this has been one of those lessons in life that we all get of mistakes we don't want to make twice. Emus are interesting birds however.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on June 23, 2018:

Hi Shyron, It seems that I overlooked your cute comment about Green Eggs and Ham. Sorry about that. Yes, livestock is a 24/7 commitment and not for those that like to sleep in, even on a holiday. Thanks so much for coming by.

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on November 13, 2017:

Peg, I thought I read this, but I guess not. I have visited an emu ranch "What are Green Eggs and Ham?" I love the thought of raising these beautiful birds, but would hate to commit to taking care of them 24/7. You have to be a strong person to do this.

Blessings my friend. I thought I missed this until I read my comment from three years ago.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on October 16, 2017:

Hello Kari, We have a large fenced yard within our property boundaries for the multiple dogs we've adopted over the years. Other than that we do not own livestock or other animals. As you might guess, it's a year around business to feed and take care of animals of any kind. Thanks for stopping in and for the great question.

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on October 16, 2017:

Wow, how disappointing that must have been. Especially with all the work you put in. Do you use the area for other animals now?

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on April 02, 2017:

Hello Chitrangada, Nice of you to stop by and read this article about emu and our experiences with raising them. Glad you found it interesting. It's still difficult for me to believe we tried this out.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on April 02, 2017:

Interesting and informative hub about Emus! Had no knowledge about them until I read this well written article of yours. It needs lot of space and expertise to raise them. And I can't even think of doing so since I don't have that much space. But it was quite an interesting read and educational too. It's always good to learn something new.

Thanks for sharing!

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on March 30, 2017:

Hi Maria, Thanks for taking a look at our adventures with emu raising. I found out early on that it wasn't something I wanted to continue. The work didn't bother me. In fact, I enjoyed the outdoors and getting to know the birds. They each had different personalities.

Glad you came by. Hugs.

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on March 30, 2017:

I'm glad you shared this, dear Peg as it looks like I missed it the first time around.

I know this would not be for me... I fell in love with these emus just reading this and watching your video.

Love you and have a peaceful day, Maria

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on May 24, 2015:

Yes, Sheila. It was a shame that the market wasn't better prepared for distribution and promotion of the product. At the point where we bailed out, our birds went for practically nothing. The food was costing more than they were worth. I never asked the buyers what happened to the birds.

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on May 24, 2015:

I think it is a shame that the emu market didn't do better than it did. It really sounds like a very healthy meat source. There were a lot of people around here that got into raising then too. Many of then just turned their lose because they couldn't even sell them. I shudder to think what happened to them!

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on January 15, 2015:

Hello Shades-of-truth, Thanks for the insight into a new use for the Emu oil. I had no idea that it was so effective on chapped lips. Sorry for the delay in responding to your nice comment. I just found it today. It had been sent to the Spam folder for whatever reason. (?) Not sure why that happened.

Emily Tack from USA on January 09, 2015:

I do love emu oil. I use it in lots of different ways. The most memorable experience I have had with it, was when I had a rough case of pneumonia a few winters ago. The sustained, high fever I had, made my lips so dry that they cracked and bled. The ONLY thing that healed them, in a few days, was Emu oil! I had tried just about every other remedy that is to be found, for dry, cracked lips - to no avail. From the first application, I had some relief from the pain, and just a couple of days later, they were completely healed.

Needless to say, I keep some Emu oil around, now.

Debra Allen from West By God on November 21, 2014:

No problem! Got a conversation going on your hub anyway. LOL

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on November 21, 2014:

Thanks for the input, Lady G. I'm just not into raising livestock anymore. Yes, of course, living beings eat seven days a week. I was attempting to be funny and missed the mark.

Debra Allen from West By God on November 21, 2014:

Well don't you need to eat seven days a week too and so do dogs and cats and just about everything on this planet? The Llamas they have on our local farm are not in any house and are out in the cold, but they have a small structure they can go into. I never seen them in that though. It went down to 12 degrees the night before last. We do get to -6 degrees too.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on November 21, 2014:

Hello again Lady, Um, nope. We learned that these guys need to eat seven days a week which limits any potential for travel and takes us out into the cold (this week it was 24 degrees) every day, even Christmas. Besides, I would end up bringing them into the house with the dogs. :(

Debra Allen from West By God on November 21, 2014:

I am back to tell you that I am seeing many Llamas being raised for their wool here. Not sure in your area, but would you give that a go?

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on November 21, 2014:

Hello Wilderness, Most of the emu farms around here have gone away. I used to see one lone bird on my way home about a mile from here, but he has disappeared. I understand what you mean about a herd, although, I have what I call a herd of dogs and they each have a different personality. I visited a cow ranch long ago and could not eat hamburger for a long time afterward. Thank you for dropping in today.

Dan Harmon from Boise, Idaho on November 20, 2014:

Most interesting - thanks! I don't think I could ranch, either, and for the same reason you got out. A whole herd of cattle something, maybe, but not a handful I could come to know individually.

But there are several emu farms in my area - I'll have to some checking for the meat and see if I can find some.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on October 06, 2014:

Thanks so much for dropping in, Richard1988. I love your avatar. Is that a llama?

Richard from Hampshire - England on October 05, 2014:

I've always been curious about emu farming - great hub! This was a really interesting read :)

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on September 27, 2014:

Hi WriterJanis, They really do have individual personalities. It's hard to imagine the food aspect of it after getting to know them. Thanks for the visit.

Janis from California on September 27, 2014:

I had no idea that they were raised for food. Some people have them where I live and they're kept as pets. They certainly seem like characters. I couldn't sell them for food. I understand where you're coming from.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on September 21, 2014:

Hi Phyllis, Oh my, Chug Chug, how unfortunate for him and for you. My Dad had a pet hog that he named Herman. It was also a sad outcome. Many years ago we knew a little piglet our neighbors named Bacon. He grew into about a three hundred pound hog.

Thank you so much for your kind comment and for the visit.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on September 21, 2014:

Hi JayeWisdom, Yes, it was definitely a risk that turned out to be quite a learning experience. We weren't opposed to the work, but we found that we aren't cut out to raise livestock, that's for sure. I'm really glad that we didn't buy the expensive egg incubator equipment that was being promoted at the time. Our friends were really deeply invested, building a huge barn for the chicks and multiple pens for their breeder stock.

We considered Llamas for a brief while after we sold the birds, but opted not to go there. Thank you for dropping in and for sharing the experiences of your friends in this business and this hub. Cheers.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on September 20, 2014:

Hello SheGetsCreative, Thanks for the honest comment. I knew someone who had raised a prized steer for 4H and still talked about him years afterward in terms of sadness for poor Maynard. I believe the new generation has a heightened sensitivity to the source of meat. So many of my nieces and nephews are vegans and raising their children the same way. Thank you so much for the visit.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on September 20, 2014:

Hello Tillsontitan Mary, So good of you to drop by to read this farm story. Ol' MacDonald had a farm, eieiyo. Yep, we were much younger and had the energy for all these physical labor projects. I sure wish I had the energy now to do those things. It was my form of exercise.

Oh, poor Topsy and Mopsy...I don't believe I would be able to do it either, although, our dogs have no conscience when it comes to bunny tartare and mouse a la yard. That was another thing. The feed drew in all sorts of varmits who infested the sheds and our garage as well. It got really creepy.

Thank you so much for the votes and for reading and sharing.

Phyllis Doyle Burns from High desert of Nevada. on September 20, 2014:

Very interesting venture you set out on, Peg. I admire the determination you and your husband have to plow right into projects and learn. I enjoyed reading this hub.

PS: when my six siblings and I were kids, we fell in love with Dad's big hog and named it "Chug Chug" -- the day came when we realized it is not a good idea to name livestock.

Jaye Denman from Deep South, USA on September 20, 2014:

You and your spouse are definitely not averse to hard work and taking risks, Peg! Sorry your emu venture turned out badly, but you certainly gave it a good try. I think you were immensely brave to undertake and stick with it as long as you did.

I recall the 'emu farming craze' and all the accompanying hype in my state during the late '90s, mainly because I visited a friend's in-laws who were also farming the big birds. We got the grand tour, seeing the emus in their enclosures and being amazed at some large blue-green eggs. If I remember accurately, those folks gave up their emu experiment after a couple of years for essentially the same reasons you did.

I also recall a small cafe in a nearby town that had emu on their menu for a while with a sign in the lobby enumerating its healthy qualities and bottles of emu oil for sale at the cash register.

Another exotic 'farm animal' of the 1990s in this area for a while was the 'guard llama.' Llamas are fiercely protective of livestock and chase away predators, so some farmers had one or two llamas standing guard duty over other more vulnerable animals and fowl.

Voted Up+++ and shared

Jaye

Angela F from Seattle, WA on September 20, 2014:

Very interesting and honest! More people that are contemplating raising animals as a business should read this! I don't think I could kill anything I had raised, played with and named either...which is why I didn't join 4-H or FFA when I was a kid.

Mary Craig from New York on September 20, 2014:

What an amazing and talented lady you are dear Peg! On top of everything else, trying to raise livestock. The only thing that surpasses your courage is your talent. This was a great read though sad for you.

When I lived in the city as a little girl my Dad decided to raise chickens for the eggs and later dinner. Topsy and Mopsy finally made it to the table but the only one who ate was the dog!

Voted up, useful, funny, interesting and shared.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on August 25, 2014:

Hello Grand Old Lady, Thank you. We also had Rhett and Scarlett as well as Hicks and Ripley from the movie Aliens. Once you've named them it's difficult to think of them as food. I'm wondering if I should try raising chickens. I do love eggs.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on August 24, 2014:

What a very interesting article. There was a time they were also trying to sell ostriches in the Philippines. I can understand your coming to see them as pets rather than income. Loved the names of two of them, Popeye and Olive Oil. Lol!

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on August 07, 2014:

Hi Peggy. Thanks for the "funny" vote. It is funny now, not so much back then. It's interesting what we will try in order to get out of the corporate culture. I chalk it up as lessons learned, too. Vineyards? I would love to read about it.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 07, 2014:

Hi Peg,

Gave you all kinds of up votes on this including funny although it was undoubtedly not funny to you at the time. We had a similar venture only with owning part of a vineyard in California. We did not lose much money but we certainly did not make any and had our money stayed put in the stock market, we would have been further ahead. Oh well...lessons learned! :)