Pros and Cons of Emu Farming
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. 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.
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.
Established Emu Ranch
Emu are soft feathered, flightless birds, second largest to the ostrich. Their origins date back to 1696 when spotted in Australia by Dutch merchants.
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 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 8 foot-square for the food shelter, although, they don't stay inside the shelters at night.
Setting the Fence Poles
Building the 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.
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.
Digging the Water LineClick thumbnail to view full-size
"The largest individuals can reach up to 150 to 190 cm (59 to 75 in) in height. Measured from the bill to the tail, emu range in length from 139 to 164 cm (55 to 65 in), with males averaging 148.5 cm (58.5 in) and females averaging 156.8 cm (61.7 in)."
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.
Catching the BirdsClick thumbnail to view full-size
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, if there's a winter blizzard howling and a layer of ice covers their water troughs or 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.
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 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
The End is Near
This taxing and continuous 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 the 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.
Our Birds in Action
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 the 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.
Have You Ever Seen an Emu in Person?
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.
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© 2014 Peg Cole