EMU (pronounced ee-mews), native to Australia, are the world's second-largest living members of the ratite (ra-tight) family of flightless birds. Others include the ostrich from Africa, rhea (ree-uh) from South America, cassowary (cas-o-werry) from Australia and New Guinea and kiwi (kee-wee), from new Zealand.
EMU were originally imported to the United States from 1930 to 1950 as exotic zoo stock. In 1960, the EMU was designated Australia's national bird, and an Australian government ban on exporting the EMU has been in effect for over 30 years.
The expanding EMU inventory in the United States is domestically bred. As research and sharing of knowledge increase, the American EMU is emerging as the industry standard. The American breeder market is vigorous and can be made profitable for small and large participants.
EMU are curious and docile, They are about 10 inches tall at birth, with black and white stripes. As 3 month old chicks, they turn nearly solid black and change into a tan, brown and black mixture as adults, some having a bluish neck. The feathers are downy, with no stiff vein running through the center.
The mature EMU is 5 to 6 feet tall and normally weighs 90 to 140 pounds. Flightless, they are strong runners and reach ground speeds of up to 40 miles per hour in short bursts, covering about nine feet in stride.
EMU adapt well from temperature extremes in excess of 100 degrees to below zero. No diseases have yet been diagnosed as common to the species. They can exist on a simple diet and require a lot of water, drinking 2 to 4 gallons daily. They also will play in water or mud.
The EMU hen can be productive for 25 to 35 years or more and may lay 20 to 50 eggs in a season. A hen may lay as early as 18 months, but normally laying begins at 2 to 3 years old.
Pairs normally breed from October to April, usually producing one egg every three days. Incubation time is 49 - 52 days and the percentage of eggs hatched is approximately 70 - 80%. Chick survival rates on EMU are excellent. We can not over emphasize the hardiness of the EMU. These birds have been traced back 80 million years.
The avocado green egg normally hatches in 52 days, producing a chick which will walk within hours and run within days. The chicks achieve rapid growth, gaining their height by one year of age. After six months, the birds have shed most of their chick feathers for the fluffy, elegant feathers of the adult. For most climate conditions, the birds need shelter during the first few months. The birds are a very hardy and adaptable bird.
For today's U.S. farmer/rancher/homesteader, EMU farming offers an alternative cash crop. With minimal investment in facilities and land area, excellent feed conversion ratio, and an established worldwide market, the EMU will provide a stable cash return to its' owners now and in the years to come.
AMERICAN EMU ASSOCIATION
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN EMU INDUSTRY
From its beginnings in the late 1980's, the emu farming industry in the U.S. has experience tremendous growth and many changes. In 1988, emus were raised and sold mainly to private collectors for their novelty value. At a time when rising land prices had already begun making small-scale farming and ranching unprofitable, the idea of emu farming began to appeal to many people who saw the potential. The appeal lay not only in the fact that many birds could be maintained with fairly low overhead on a small acreage, but also because emus were docile, quiet, easy to raise and, of course, could produce a number of marketable end products.
As the emu industry gained momentum, most farms evolved into integrated farming operations which included keeping breeder pairs, incubating eggs, hatching and rearing chicks, marketing live birds and - in some cases - home processing meat, oil, feathers and raw hides. A few farmers began the "commercial industry" by marketing emu products and many other emu farmers enthusiastically promoted the industry as a new agribusiness at fairs and farm shows. There is no doubt, much of the initial growth of the industry was due to the work of these individuals.
The result was a steady increase, both in the demand for birds and in bird prices. As the industry grew, the need became apparent to promote emu farming as an industry and to improve communication between emu farmers. In order to achieve these objectives, the American Emu Association was formed with 50 charter members in May, 1989. By 1994, membership had topped 6000. By 1995, there were 35 state affiliates.
From 1988 to 1989, bird prices doubled. With demand continuing to exceed the supply available, prices for emus increased almost tenfold by 1993. Eventually, as the supply of birds began to catch up to the demand - possibly hastened by the importation/sale of emus from collections in Europe - prices began to drop off to more realistic levels by the end of 1994/beginning of 1995. And while decreasing bird prices were a disappointment to some, many emu farmers were relieved to see prices level off, since there could be no commercial market for emu end-products when prices of live birds remained at exorbitant levels.
As prices dropped, theft of live birds - a real problem - also decreased and it was no longer profitable for speculators to sell defective emus and cull stock as "breeder birds", which had caused an increase in the number of poor-quality birds in circulation. Emu farmers also became more selective in their breeding programs and more rigorous in their culling of sub-standard birds, marking the beginnings of the type of species improvement which eventually takes place among most farmed species.
In spite of price fluctuation caused by the transition from a speculator's market to a commercial market, the emu remains an economically viable farm animal - productive, easy to raise and ecologically suitable. Public response to emu products remains positive and market demand continues to increase, both in North America and in Australia, two continents at the forefront of the developing emu industry today.
The American Emu Association represents an alternative agriculture industry, dominated by the small farmer, devoted to humane and environmentally positive practices that produce beneficial products for society. Emus are raised on feed formulated to optimize growth and with ample room to grow. When the bird is processed, the layer of fat is removed and refined into a safe and stable oil, used in cosmetic and health products. The low-fat, mildly flavored red meat is sold to health conscious consumers and emu leather is crafted into beautiful goods.
Committed to sound farming practices, the American emu farmer continues to work hard each day, bringing the consumer public quality products to enhance their well-being and their quality of life.
Excerpted from The Emu Farmer's Handbook Vol. 2.