Chickens are fun but noisy, ducks are completely quackers, and geese are, in my humble opinion, the devil incarnate.
But what about emus?
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Are the benefits of raising an emu chick sufficient to offset the expense of keeping these large, flightless birds?
Some suggest that keeping emus simply isn’t practical for your average homesteader. They need high, robust fences that they can’t get their heads stuck in, and more space than a flock of chickens or ducks.
So why would you decide to exchange your low-maintenance chickens for a collection of potentially aggressive birds?
6 Things Prospective Emu Owners Should Be Excited About
1. Tasty Eggs
While chicken eggs are tasty enough and duck eggs richer and better for baking, a single emu egg is equivalent to 8 to 12 regular chicken eggs so can easily feed a hungry family.
An emu egg is a healthy source of protein, contains a range of vitamins and minerals, and has a 50/50 ratio of yolk to white, making it richer.
Emu eggs are gaining popularity in Australia where chefs and bodybuilders alike scramble to get the benefits of this quick nutritious meal.
The demand for emu eggs goes beyond mere nutrition and interior decorators and crafters hanker after the deep emerald-colored shells, paying as much as $49 for a single A-grade blown-out empty eggshell.
2. Healthy Meat
Emus don’t produce a lot of meat but what there is of it is lean, tasty, and versatile.
It can be pan-fried, turned into burgers, grilled, or made into sausages. With a high nutritional value and low fat content, “the American Heart Association recognizes emu meat as a healthy alternative to beef.”
It also contains a higher vitamin C, protein, and iron content than beef, and the same cholesterol and fat content as poultry.
The average emu, harvested at around 16 months, only produces about 26 pounds of meat, making emus a comparatively expensive lean meat source.
3. Fine Feathers
There’s very little waste with an emu and its soft feathers are used for a wide variety of purposes, from fishing lures to wall hangings, hats to dream catchers.
The shortest emu feathers measure just an inch in length and are very strong, whereas the longest ones are rough like straw and measure up to 18 inches.
The emu is one of only two birds that produces a double plume, the other being the prehistoric-looking cassowary. A single quill on either breed products two feathers of equal length emerge from a single shaft.
4. Lovely Leather
Leather products made from emu leather are distinguishable by the unique grain pattern produces by the feather follicles.
Strong and durable, yet soft and supple, this high-quality leather is highly sought after, particularly in the fashion industry, where it is used to produce boots, jackets, purses, and other accessories.
5. Restorative Oil
Extensive studies indicate that emu oil is yet another in the list of marketable and beneficial emu products.
Applied topically, the oil can reduce inflammation and promote wound healing. Mixed with eucalyptus, emu oil can also relieve arthritic inflammation and pain. (Where to buy emu oil)
Taken internally, emu oil is said to alleviate the symptoms of conditions such as Crohn’s disease and colitis, soothe gut ulcers, and balance cholesterol levels.
6. Serious Security
While a good guard dog is a more popular way of protecting a homestead, emus are territorial and potentially aggressive, making them excellent watchdogs for your property and other livestock.
Capable of reaching speeds of up to 30 miles per hour, if cornered, an emu can deliver a hefty kick with its powerful legs and large, three-toed feet.
Standing five to six feet tall, emus are intimidating enough to frighten off most predators without doing anything at all but there have also been “cases of emus stomping bobcats, opossums, snakes, and neighborhood cats to the ground.”
Five Reasons Why Raising Emus Isn’t for the Faint-Hearted
1. No Room for Flimsy Fencing
Emus are large birds so need plenty of space and high, robust fences to keep them contained.
The best fence for cattle isn’t good enough for an emu who can easily get its head caught between the gaps.
Emus are tough on fences, galloping into them at high speeds and even hooking their toes into the corners and flipping themselves over the top.
The only way to safeguard your emu pen is with 6-foot-high fences made with non-climb horse fencing.
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2. Space and Shelter
In addition to strong fences, you need to give emus plenty of space and freedom to run as well as protection from cold weather and heat.
An outdoor run should be at least 30 x 100 feet per pair of emus, although fencing as much land as you can afford is the best way to go.
Emus don’t need sophisticated shelters – a basic three-sided structure is sufficient – but they do need a fair bit of space so you should budget for around 8-square feet of shelter per breeding pair.
3. Food, Glorious Food
As the second-largest bird in the world, the emu has a voracious appetite, working its way through 1½ pounds of feed per day.
With ample grazing and foraging opportunities and other supplementary feeds, you may find you can reduce this, providing the birds have feed available 24/7.
Emus are omnivores and will tuck into a feast of insects, invertebrates, and lizards just as happily as they will a bucket of greens.
The best feed for emus is commercial ratite pellets but you can supplement this with a range of fruits that are high in fiber, along with vegetables such as carrots, cabbage, kale, and spinach.
Alfalfa pellets are also safe for emus and provide a good source of protein. (Here’s where to buy alfalfa pellets)
4. Health Issues and Veterinary Costs
Although emus are generally robust, healthy birds, they are vulnerable to certain diseases that don’t affect other birds, such as Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE).
As this life-threatening illness can kill an emu within 24 hours, many emu farmers vaccinate against EEE every six months.
Stress can also be fatal for emu chicks while birds of all ages are susceptible to conditions such as diarrhea, crooked neck, stomach impaction, and Avian Influenza.
5. Set-Up Costs
Emus are sociable creatures so getting a solitary bird isn’t an option.
A breeding pair of emus is a good place to start but not the cheapest with a proven breeding pair costing somewhere in the region of $2,000 to $5,000.
Day-old chicks are a better option financially but the high mortality rate could turn it into a false economy.
Adult emus can be difficult to handle, especially if they’ve been reared naturally, so aren’t ideal for beginner owners who will generally do better with immature birds or chicks.
Emus Could Be a Profitable and Rewarding Homestead Addition
For some, emus make emu-sing and entertaining pets, for others, they are a challenging species to have on a homestead, requiring more space, food, and stronger infrastructure than smaller birds like ducks or chickens.
One of the biggest benefits of raising emus is that their functionality means there’s very little waste, with the feathers, leather, oil, meat, and eggs making them one of the most versatile birds you could invest in.
Compared to cattle, emus require little space but, then again, produce a lot less meat per animal.
For the traditional homesteader, there’s little advantage to keeping emus but, for the more imaginative, it can be a profitable and rewarding experience.
Featured image: “40/365 True Emu” by RLHyde is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/