Frequently Asked Questions regarding EMU Ranching (V0.99b) preview issue for comment).
PREFACE: The following questions and answers have been respectfully prepared for the ratite ranching community by F. W. "Bill" Dingley. The information presented is not to be construed as necessarily authoritative nor is it purporting to be the "best available technology" at the time you read it. It is a compilation of opinions and comments from dozens of active EMU Ranchers most of whom can be reached on the INTERNET. With the publication of v0.99 I will maintain authorship of this document and subsequent issues until formally releasing it in a later revision. The materials contained herein may be copied and distributed freely with the provision the document is not changed except to allow for its use as an interactive document on the World Wide Web, or compressed for speedier electronic transmission. If you have suggestions for additions, corrections, deletions or any other form of comment, please contact me at one of the following addresses: Bill Dingley PO Box 894 Mont Belvieu, Texas 77580-0894 email@example.com
What is an EMU?
Why are EMU becoming popular as livestock?
How much land does it take to raise a pair of EMU?
What do EMU eat and how much of it?
How many eggs does a female lay per year?
What is involved in incubation of the eggs?
Can you tell when an egg is fertile?
What type of shelters do I need for the Emus?
I've never raised any livestock before, tell me about basic animal husbandry requirements.
How can I find out more about this industry?
The EMU (Dromaius novaebollandiae) is an ancient flightless bird native to Australia and New Zealand. Adult birds grow to five to six feet tall and weight 120 - 140 pounds. They are Members of the RATITE family along with the Cassowary, Ostrich, Kiwi and Rhea. The Emu is a dull colored bird with brindled gray, black, and brown feathers and often has a blue neck. The wings are small useless appendages that evolution hasn't quite deleted yet.
Why are EMU becoming popular as livestock? EMU are prolific and fast growing and produce a multitude of useable products. The meat produced is a very healthy red meat with taste and texture very similar to beef but contains very low levels of fat . An excellent meat for the health conscious individual that still desires the flavor of red meat. The oil produced from the fat layer of the EMU is used in a myriad of products which include burn creams, analgesic lotions, skin care products, and many others. The oil itself has been used for thousands of years by the aborigines in Australia as a folk remedy for arthritic aches and pains. Studies are ongoing to document these properties, but anecdotal evidence is voluminous as to the anti-inflammatory properties of the oil and recent U.S.A. patents would tend to support this evidence. The hides can be tanned and made into a lovely fashion leather used for clothing, shoes and boots, and accessories. Tanneries around the world are working actively with many people in our business today to optimize the tanning procedures.
How much land does it take to raise a pair of EMU? Recommendations for a single pair often call for a fenced pen with dimensions of 50 by 100 feet, although many ranchers are raising the birds in smaller areas. This recommended pen size gives the birds adequate room to run and exercise. A covered shelter to provide an area to escape the elements and provide a clean, dry place to lay eggs is also recommended. Some ranchers are maintaining their birds in "Community Pens" with multiple pairs kept together in larger areas. Results are mixed as to the better method insofar as egg production efficiencies. Additional areas will need to be set aside for very young chicks and grow out facilities if the farmer intends to board his own hatch.
What do EMU eat and how much of it? In nature the EMU appear to be omnivorous and eat a wide variety of vegetation and animals. In our ranch environments a pelletized grain mixture has been found to be very successful in keeping the birds healthy, fast growing and productive. Most commercial feed companies have feed blends specially prepared for various aged Emus and research is ongoing to create the optimum feed to achieve the best feed to finished product ratios at the lowest cost. One study that has been publicly shared is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.ratite.com.
How many eggs does a female lay per year? Good producing stock will produce 25 - 40 eggs per season, normally beginning in November and ending in March. The season is in the short days of the year with birds laying outside the above months frequently. Typically, the female will lay one egg every three days although a break of four days to a week during the mid-season in not unusual. In order to maintain these high levels of egg production, the eggs must be removed from the nesting area quickly. In nature, the hen will lay a clutch of six to eight eggs and then the male will incubate the clutch and lose all interest in any further fertilization of the female.
What is involved in incubation of the eggs? A fertile EMU egg will normally hatch in 48 - 52 days if incubated at 97.5 degrees Fahrenheit with relative humidity held constant at approximately 35%. These temperature and humidity settings are nominal but different hens sometimes lay eggs with thicker or thinner shells that require higher or lower settings to achieve the desired degree of weight loss throuout the incubation cycle. Typically the eggs will hatch healthy chicks if the weight loss is maintained between 12% - 16%. Dramatic changes in incubation temperature and humidity should be avoided during the process. If humidity or temperature is to be changed, it should be done gradually over several days. Egg turning is also necessary for good hatching results. Most incubators in use today rotate the eggs about the long axis plus and minus 45 degrees every two to four hours. There is a growing number of the manufacturers providing turning mechanisms that will rotate the eggs through a full 180 degrees. The more complete turning seems to produce a higher percentage of viable chicks.
Can you tell when an egg is fertile? Since the EMU egg is a deep emerald green color, the conventional candling techniques that are used for other birds' eggs will not work. There are some infrared candlers being marketed that allow "video candling" through the dark shell and they range in price (in 1996) from $500 to over $2000. These instruments will allow you to know within 10 days to two weeks whether or not an egg is fertile. A less expensive alternative is to wait several weeks after incubation has begun and remove the egg from the incubator and allow it to cool for a minute or two. At that point, an egg with a growing embryo will still feel warm on the small end of the egg while an infertile egg will cool much more rapidly. This takes practice, so don't throw away the egg just yet! Another trial and error method is to tap the egg with a metallic rod about the size of a pencil. A fertile egg with a growing embryo after 30 - 35 days will "twitch" or shake the egg if resting on a smooth surface. Be careful since the egg can roll off the table (That's the voice of experience]. An infertile egg will have a "porcelain" sound to it. Again this technique takes some experience before you should trust your results.
What type of shelters do I need for the Emus? Most adult Emus don's spend time inside a shelter except for laying eggs, but they do provide a protected area to keep feed available and dry. While almost all breeders have shelters built to get the birds inside and away from inclement weather, the birds typically show little or no interest in taking advantage of it. If you choose to build them for feeding, protection, etc. a three sided structure a minimum of 6 feet by 6 feet by 7 feet tall will allow a pair adequate space.
I've never raised any livestock before, tell me about basic animal husbandry requirements. The best rule of animal husbandry for any species is this: "An ounce of prevention is better (and cheaper) than a pound of cure". Yes, you've heard that all your life, but now it the time to plan and practice what has been preached to you. Most of us maintain our birds in relatively small confined spaces that, over time, will become breeding grounds for bacteria and parasites unless proper care is taken. Cleaning the droppings from the pens and shelters daily is a good idea. If the area smells badly then you need to clean more frequently. If you bring new birds into your stock, it is recommended to keep the new birds isolated for two to three weeks before intermingling them with your current flock. This will help prevent the spread of any potential disease from one farm to another. Practice a few personal hygiene tips as you move from one pen to another. If you have sick birds in a pen, or have been on someone else's farm; clean and disinfect your shoes, hands and gloves prior to going into your own pens. The most common way that animal disease in captivity is transmitted is by mechanical transmission by the handlers.
How can I find out more about this industry? Since you are reading this FAQ, you probably have a computer and may have access to newsgroups and mailing lists on the internet. If you do, then come and join the very active mailing list generously sponsored by the University of Idaho and administered by Tina Tindall. It can be accessed for subscription by sending an EMAIL message to: firstname.lastname@example.org with SUBJECT: subscribe and in the body of the message send the command : subscribe ratite Two excellent books on the subject are also available: The Ratite Farmer's Handbook by Phillip and Maria Minnaar is an excellent resource covering all aspects of raising Emu. It is available from a number of distributors around the country. Call the Nyoni Publishing Company ;1-409-642-2361 for a nearby outlet. Husbandry and Medical Management of Ostriches, Emus, and Rheas is a more technical but also excellent reference volume. This can be obtained from Wildlife And Exotic Animal Teleconsultants, PO Box 10541, College Station, Texas 77842, Phone 1-800-659-8171.