We asked Joy several questions about raising the birds, and she gave us these answers.
1. Is there anything you would do to make your experience with the emus better, or would you not change anything?
Knowing what I know now, I would have set up our pens with a central building instead of the individual huts. This would make it easier on me during the frigid winter weather. And if I were to start raising emus now, I would start out with breeders instead of chicks, so that I could start hatching chicks the first year, which would give me an income the following year instead of several years down the road. There are wholesale buyers for the emu meat and the emu fat now that were not available when I started raising emus. [Author’s note: Joy said emu meat can wholesale for $4 to $8 a pound, and the steaks can bring between $12 and $18 a pound. The fat sells for $14 or more a pound. One emu will yield about 25 pounds of meat and 15 to 25 pounds of fat.]
2. Are there any requirements to work with emus, such as permits?
Emus are considered either alternative livestock or poultry, depending on what state you are located in. Here in Wisconsin, they have their own category. They are listed as ratites (the name for the diverse group of large flightless birds that includes emus and ostriches). No permits are required for raising livestock, poultry or ratites, though some local restrictions may apply.
3. How does one start a career working with emus?
Learn as much as you can about them. The Emu Farmers Handbooks I & II by Phillip and Maria Minnaar are the emu farmer’s bible and contain all the information that you need to raise emus. The American Emu Association (AEA) also has the AEA Emu Primer that contains a lot of good information on raising them. All of these are available from the emu industry magazine, Emu Today & Tomorrow (ET&T). After you have learned how to raise them, then you need to find an emu farm where you can purchase your birds.
4. Are emus difficult to raise and train?
Emus are very hardy. Once they are past three months of age, their main problems are injuries. They are susceptible to equine encephalitis, which is carried by mosquitos, which is more of a problem in some areas than others, and a brain worm parasite carried by raccoons (we keep raccoons off the property by using livestock guardian dogs). Other than these, they are very hardy and seldom are bothered with other problems if they are well cared for.
5. Would you consider this the career you’d be happy with for the rest of your working days?
Oh, yes. The birds all have their own personalities. Some crave attention, others prefer to be left alone. And watching the chicks hatch is amazing!
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This article was originally published in The NEW PIONEER™ Spring 2016 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.