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Emu

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Scientific name: Dromaius novaehollandiae

Other common names: N/A

The basics:
The tall, shaggy Emu is endemic to Australia, where this successful species is widespread in open habitat. As the second largest living bird, the flightless Emu can be viewed as Australia's answer to Africa's Ostrich. It's somewhat smaller and more manageable but it offers lean red meat, large eggs for crafting, and even an attractive leather. As a bonus, its oil has proved to be a valuable skin cream. An interesting note: One female can produce as many as 50 1-1/2 pound eggs a year, with each dark green Emu egg the equivalent of around 10 eggs from a domestic chicken. Because of the dark shell, coupled with a lighter inner shell, this eggshell is particularly good for carving.

However, also like the Ostrich, in North America the Emu became the focus of speculators in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The price of breeding pairs became so high that it wasn't profitable to raise birds for any purpose except to produce chicks to be sold to other start-up breeders for a high price who then also produced chicks that they in turn needed to sell at a high price...a classic pyramid scheme that ultimately collapsed. Today, the market is more stable, and prices of breeders are quite reasonable, but a responsible person will still get the facts from a reputable source like the American Emu Association (AEA).

Appearance:
The shaggy brown Emu can stand over six feet tall, with the adult females somewhat taller than their mates. It has no keel, and its tiny, vestigial wings give the impression of a wingless, as well as a flightless, species. There are beautiful white and blond mutations sometimes available. A fully adult female can make a drumming or booming sound much different from the male's grunt.

Average weight:
41- 63.5 kilograms (90 - 140 lbs.)

Lifespan:
25 years

Health:
Like other birds that spend a lot of time on the ground, Emus may need a de-worming schedule. You will want an experienced veterinarian who is capable of handling a large bird capable of giving a hard kick. Get a referral from other Emu breeders.

Behavior / temperament:
Emus can be gentle, charming birds that eat from your hand. Despite their size, they can be considered the sweetest of the ratites and far less dangerous than an adult Ostrich. Their courtship and breeding behaviors are also fascinating to observe. The female “drums” to attract the male, lays the eggs, and then slips away, leaving the rest of the incubation and chick raising duties to him...while she goes in search of another male. A successful female may end up laying three clutches in a season. Fortunately, the male Emu is a dedicated father indeed, because he may lose up to one-third of his body weight during the 8 weeks he invests just in incubating these large eggs. He may then spend as much as another 18 months raising the babies to full adulthood.

On the downside, Emus are strong, powerful birds, and if they feel they must defend themselves or their young, they can certainly cause an injury. Check your property to be sure they can't escape, because wandering Emus look scary to law enforcement personal or members of the public, and you would not want a harmless pet shot by someone who thought they were under attack.

Housing:
A pair of Emus will need 2,500 square feet to roam, although they may pace the fence line no matter how large the territory. These birds are known escape artists, and you should be prepared to install a fence at least five feet – some advise six feet – high. A shelter should be provided against extreme weather, and it would be a good idea to train them to visit the shelter by feeding them there or at least offering hand treats like the sliced apple there. Provide clean, dry straw for bedding and a sand pit for dust bathing.

Diet:
Wild Emus might seem to be omnivorous birds willing to eat anything that sits still. However, they don't have the same internal digestive system as an Ostrich, and they can't benefit from the extremely high fiber diet that an Ostrich often enjoys. You are strongly advised to feed a pellet that is specifically intended for Emus if you can find it, although many people do have success with a general ratite pellet if that's all they can get. Supplement the pellets with treats like alfalfa, rye grass, greens like romaine lettuce, and fruits like sliced apple. Always have fresh, clean water available.

Written by Elaine Radford

wonderful

great snake catcher, large eggs, comical personalities, bird meat, sixfoot tall bird

challenging

Chasing, peck, little smarts, powerful kick, tall fencing, sheer intimidation

interesting

Emu farming, fairly quiet bird, shiny objects, boomingdrumming sound, lower protein diet

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