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The Emu Bird - From Australian Outback to American Ranches


Emus (pronounced ee-mews) are the second largest member of the ratite group of flightless birds. They are the national bird of Australia. Emus are native to Australia and were originally imported to the United States as breeding stock for American zoos. They have quickly grown in popularity to today's premier alternative livestock for the American farmer.

It is believed that the emu is a survivor of prehistoric times and dates back some 80 million years roaming the outback of Australia. The Aborigine tribes relied upon the emu for their existence. The emu provided them with food, clothing, shelter, and spiritual sustenance. The emu is now playing a large role in the future of American agriculture.

Female and male emu chicks
Female (in front) and male
2 week old emu chicks.

The expanding emu inventory in the United States is domestically bred. As research and information sharing 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.

Emus 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, changing into a tan, brown, and black mixture as adults, some with 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 120 pounds. They are flightless and strong runners, reaching ground speeds of up to 40 miles per hour in short bursts and covering about nine feet in stride.

Emus adapt well to temperature extremes from 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 much 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 48 - 52 days and the percentage of eggs hatched is approximately 70 - 80%. Chick survival rates are excellent. Emus are very hardy.

The emerald green egg, which normally hatches in about 48 to 52 days, produces a chick that 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, although the birds are very hardy and adaptable.

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 evolving, the emu will provide a stable cash return to its owners now and in the years to come.