They're large, Australian and don't fly. These big birds -- emus-- are raised for their meat, oil and leather. Some are fairly friendly and can become pets, but many are not. At maturity, emus weigh between 90 and 130 pounds, and they are well-muscled birds with strong legs.
An emu kick can break a person's arm or leg. Always use caution when working around them. Most birds won't attack, but there are exceptions.
Fence Them In
While you don't need a lot of property to keep emu -- they are ideal for farms consisting of 10 acres or less -- you do have to install strong, high fencing to keep them confined. For best results, put up a fence at least 6 feet high. At minimum, you need a 5-foot fence, but some emus can jump over that. Remember, these birds run around a lot and reach speeds of 35 mph or more. A large bird hitting an inadequate fence means your entire flock can get loose -- and catching emus is no day at the beach.
Appropriate fencing includes:
- Chain link
- Game fencing
- Wire fencing
Remove any metal items from your emu field. Use a magnet and go over the area thoroughly. Emus will devour these objects, ranging from coins to nails, and such ingestion can prove fatal.
Although emus require shelter from inclement weather, it doesn't need to be elaborate. A run-in shed generally suffices, although the birds may require a closed shed or barn if you live in a very cold climate.
Ideally, feed your emus a commercial diet designed specifically for ratites for their appropriate life stage. These include:
If emu feed isn't available in your area, you may have to mix your own. Typical emu feed consists of corn, alfalfa, wheat and a moderate amount of soybeans. You can add supplements created for emus to this mixture. Your birds must have access to fresh, clean water at all times.
Emu owners should join the American Emu Association. The organization can answer questions about emu health, diet and other issues. Your local vets and feed dealers may not have much, if any, emu experience.
Breeding and Nesting
Other than allowing birds of the opposite sex to share the same pens, you don't have to do anything special to breed emus. Provide each breeding pair with at least a half acre or more. Females reach puberty and start breeding between the ages of 1.5 to 3 years, and continue laying eggs for approximately the next 15 years. The average bird may lay 50 eggs annually. In emu life, it's the male who actually sits on the eggs and hatches them -- for nearly two months, or an average of 52 days. However, it's best to use an incubator. Not only are you able to control for an emu sire's personal vagaries, but the human imprinted chicks usually enjoy being around people.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.