The Emu (Dromaius novahollandiae) is the second largest bird in existence and is native to Australia. It belongs to the ratite family of flightless birds, which include the emu, ostrich, rhea, cassowary and kiwi. Ratite means flat breast-bone with no keel, therefore these birds do not have any flesh in the breast area and this is one of the reasons that they cannot fly. Some of the other reasons for the inability to fly are: their feathers are not aerodynamic; they have solid bones instead of hollow bones; and an emu has wings that are only about eight inches long.
A grown emu will weigh 90 to 150 pounds and stand 5½ to 6 feet tall. They can jump four feet or more straight up and can run up to 40 miles per hour. Emus love water and are expert swimmers; however they would rather play in the water than swim. Emu are quite docile and are not aggressive to humans, with many growing to be quite affectionate to people. The male emu generally tends to be more affectionate than the female. They tend to be aggressive to other animals, i.e. dogs, cats, coyotes, chickens, and ducks which they view as intruders. Emu are very curious and are attracted to shiny or bright colored objects. Emu are very playful and comical. It is common to see them running, jumping, rolling kicking and doing all sorts of aerobics.
The female emu makes a booming sound, something like a bongo drum with the male making a grunting noise, similar to a pig. The sound comes from an air sac in the neck. The female’s air sac is much larger than a male’s air sac, which allows her to make the booming sound.
Emu eat grains, bugs, worms, some fruit, berries, vegetables, flowers, clovers and grasses. They may drink from one to four gallons of water every day, especially in hot weather. When emu have a good nutritious feed they will consume from 1 to 1½ pounds of feed per day. On poor quality feed they will consume much larger amounts in an attempt to get needed nutrition. On the American farm, emu are raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones.
Emu reach the majority of their growth before they are a year old. Many emu will start laying eggs before they are two years old. The life expectancy of an emu is over thirty years, with a productive life expectancy of over twenty years. There have been reports of emu still laying their normal amount of fertile eggs past twenty-five years of age.
Emu lay eggs that resemble a large avocado. The egg color may range from emerald green or very dark shades. They are generally 5 to 7 inches long and can weigh as much as 1½ pounds, sometimes more. Breeding season can start as early as August or September with laying season starting as early as September or October and continuing through March and many times through May. The female generally lays an egg every three days and almost always lays the egg after 3:00 P.M. and before 9:00 P.M. Most females will lay at least 20 eggs per season with many laying from 30 to over 50 eggs per season.
In nature, the male emu accepts full responsibility for hatching the eggs and raising the emu chicks. He will not eat, drink or defecate for the duration of the incubation period, which will be 50 – 55 days. On the emu farm the eggs are generally picked up shortly after they have been laid and hatched in electric incubators.
Emu farming is a viable form of alternative agriculture. It does not require a large amount of land. A breeder pair should have a safely fenced area of 25 feet wide X by 100 feet long with a shelter to protect them from the weather. The fences should be no less than 5 feet tall and built with no-climb horse fencing or chain link fencing. Careful attention should be given to be sure there are no areas where a bird could get his head or neck caught in the fencing or gates. Emu have adapted well to varied climates.