Emu are a part of the Ratite family. They are originally from Australia. They were first imported to the United States prior to 1950 as exotic zoo animals and private collections. In 1960, Australia named the Emu as their national bird and banned their export. Around 1980, Emu began to be commercially bred in the US. Prices of these birds climbed higher and higher. And emu became a popular exotic agricultural farming option. Since that time the market has dropped and emu can be purchased more economically. They are not as popular as they were in the 80's but can now be used as an alternate option for small homesteads for meat or oils. The meat is a low fat, low cholesterol, rich in iron red meat. And emu oil is used in cosmetics and health products. It is advertised as a healing oil. Emu are an agricultural animal that every part of the bird can be used. At harvest, around 16 months of age, an emu can produce 20-30 pounds of health red meat and give 4 to 5 liters of raw emu oil. The skin can be made into rich leathers. The feathers are used in the craft industry because they are very unique. The adult feathers grow from a folicle just like our hair does. It is a double shafted feather that grows in black and bleaches to gray from the sun exposure. Their feathers are not water resistant like most bird feathers so they are very soft to the touch. Emu egg shells are carved, made into decorative pieces and broken up for craft or jewlery mosaics.
Emu are not endangered as a species. They are rated as a least concern species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. However, in the past two types of emu have gone extinct. They are the Tasmanian Emu and the King Island Emu. Emu are the second largest bird on Earth. Second only to the ostrich. Emu are the only birds with calf muscles. They have very strong legs and can run up to 30 to 40 miles per hour for quite a distance. At times their strides can reach over 9 feet long. Adult emu have been know to jump 7 feet high straight up. They are a flightless bird that have very small useless wings by their sides. Emu have great eyesight and agility and can escape almost anything. They use their legs and three sharp toe claws to rip apart predators.
Between May and June it is not uncommon for the females to fight over a mate. The female emu will mate several times during the breeding season from October to April. A female emu will mate several times and lay several clutches of eggs during this time. A sexually mature female emu can lay 40 to 50 eggs in one year. She can lay an egg every 3 to 5 days. And Emu have produced viable eggs for 35 years or more in captivity. Emu eggs look similar to a large avocado. They can have the same weight and volume as a dozen chicken eggs. When they are hatched, the emu chick is about 9.8 inches tall. They are considered precocial, as they can walk within minutes of hatching. They can leave the nest after 3 days. The chick takes about 10 days to absorb the yolk sack. During this time they can be very fragile. After they have absorbed the yolk sack and are eating a balanced diet, they are very hardy chicks. The fathers are the ones who build, sit on the nest and raise the chicks. He will lose up tp one third of his body weight while he is on the nest. The father will teach them how to find food and about stranger danger in the environment for the next 5 to 7 months. However, some juvenile emu will stay with dads for up to 18 months. They are striped at first to help them hide from danger. By 3 months they can reach 2 to 3 feet and by 6 months up to 4 1/2 feet tall and will have their adult plumage. Most emu are full grown at 12-14 months of age. Emu develop their sexual organs at this time but do not reach sexual maturity until about 2 years of age or even later for the males at 3 to 4 years of age. Emu can weigh up to 150 pounds and be up to 6.2 feet tall by 4 years of age.
A female will begin to communicate with a pouch in her throat or windpipe around 12 months of age. She will inflate the pouch and produce a deep booming or drumming sound. This sound can be heard for up to 1.2 miles away. This is usually when the emu's sex is easiest to determine. They can be sexed by dna at birth but obtaining the blood samples can be difficult. Emu will shake their stiff tail feathers together to scare off predators. They can also hiss an eerie warning for would be predictors, causing them to reconsider their choices.
Emu are intensely curious and can be very docile birds. They are excellent swimmers and love to play in water. They can be seen cavorting about and kicking their heals up as they get excited over any little thing. Even though emu are usually solitary birds but can be seen in large groups as they travel to look for food and water. They forage for plants and insects in the wild. In the wild, they can go for weeks without eating and travel huge distances to find new food sources. Emu are omnivores, meaning they will eat both plants and animals. They eat acacia seeds, catepillars, grass shoots, leaves, pods of cassia, bettles, grasshoppers, fruit, lizards, ladybugs, crickets, moth larve and ants in their native environment. Emu have a very short and therefore quick digestive tract. They must obtain the best calories to digest because their food travels quickly through the digestive system, usually within about 6 hours. Emu are great at spreading seeds because many seeds do not digest in this short amount of time. In the wild, they travel great distances and spread the seeds in small perfectly fertilzed mounds along the way. Emu can live 10 to 20 years in the wild and more than 35 years in captivity.
When incubating emu eggs in captivity they need to be kept between 96 to 98.5 degrees F on a dry bulb thermometer with a relative humidity of 24 to 35% or wet bulb 70 to 74 degrees F. The eggs need to be rotated 360 degrees daily. The eggs will hatch in about 8 weeks or between 48 and 52 days.
One very interesting and fun fact to look up is The Great Emu War. It happened in Australia during the end of 1932. No joking the Emus won!