Barn Buddies

The Diverse Emu

By Steve Fuller

Emus are grazers too.

I remember the first time I heard about an emu. It was during one of those rare occasions as a child when I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime. One thing very few young children could brag about was watching Johnny Carson on the Late Show since it came on after so many of our nation's youth had gone to bed. So I, of course, had to watch this late night phenomenon. After sitting through some humor that I could not truly grasp at the time, Johnny introduced a man by the name of Rod Hull who came out on stage with this most peculiar bird puppet encasing his arm. Oh, how I laughed! Rod Hull and his puppet named Emu was a sight to behold. Sadly though, the British comedian Rod Hull died on March 19, 1999 after falling from his roof. He and Emu will never be forgotten, for his comic genius will always live on. I thank him for introducing me to this fascinating bird, the emu.

An emu egg; tiny, light-blue specks on a hunter green shell. Prepare and eat as you would hen eggs. Serves six!

Emus are large, flightless birds, native to Australia and related to the ostrich and the rhea. An adult emu stands about five feet tall, weighs about 120 to 150 pounds, and can run as fast as 30 miles per hour. They are not easy to catch if they get loose! Emus use their long legs for swimming and defense as well. When observing adult female emus, one can hear an unusual, deep booming sound, like that of a bass drum, coming from a wind sack in the front. It is heard more frequently when they are excited or upset. The males don't seem to have a wind sack like the females, but the males make a grunting and groaning sound which is less noisy than the booming of the females. Both male and female emus have a third eyelid, a white membrane that darts from front to back, which engages briefly during pecking or defense.

Emus will eat just about anything found in their pens: insects, small animals, plants, and grass.

Unlike the ostrich and rhea, emus have a gentler disposition. They can also be quite comical in their antics - such as watch pecking (they are attracted to shiny things), and hat stealing. Emu feathers are long and thin on the body with beige feathers interspersed with black. On the surface, the mop-like feathers appear oily; under the surface, they are dry and soft. On their long necks, the emus' feathers are downy and short.

The popularity of the second largest bird in the world, the emu, is booming in the United States. Not only are they being raised for the various products derived from them, such as the high quality oils produced from emu fat, but as pets and barnyard companions for other animals. Emus are also being raised for the quality of their meat. Emus grow very rapidly and will eat just about anything found in their pens: insects, small animals, plants, and grass. Ready-made emu feed can be found at most feed stores.

Emus as stock animals

Trying to see eye to eye? Nooo, taking aim to steal the hat!

Oils derived from the emu are becoming more popular worldwide each day. With the growing concern about dependence on pills and conventional drugs, more people are looking to natural ways to take care of themselves. It has been learned that few natural products are as versatile as emu oil.

Over 70% of the fatty acids in emu fat are of the unsaturated variety, which tend to lower blood cholesterol. Also, Omega 3 and Omega 6 essential fatty acids, which the human body needs, but does not produce, can be found in emu oil.

On the surface, the mop-like feathers appear oily; under the surface, they are dry and soft. The neck feathers are downy and short.

Emu oil can be rubbed into the skin, without leaving a greasy residue, in order to aid skin protection. The oil, because it may act as a transdermal carrier of medicinal compounds, can be used to penetrate the skin to soothe muscle aches, to keep the joints warm without overheating, and for many other uses. Emu oil is also used to prevent scar tissue and to treat eczema, and has anti-inflammatory benefits. Before use though, I would advise consulting a professional as one should do before using any sort of treatment.

The meat of the emu is highly nutritious and low in fat and cholesterol. It is one red meat that people with heart conditions may eat with low risk. For this reason, raising emus as meat animals is becoming more common across the nation.

The emu egg, with its attractive dark green shell, makes a whopping omelet with a heartier flavor than a hen egg. One emu egg can provide about six servings.

Emus make profitable stock animals because nothing goes to waste. Their oils are used as natural health aids. The popularity of their meat is growing. Emu skins can be tanned into leather and used for various leather products. Emu feathers can be used in creating fishing lures, and the green shells of emu eggs are being used in the creation of jewelry. An emu pair, mating in the winter season in the United States, can produce up to 25 eggs per season. One other thing about emu eggshells: some believe they can be ground to produce a powerful aphrodisiac but this has yet to be proven scientifically.

Emus can run as fast as 30 miles per hour; they use their long legs for swimming and defense as well.

Emus as "Barn Buddies" or pets

Due to their mild natures, and the availability of feed, emus make excellent barnyard companions. Many feed stores carry emu feed that is nutritionally balanced. If specific emu feed cannot be found, other feed can be substituted (consult your avian veterinarian). Then again, an emu will eat almost anything and is a grazing animal as well.

Photo courtesy of Lynn Crump

This young emu sports the typical baby striping.

As with any addition of a new animal to the farm environment, it is always wise to keep the new animal separated from, but within view of, the current residents. This will allow the animals to get to know each other; then, in a short time, the animals can start to share the environment. Emus do need room to run, and putting them in a field with horses is an ideal situation, for both animals require about the same amount of space. Emus breed in the winter season in the United States, so it is imperative that the Emu is provided a warm, safe and secure nesting area within the barn or stable.

Emus are diverse animals; of course, anyone thinking of bringing emus into the farm environment, be it for stock or companionship, should do thorough research on emus and their specific needs first. They bring comic relief as in the genius of Rod Hull. They make good stock animals and are growing in popularity as a profitable business. And, they make an ideal "barn buddy" for horses and other animals.

For more information, contact the American Emu Association at 214-559-2321 or visit AEA's Website at