Q: I am going to be getting an emu soon through a rescue agency. I haven't been able to find a lot of information about emus online, and I was wondering if you had advice on proper housing, fencing and feeding—in other words, the basics on owning one of these beauties.
A: Mom knew a lady in Wisconsin who rescued some emus from certain death. Emus used to be worth thousands of dollars each. When their value dropped, a not-so-nice breeder opened his gates and turned his emus out into the northern Wisconsin woods to fend for themselves. Emus come from Australia where it's warm, and without supplementary food or shelter, the emus would have died when the winter set in. So this lady and her friends built a corral and lured the emus into it with food. Not all of the emus came, but some did. Rescuers took them home and either kept the emus themselves or found them new homes.
When it comes to raising emus, fencing may be your biggest expense. Emus are big birds—usually 110 to 150 pounds!—but they’re docile and can make great pets or livestock. To keep them, you'll need tall wire fences with openings that the emus can't get their heads stuck in, such as no-climb horse fencing. Emu breeders recommend 6-foot fences, as emus reach 5 to 6 feet tall at the top of the head. They run at speeds of up to 40 mph, too, so if several galloping emus slam into a flimsy fence, it's going down. Emus can also jump fairly high and sometimes hook their toes in fence corners and roll across the top of the fence. Make the emu pen as big as you can afford—1/8 to 1/4 acre is recommended by the Texas Cooperative Extension Service while up to 2 acres is recommended by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Long, relatively narrow pens are good so they have room to run.
Your emu shelter doesn’t need to be fancy. A three-sided run-in shelter tall enough to fit an emu works well, as do metal Quonset huts designed for pigs. It can also live in a stall in your barn or garage if it opens directly into the outdoor pen.
Emus enjoy a balanced diet, and you can feed your emu a commercial emu food that can be found in pellet or mash form. Protein content in feed varies between 16 and 22 percent. If you can't get that, commercial ratite food (designed to feed ostriches and rheas, too) is OK, though it's somewhat high in protein for emus. Most major feed companies make ratite feeds; ask your local feed store if they can order emu feed for you.
Emus also swallow small rocks that stay in their gizzards and grind their food. Sometimes they inadvertently pick up shards of glass, bits of wire, staples or nails, which cause gastrointestinal tract problems. Check your emu's living quarters often, making sure it can't get a hold of dangerous things like that.
Disease-management in Emus
Emus are hardy and disease-resistant, but they sometimes get intestinal worms. Many people who keep emus dose their birds with ivermectin paste dewormer packaged for horses. Talk with your vet or an experienced emu breeder to learn how, when and how much paste to use.
Emus are easygoing and curious. They do, however, have strong claws on their feet and they instinctively kick if they feel threatened. Their claws can easily rip through flesh, so take this to heart when handling your bird.
Emus also peck at people in a good-natured way, sometimes to get attention and sometimes when begging for food. It can hurt but the emu typically means no harm. Just watch what the emu is doing with its beak, and you'll be OK.
For more good information about emus, check out Moira K. Wiley's article, "Emus on the Farm." A good way to get your ongoing emu questions answered is to join the emufarm Yahoo Group.
About the Author: Ozark Jewels General Martok, who describes himself as "a really studly Nubian buck," lives with his family and friends on a small farm in the Arkansas Ozarks. Read his blog, "Mondays with Martok,” for a peek at their daily animal activities.
Have an animal-related question? Send it to Martok at firstname.lastname@example.org, and include "Ask Martok” in the subject.