Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Canadian Emus In Print

"What are emus?", we are frequently asked. "Are they like llamas?" Mmmm, we answer. Must be time to write an article or two in our local food/farm/arts magazine to tout our stuff here at Mt. Sicker Family Farm. This is what has been printed so far: 

April 2017

One Egg, Seven Omelettes

Farmers rarely take vacations and it has been our observation that they feel compelled to include some business if they do get away. One past season we were putting the finishing touches on our packing for an agricultural conference in Denver. We heard a knock and our neighbour was at the door. He described how he was just sitting down to breakfast and a “big chicken” walked past his window.

Fortunately he agreed to keep our big chicken safely fenced in until we got back.

It makes sense that our neighbour described our emu as a big chicken as “if it looks like a chicken and walks like a chicken it must be a chicken” ……… but no, emu are actually classified as livestock because of how the meat is processed even though it has the anatomy of poultry.

Emu are native to Australia and are the world’s 2nd largest bird (only smaller to an ostrich) and when full grown weigh about 110 lbs. At 14-18 months that full grown emu produces 35 lbs of healthy red meat (higher in protein and iron than beef) and 25 lbs of fat that renders to 10.5 L of therapeutic emu oil.

As we write this article our farm is fully into breeding season. Unlike poultry emu breeding is stimulated by shorter daylight hours and longer nights. In the wild the rooster goes broody and sits for 50 days to hatch his clutch of 7 to 8 eggs. At hatch he will lead his chicks, sometimes miles to food and water and be their protector for 4 or 5 months. A hen on the other hand can produce some 20-30 eggs in a season. As her first mate starts incubating the eggs she will leave in search of a second and possibly a third consort.

These emu eggs average 600 grams and contain the equivalent volume of 10 chicken eggs. The shell is dark green and including membranes is made up of seven layers to protect the growing chick. The internal shell layers are progressively lighter in colour and are perfect for carving in the cloisonné style. Because an emu chick takes 58% longer to hatch it is not surprizing that the yolk portion of the egg would be much larger than that of a chicken. The white is more viscous than a chicken egg and makes wonderfully light and fluffy omelettes and cakes.

So as our neighbour’s news gave us much stress leading up to our “vacation” we did appreciate his humour. Emus although large are very easy to raise and for the most part friendly and curious. We invite you to visit our website at www.bcemufarm.ca

Lois Hellemond works with her husband John at Mt. Sicker Family Farm

June 2017

No Need To GMO 
This Emu Doesn’t Bruise

There are estimates that emu have been roaming the Australian countryside for 40 thousand years. Aboriginals have been and continue to hunt emu to supplement their high-energy demand diet, for traditional healing practices and spiritual folklore. It has only been since the early 1980s that farming emu was permitted by the Australian Government. Consequently, the emu’s evolutionary characteristics are pretty much in tact and little time has passed for producers to influence their generational biology. So, farming emu requires a different skill set as the farmer accommodates rather than dictates.

Emu are gentle animals by nature and given a chance will usually run away from a fight. They evolved into running machines that can maintain speeds of 30 mph for 30 minutes as they learned to run on their toes; resulting in very few natural predators. They travel in large groups when not breeding and this mob mentality works in their favour to discourage predation. When cornered, however an emu has a dangerous double footed kick that farmers have learned to respect. Well maintained 6-foot fencing around large exercise pens satisfies their natural fence walking habits.

In the wild emus are nomadic as they forage for seasonal food such as seeds, grasses, leaves, fruit and insects. Recyclers by nature they frequently retrace their steps as their short 6-hour metabolism allows them to harvest a second helping. In addition to grazing our emu farm provides a specific feed formula comprised of barley, lentils, soybean and alfalfa. Unlike other animals, emu’s feed consumption reduces to half during breeding season as these birds have evolved to store a large fat pack used as an energy source during egg production and incubation. 

Emus have also developed a body structure that will accommodate wide variations in climate. They can tolerate high temperatures and also cold winters with snow. They have an unusual feather construction of two feathers out of one quill. This allows them to raise their feathers for cooling or for warming insulation. They usually prefer to live outside year-round in our Cowichan Valley weather however will seek shelter from windy conditions. So, minimal housing construction is required for the farmer, only that to keep their feed dry.

The adaptive characteristics of the Australian emu has produced lean omega-rich red meat and health promoting fat and oil without the benefits of modern science. Not necessary, from our point of view, to mess with a good thing.

September 2017

While it might be surprising to most readers, Vancouver Island used to be home to over 20 emu farms from Campbell River to the Cowichan Valley in the 1990’s. Twenty years later Mt. Sicker Family Farm in Chemainus is the largest emu grower in Western Canada.

The original scheme was to sell emu breeders and chicks to other farmers, however this did not sustain itself and most farmers in Canada and the US went broke.

Today’s emu farmer is focused on selling the finished products of emu meat and oil to health conscious consumers.

At this time you cannot find Emu at your local grocery store. The available abattoirs are not set up to process emus properly for that purpose. Although 95% of the bird is used there are two main by-products, meat and fat. The condition of the fat must be specifically controlled. So Mt. Sicker Family Farm sells emu meat for pet food to Buddies Natural Pet Food, a Vancouver Island raw pet food manufacturer and retailer.

Founded in 2005, Buddies Natural Pet Food is locally owned and operated out of Duncan B.C. They love working with local farms and enjoy working with Mt. Sicker Family Farm. Many of their staff have toured the farm and have seen how much love and care goes into raising each and every bird. They are raised in a safe free-range environment, fed free-choice locally milled feed and mountain stream water.

Emu is a fairly new protein in the Canadian pet food industry, it really is one of a kind! Because this farm separates the fat to make oil it results in an, essentially, low fat product. It is higher in protein and iron than other red meats and has the equivalent fat and cholesterol of poultry. A nutritional comparison of meats can be found at http://aea-emu.org/node/36. You read right. Despite its feathers it is in fact a red meat! These properties make it ideal for pets looking to achieve a low fat diet and/or prone to heart issues, or allergies to chicken, turkey, beef, etc.

These days pets seem to be allergic to everything! There are many things that come into play that cause this, one of which is the fact that the “normal” proteins are being over fed. Many pets have developed specific protein allergies over time causing quite the head ache for their paw-rents. Emu is a low allergen protein, due to its uncommonness, which makes it perfect for those allergy plagued pets.

Buddies Natural Pet Food offers several different ways to incorporate emu meat into your pets’ raw diet; choices like Bone-In Grinds, Meaty Chunks, and their “Dinosaur Leg” for chewing purposes. All of Buddies’ Emu line is bone in, meaning they cut or grind the bone into the product you are giving your pet. While cooked bones can splinter and hurt your pet, raw bones are much safer and hold many nutrients that are vital to your pets’ health. Emu bones in particular are softer than many other red meats, therefore you do not have to worry when feeding the whole bones.

So a great partnership has been forged to bring a healthy food alternative to pets in the Cowichan Valley.

To read full issues of Cowichan Valley Voice click here