Sunday, 26 February 2017

What To Do When Egg Candling Is Not An Option

New 2017 Farm Logo
Our farm has been involved with emus since 2009. After a year of intense research we bought our first emu eggs from a farmer in Oregon. It has been an exciting and rewarding journey. However not for the faint of heart. Many challenges and setbacks with incubator failures, threatening wild wolves, searches in vain for appropriate processing facilities, strained bank accounts labouring under pen and housing construction costs, inefficient feed bills as our herd (mob) grew to an economical size........list is long but nothing new to livestock farmers starting out. Now we are feeling the confidence of getting over the steep
learning curve and creating a 
manageable business plan.

Dry conditions bring deer & predators

So last year (2016) we took the advice of the sages and gave a year's rest to this blog diary. You might say we took a sabbatical (from Wikipedia: the sabbatical year or shvi'it {Hebrew: שביעית‎‎, literally "seventh"} is the seventh year of the seven-year agricultural cycle) to recharge our batteries and provide ourselves with some distance from the detail.

We have now been able to percolate the big picture highlights as we see them. This year's blog will continue in it's effort to help start-up emu farmers by consolidating and linking to the chronological detail of past posts. So with that in mind we will start at the beginning....with the egg and what we have learned about how to successfully incubate them as they are large, thick shelled and opaque to a most candling devices. (click here to see earlier post on this topic)

The techniques of artificial egg incubation started in the late 1800s and have been refined to support a huge world wide industry of big (and bigger) and smaller hatcheries. There are only a few basic principles (beyond the given of cleanliness) in managing egg incubation: temperature, humidity, fresh air and egg turning.

Optimum temperature across most birds is 36C (96.8) - 38C (100.4F). After start of season calibration with a good thermohygrometer like one made by Oakton you should be able to trust the dials on your incubator. Some people test several times during the season. Embryos grow from the consumption of nutrients in the yolk and albumen. Waste products (water and carbon dioxide) are expelled from the shell during this growth and consequently room is made for the absorption of oxygen through the shell pores (30,000 in an emu egg) (most concentration at the air sac end of the shell). This mechanical process is facilitated by the relative humidity conditions in the incubator usually run at about 30% RH for emu. This elimination of waste products can be measured as egg weight loss and is consistent for all birds at 15% of the original weight over the course of incubation regardless of egg size and incubation duration. As the embryo grows the air space increases to roughly 15% of the volume of the egg and will be the chick's first breathing source during hatch.

To supply oxygen to the embryo and remove carbon dioxide from the egg shell an outside fresh air system needs to be provided to the incubation room (and hence the incubator) and an accompanying outside exhaust. In the early stages of incubation an extensive vascular membrane (CAM) is set in place by the embryo to facilitate this gas exchange through the shell pores. To ensure the effectiveness of the CAM the incubating emu egg needs to be turned through a full 180 degrees at least 3 times per day. Without proper turning parts of the vascular system may be cut off and die with the weight of the growing chick

Now the principles of temperature, fresh air and turning are properly taken care of. What is left is to manage the speed at which the chick grows through the incubation period. This, as we said, is determined by egg weight loss and in an artificial setting managed by the farmer. The chart below has evolved over our years of hatching emu eggs and has been a confidence builder for us as we deal with the eggs that don't conform to the norm (lol). We hope it will be useful for you as well.       
  (for a larger view click here to our page)
Small print inside egg reads: Chick grows as yolk and albumen are taken in.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

We Are At The Close Of Another Year of Emu Farming

 Art Falardeau Salt Spring Island BC water colour 2012

New Pen Construction in 2015

Top left: 9' pencil posts and top right: no-climb wire

Middle: Magnet bar dragged on the fields to remove any dangerous debris

Below: Automatic water bowls from Jurassic Secret, Ramona CA

Bulk feeders made from modified Home Depot recycling bins that hold 5-44 lb bags of emu pellets
The Easy-Clean Water Bowl

Selecting Coming-Up-Two Potential Breeders in 2015

Right: Coming-Up-Two alpha female selected and removed from the grow-out pen as she was getting aggressive with her pen mates. With the right male she will most likely settle down and be a good potential breeder.

Below: Coming-Up-Two beta female was joined with an existing pair and blended well. She had been walking a mutual fence line and making motions that she liked that male well enough.

Chick house cleaned and prepared for 2016 hatch

Moving Mature Birds in 2015

Easy when the farmer is prepared. Portable fence panels erected and portable brightly coloured blinds leave no doubt for the bird as to which is the right direction to move.

Manual encouragement is being employed here. The second and third photos show how to move the bird along the lane-way using a firm hold on the bird's two wings and steering its body with the farmer's knees.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

A Change Is As Good As A Rest
Summer Changes for the Chicks

We have incubated, hatched and raised our own emu chicks for three years now on Mt. Sicker Family Farm. As the mob grows and multiplies we always seem to be playing catch-up with building new pens and feed enclosures. Emus grow very fast and as running birds they need progressively larger pens until maturity. Small pens at the start for shelter from the elements and protection from predators. Suddenly, it seems, they outgrow the chick area and require running exercise more importantly than shelter and protection. They are then moved to grassed and treed pens that are located close at hand for observation. The hatching process on our farm takes about 2.5 months so the earlier chicks are significantly bigger than the later batches and so at this stage are maintained in separate groups. At 4-5 months juvenile emus are still very trusting of their own kind and different sizes can be blended with ease. So the whole year’s hatch is then moved simultaneously to their final grow out pen. Here they can commune with the ravens and eagles overhead and watch the mist rise off the neighbours' fields and hear the emu hens boom out their call for an upcoming breeding season. 

emu chicks (1-2 mo) in chick house run

next three photos: 
emu black heads (3-4 mo) are moved to grassed & treed runs

emu juveniles (4-5 mo) moved to their blended grow out pen

The farmer needs a change as well….

The first 6 months of the year is very hands on for emu farmers. What with collecting eggs, incubating and hatching chicks, getting specific feed for the young birds, moving them around as they grow, etc….  So it is important for the farmer to take a break and get some distance from the chores.

We treat ourselves to two such breaks: one mid-summer when we attend the American Emu Association Convention and the other in Oct Nov after our mature birds are processed.

We joined the AEA in 2013 to network with emu farmers. It was very difficult to find other emu operations in our province on the internet. Most sites that come up are for retailers of the products made with emu oil. To actually get to talk about farming practices we needed to join an organization. The AEA  has a website (albeit in need of some modernization), a members group facebook page and a yearly convention that is held in different parts of the US. We have met other farmers through these venues both just starting out and (the majority) with 20+ years' experience. We get our batteries recharged at the convention and come home with renewed enthusiasm.

The Oct Nov break takes us in our 5th wheel down to the western US states where we get some warm weather and see friends. Our trip does however always include visits to emu farms along the way. There is nothing better than onsite learning from other farmers. Here are the thank yous that I posted on facebook to the farmers that we met.

John and I decided to get out of town for some down time before egg laying starts for another season. On our way to Albuquerque we stopped in for an overnight at Wild Rose Emu Ranch in Hamilton Montana to see Clover and Joe Quinn. Wow what generous hosts. We had a great emu stroganoff dinner and talked about birds and the industry and toured the ranch. Thanks again to you both and we look forward to more good talk at next year's American Emu Association convention in Vancouver Washington.


Home again now and into November rains. We are starting to look for eggs but nothing yet. More thank-yous to be extended to fellow emu farmers that we visited in California and Washington.

At Bedrock Emu Works Roger and Sharon live in the beautiful mountains east of Sacramento. The area used to be a hub of some 30 large emu farms 20 years ago. We were very surprised to see a couple of emu grazing with horses on a local farm and Sharon told us that many farmers couldn't part with all their stock and kept some as pets. Our hosts treated us to a wonderful dinner and lots of emu conversation.


It is our second visit to 3 Feathers Emu Ranch and we feel very much at home there as Washington/Oregon states are very like Vancouver Island. Lots to talk with Tony and Janean as to how we each deal with raising emu with similar weather challenges. Processing/marketing of emu meat was a hot topic. As a mobile slaughter house is not available to us we are building our own. Thank you both and Emily for showing us a wonderful restaurant in Chehalis which is now on our go to list.


We always appreciate the sharing that takes place with seasoned emu farmers like Jim and Myra Glick at Backacres Emu Ranch Olympia WA. They showed us a hen that has been with them since the start some 25 years ago. She is still laying an amazing number of eggs at 30+. We got to see up close the fiberglass emu huts that were popular around the country and are still in service. Jim is actively working on re-establishing the Washington State Emu Association and we are excited about the prospects of joining.


Farmers by definition are always on the job. Well, where do they go and what do they do to get a well-deserved rest? According to Kitty Walker a London based freelance writer and journalist "to regain our energy, all we need to do is spend time doing what we like and love".

And I guess that’s it in a nutshell….we love what we are doing.