Monday, 26 May 2014

Hatching Emu Eggs

Source: Wikipedia
The physical characteristics of an emu egg introduces a unique set of challenges for the farmer. The average emu egg ranges from 550-700 g with a multilayered shell about 3/4 mm thick. In addition it takes about 3 times as long as that of a chicken egg to hatch. So what are the egg hatching options?

Natural Incubation  Source: Wikipedia

After 6-10 emu eggs have been laid the male goes broody and sits on them for approximately 50 days. As the female averages 20 eggs a season it wouldn’t be practical for an emu farmer with segregated breeding pairs to cut the production of fertile eggs by a possible 60%. So each egg on our farm is collected every 3-4 days and stored until a workable hatch volume can be started. 

During the early 1990's hayday of emu farming typically the farmer’s business plan was to hatch as many eggs as possible. The chicks would then be sold to entry level emu farmers. Proven breeding pairs were going for as much as $40,000.00. As an emu egg is quite large, the garden variety chicken and duck incubators if modified would not produce the volumes necessary. So highly priced incubators came on the market and it was not uncommon to spend $10-15,000.00 for a machine that held hundreds of eggs. A few examples:

Hatchrite Incubator

N'Kobi Big Bird Series Incubator

Now 20+ years later most of these manufacturers have gone out of business. If one can acquire a used machine stored in a shed somewhere and is mechanical or has a friend, these cabinet incubators can be functional again. We had our N’Kobi Big Bird incubator in for repairs at Boulter Machine Works in Duncan this egg laying season and we were told that it was extremely well made and we should expect to use it for a good long time. The Hatchrite has a very strong following with a lot of people still using them since the 90’s. There is an enthusiast in Washington who has instruction manuals, parts resources and wiring diagrams etc, etc. His name is Kevin G. McCoy. Kevin has also recorded some YouTube videos that might help with Hatchrite refurbishing.

On a smaller scale the very reliable GQF incubator does come in an emu egg version. There are specific trays that can be purchased separately and it can hold 36 eggs at a time.

GQF Cabinet Incubator 1500
Large Egg setting tray and positioners

Still another option would be to import from another country such as China.

One of many designs from Alibaba
The price is often affordable and shipping by sea inexpensive if you have lots of time. However keep in mind that their mass target market is chicken and duck producers. One needs to ensure that manufacturer customisation of the egg trays and rotating shelves for emu incubation will do the job correctly.

Now finally, on a very large scale an insulated room can be dedicated for incubation and hatching. We toured this California emu farm linked here and were very impressed with their facility.
So as you can see there are many incubation options available. Start by deciding what size of an emu farm is it that you want and can afford. Then do your research. Remember that incubation is only one part of the infrastructure costs.

This final point brings up a whole other strategy to increase the size of your "mob".  You can source out a farmer that is selling hatched chicks. They are usually sold no younger that a week old from the farm gate rather than shipped. The going rate of around $100.00 factors in the partial expenses of the breeding pair and the operating costs of the 7 weeks of incubation. Sexed chicks would be more as this information would provide one extra leap forward in the plan.
Source: Wikipedia

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Going With The Flow

Spring is well upon us and emu egg laying is almost at an end. Only a few weeks ago this alpha male was "very interested" in spreading the love with anything that walked by his fence line. His manner and his appearance (he will soon loose his black head feathers) have changed (turned off like a tap) to that of a docile "coming up 2": only interested in food consumption and catching some rays. That's good for us as we have been plagued with incubator problems this year and we are looking forward to hatching time.

taraxacum ruderalia maskros - wikimedia commons

Yes that's real farming (not the postcard version) and will need a lot more
discussion in subsequent posts.

What is not at an end this spring is the overabundance of dandelions. Having grown up in suburban Toronto, I have developed a killer instinct for these dreaded yellow weeds in the grass and the rose garden. And now living in farm country I find it is impossible to eradicate them if avoiding pesticides. However this year I have learned to embrace these nutrition laden delicacies as the emu love them. So at morning chore time I collect a bucket of dandelions and congratulate myself in avoiding vet bills and completing some square foot gardening all in one fell swoop.

So in the spirit of my new found happy dance I need to share two videos with you. The first shows a male emu courting his new prospective mate, however she will have the last word. ( Animal Planet)


And the second shows a music box version of the dance created by Di Holdsworth an Australian Music Box artist who lives in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney where the emus roam. ( Di Holdsworth)