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A Brief History of the
American Emu Industry

From its beginnings in the late 1980's, the emu farming industry in the US has experienced tremendous growth and many changes. In 1988, emus were raised and sold mainly to private collectors for their novelty value. At a time when rising land prices had already begun making small-scale farming and ranching unprofitable, the idea of emu farming began to appeal to many people who saw the potential. The appeal lay not only in the fact that many birds could be maintained with fairly low overhead on a small acreage, but also because emus were docile, quiet, easy to raise and, of course, could produce a number of marketable end products.

As the emu industry gained momentum, most farms evolved into integrated farming operations which included keeping breeder pairs, incubating eggs, hatching and rearing chicks, marketing live birds and - in some cases - home processing meat, oil, feathers and raw hides. A few farmers began the "commercial industry" by marketing emu products and many other emu farmers enthusiastically promoted the industry as a new agri-business at fairs and farm shows. There is no doubt, much of the initial growth of the industry was due to the work of these individuals.

The result was a steady increase, both in the demand for birds and in the bird prices. As the industry grew, the need became apparent to promote emu farming as an industry and to improve communication between emu farmers. In order to achieve these objectives, the American Emu Association was formed with 50 charter member in May, 1989. By 1994, membership had topped 6000. By 1995, there were 35 state affiliates.

From 1988 to 1989, bird prices doubled. With demand continuing to exceed the supply available, prices for emus increased almost tenfold by 1993. Eventually, as the supply of birds began to catch up to the demand - possibly hastened by the importation/sale of emus from collections in Europe - prices began to drop off to more realistic levels by the end of 1994/beginning of 1996. And while decreasing bird prices were a disappointment to some, many emu farmers were relieved to see prices level off, since there could be no commercial market for emu end-products when prices of live birds remained at exorbitant levels.

As prices dropped, theft of live birds - a real problem - also decreased and it was no longer profitable for speculators to sell defective emus and cull stock as "breeder birds," which had caused an increase in the number of poor-quality birds in circulation. Emu farmers also became more selective in their breeding programs and more rigorous in their culling of sub-standard birds, marking the beginning of the type of species improvement which eventually takes place among most farmed species.

In spite of price fluctuation caused by the transition from a speculator's market to a commercial market, the emu remains an economically viable farm animal - productive, easy to raise, and ecologically suitable. Public response to emu products remains positive and market demand continues to increase, both in North America and in Australia, two continents at the forefront of the developing emu industry today.

The American Emu Association represents an alternative agriculture industry, dominated by the small farmer, devoted to humane and environmentally positive practices that produce beneficial products for society. Emus are raised on feed formulated to optimize growth and with ample room to grow. When the bird is processed, the layer of fat is removed and refined into a safe and stable oil, that is used in cosmetic and health products. The low-fat, mildy flavored red meat is sold to health conscious consumers and emu leather is crafted into beautiful goods.

Committed to sound farming practices, the American emu farmer continues to work hard each day, bringing the consumer public quality products to enhance their well-being and their quality of life.

Excerpted from The Emu Farmer's Handbook Vol. 2 and is being used with the author's full permission.

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