Emu Production Guidelines

Guidelines for Caring for Emus

print the pdf brochure

Close up of emu head, Dromaius novaehollandiae

  • Provide a Balanced Diet– A variety of feed ingredients are used in proper proportions to produce the perfect diet for emus throughout their lives. Corn, barley, milo (grain sorghum), wheat and oats are among the grains used to provide the optimal levels of dietary energy. Oilseed meals, largely consisting of soybean meal, are the major source of protein, the building block of muscle and other organs. Vitamins and minerals, such as calcium and phosphorous, make up the remainder of an emus’ diet.
  • Daily Monitoring– To ensure health and contentment, emus are observed daily to check the health of animals, as well as the availability of food, water and shelter, pastures and pens. Protection from predators must be provided.
  • Cleaning Houses – Emu hutches and buildings require regular cleaning to prevent disease.
  • Fencing & Pens – 6′ tall chain link or 2″x4″ no-climb fencing are the preferred fencing for emus. Pens that have adequate room for the emus to run are recommended.
  • Chick Runs – Draft free chick runs, with heaters and/or heat lamps when needed, are provided to insure the health and comfort of emu chicks under 2 months of age.
  • Handling Emus – Proper techniques (working from behind and providing adequately enclosed alleyways & runways) are to be used when handling or moving emus.
  • Supplying Veterinary Care – If an emu is injured or sick, the producer will isolate it to provide one-on-one care and will often call in a veterinarian for advice.
  • Monitoring Environmental Conditions – Producers are constantly monitoring conditions to ensure the safety of their animals and to comply with local and national regulations.
  • Keeping Records – Records are kept by emu producers including documentation of daily events (temperature, feed consumption, eggs laid, incubating, hatching, growth rate).
  • Processing – Humane slaughter practices are to be used in all slaughter facilities. In 1997 the American Emu Association (AEA) pledged humane slaughter practices with the USDA.

For Optimum Care Emu Growers Should:

  • Provide necessary food, water and care to protect the health and well being of animals.
  • Provide pens and housing of quality and size to keep the emus safe, while allowing them adequate exercise.
  • Provide disease prevention practices to protect the health of their birds – including access to veterinary care.
  • Provide facilities that allow safe, humane and efficient movement and/or restraint of emus.
  • Use appropriate methods to euthanize terminally sick or injured birds and provide personnel with the training and experience needed to properly handle and care for emus.
  • Make timely observations of emus to ensure basic needs are being met.
  • Minimize stress when transporting emus.
  • Keep updated on advancements and changes in the industry to make decisions based on sound production practices and consideration of the emus’ well being.

Emu Terminology

rooster – adult male emu
hen – adult female emu
chick – just hatched – 3 months
juvenile (a.k.a., blackhead) – 3 months – 1 year
yearling – 1 year – 20 months
coming two – 20 months – 2 years
market bird – emus being raised for processing at 14-16 months
breeders – mature mated birds used for egg laying
cull birds – breeders that no longer meet the farm standards or are no longer needed and will be processed
trio’s – consists of 3 mated emus – 2 hens and 1 rooster
pairs – a mated hen and rooster
colony pen – a group of breeder emus with 2-3 times more hens than roosters

Founded in 1989, The American Emu Association is a non-profit trade association representing breeders, producers and marketers of emu meat, oil and other emu co-products. The emu industry is an alternative agricultural industry, dominated by the small farmer, who is devoted to humane and environmentally positive practices that will produce beneficial products for society. For more information about the American Emu Association (AEA) or the emu industry visit http://www.aea-emu.org or call 541-332-0675.

Judging and Conformation of Emus

Also see the printable version of The Judging and Conformation of Emus

Non-Conformational Traits

Gentle pecking would be considered a positive trait, as this activity indicates curiosity, friendliness and calmness.  An exception is hard or violent pecking mischievously at the ears and eyes, etc. of the judge or participant.  This should be grounds for down grading.  Minor flare-ups of a raised neck, neck feathers and hissing toward other birds should not be cause for down grading. Running in a panic, jumping, kicking and fighting between birds is considered undesirable. A good bird should have a normal respiration rate and stand and walk in style (strut). A bird with superior conformation but undesirable behavior would be down graded and judged lower than a bird with good conformation and desirable behavior. Most all birds can be imprinted and learn to be very calm and well behaved and a participant should be rewarded for this achievement. All birds should have documentation of age and sex.

Judging and Conformation of Emus

Beak – The color should be black. The upper beak is a triangle shaped on cross section with the tip even or only slightly overlapping the tip of the lower beak. Serrations on the edge may or may not be present. Look for abnormal color, shape, size, lumps, scars, parrot beak, etc. Nares, or nose openings are oval shaped on each side of the upper beak.  These should be free of discharge and debris. Eyelids  The lids may be solid black or have white regions. Eyelashes should be present.  The lid margins should be even and retracted to expose the eyeball. Look for uneven edges, lack of lashes, lumps, scars, scrapes, droopy eyelids, etc.

Third Eyelid This lid is normally retracted to the medial side of the eye and expands rapidly over the eye in response to objects nearing the eye.

Eyes  The eye should be oval.  Evaluate for discharge, scars, cataracts, cloudiness, etc.  Emu as chicks have brown eyes which become golden brown as they reach breeding age.  As they get older, the eye color changes to golden orange.  In blonde or white emus, the eyes may be blue.

Head  The head, including the beak, should appear to be the appropriate size for the body. The head should be rounded in shape.  Flat, long-sloping or short-sloping foreheads are not normal. Also, look for scars, lumps, etc.

Mouth  The mouth should be opened and the tongue, esophagus, choanal slit and oral mucosa examined. Ulcers, white spots, excess mucous, blood, lumps and bright red or pale white mucosa are not normal. The tongue should have serrations and a pointed end.

Ear Canal  The normal location is behind the eye and beak on the side of the head at the level of the articulation of the upper and lower beak. Evaluate the size, shape, and feather coverts. The canal should be free of debris and discharge.

Skin  The skin color on the back of the head and upper neck is a variation of blue, white, tan and black which varies with age and breeding season. The skin in front of the neck should be evaluated for feather loss and scars due to fence rubbing. Skin over the rest of the body should be pinkish to white in color. Dry, scaly skin, scabs and scars from abrasions are not to be considered normal.

Feathers  Age will determine the normal feather qualities.

  • Chicks: From the time it is hatched until it is 3 months old, chicks will have short downy feathers in three colors running in stripes: white, black and brown.

  • Juveniles:  After losing their stripes, they become a chocolate brown to black with feathers turning gray as they reach maturity. Shiny metallic black feathers indicate previous feather loss with regrowth or metabolic disorder and are not considered normal.

  • Adults: After 2 years of age, feathers become more consistent. The color varies from light to dark charcoal gray with black accents on the tips.  There are two feather vanes per shaft or follicle. The feathers on the upper neck and head are hair-like, curly and black in color.  The body feathers should be clean, free of lice, long shiny and fluffy. Tail feathers should be short and ruffled in laying, breeding hens and long and fluffy in the off-season. Shiny metallic black feathers indicate previous feather loss with regrowth or metabolic disorder and are not considered normal except in the case of breeding female with this feather regrowth in one area of her neck or back where the male has been pecking her during breeding activity.

Neck  The neck should be carried upright with a downward slope from the back and backward curve toward the head.  The neck should be palpitated to evaluate the straightness and determine if lumps or other anomalies are present. If the bird has just eaten, the food may appear as a lump.

Founded in 1989, The American Emu Association is a non-profit trade association representing breeders, producers and marketers of emu meat, oil and other emu co-products. The emu industry is an alternative agricultural industry, dominated by the small farmer, who is devoted to humane and environmentally positive practices that will produce beneficial products for society. For more information about the American Emu Association (AEA) or the emu industry visit http://www.aea-emu.org or call 541-332-0675.

General Emu Fact Sheets

The following two printable general emu fact sheets provide a factual overview of the emu. Including anatomy, chicks, meat, eggs, feathers, leather, fat and oil. These sheets were created for teachers, but are relevant to anyone seeking more general information about emus.

Facts for the Teacher, print the pdf brochure
Facts for the Teacher about Dromaius novaehollandiae, print the pdf brochure

FACTS FOR THE TEACHER

From the American Emu Association: About Dromaius novaehollandiae

D. novaehollandiae novaehollandiae

Dromaius novaehollandiae

A large cursorial bird, Dromaius novaehollandiae originated in Australia but is raised on farms throughout the United States for it’s lean red meat and
food by-products such as fat, hide and feathers. Dromaius novaehollandiae actually consists of three subspecies of emu.
As you look at the birds being raised on emu farms, can you guess which of these sub-species were the parent stocks of those birds?
The three living sub-species are:
D. novaehollandiae novaehollandiae
On maturity and during breeding season, these birds have a cream-colored (or whitish) ruff or bib of feathers starting a few inches below the head. The pendulous pouch is larger than in other two sub-species and sways during strut.

D. novaehollandiae woodwardi

The metatarsus bone is shorter with a larger diameter. The body is wider than the other two sub-species. This sub-specie originated in southeastern

Australia.
D. novaehollandiae woodwardi
On maturity and during breeding season these birds have a ruff or bib of feathers starting a few inches below the head. This ruff appears darker than that of the novaehollandiae novaehollandiae and the pendulous pouch is not as apparent. The body is slender and the legs longer than that of novaehollandiae novaehollandiae. Overall the feathers are paler than the other two subspecies. This sub-specie originated in northern Australia.

D. novaehollandiae rothschildi

D. novaehollandiae rothschildi –

On maturity this bird does not have a ruff or bib. It looks ‘flat-chested’ compared to the other two sub-species. The pendulous pouch is almost non-existent in this emu.  Like the novaehollandiae woodwardi, the metatarsus bone is long with a small diameter, making this bird taller than novaehollandiae
novaehollandiae. The feathers are the darkest of the three sub-species. This subspecies originates in southwestern Australia.
These three sub-species are interbreeding in both Australia and the United States.

Extinct Species of Dromaius

There are four other known species/sub-species of Dromaius that are now extinct.
D. ocypus exists only as a fossil
D. novaehollandiae diemenensis – This subspecies of novaehollandiae was reportedly a large emu with dark feathers. The body type was similar to that of
novaehollandiae novaehollandiae. It was found on the large island of Tasmania. The Tasmanian Emu became extinct around 1850.
D. baudinianus – The Kangaroo Island Emu became extinct around 1827.
D. ater – King Island Emu – At 4 and half feet tall and weighing under 60 pounds fully grown, this black feathered emu was the smallest of the species. You
may find it referred to as d. minor or as the dwarf emu. This emu lived on King Island, the northwestern island in Tasmania, Australia. By 1805 it had been hunted to extinction by sealers and visiting sailors. The one thing these three extinct southern Australia emus have in common is that they all had darker feathers than the mainland emus. For this reason early settlers referred to either black emu or spotted emu.  Dromaius novaehollandiae is the spotted emu.

The Pendulous Pouch

In the lower part of the trachea, just before the thoracic inlet, is a segment of trachea comprised of 7 to 12 incomplete rings that form a tracheal diverticulum or open cleft. A very thin membrane covers this cleft. During breeding season this membrane enlarges, creating a pendulous pouch.  This pouch is easy to see in females during their first three years of breeding, but in subsequent years does not enlarge as much. Males also have this cleft, but the membrane does not enlarge as much.  This cleft is the source of the booming and grunting.
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Subphylum Vertebrata
Class Aves
Order Struthioniformes
Family Dromaiidae (emu)
Genus Dromaius (emu)
Species
  • Dromaius baudinianus (extinct)
  • Dromaius ater (extinct)
  • Dromaius ocypus (extinct)
  • Dromaius novaehollandiae

Sub-species

  • D. novaehollandiae novaehollandiae
  • D. novaehollandiae woodwardi
  • D. novaehollandiae rothschildi
  • D. novaehollandiae diemenensis (extinct)

Founded in 1989, The American Emu Association is a non-profit trade association representing breeders, producers and marketers of emu meat, oil and other emu co-products. The emu industry is an alternative agricultural industry, dominated by the small farmer, who is devoted to humane and environmentally positive practices that will produce beneficial products for society. For more information about the American Emu Association (AEA) or the emu industry visit http://www.aea-emu.org or call 541-332-0675.

Guidelines for Sexing Emus

Also see the full printable Guidelines for Sexing Emus

DNA SEXING

In DNA sexing the laboratory sends a sample collection kit to the farmer.  Following instructions, a blood or mature feather sample from the emu is collected and sent to a laboratory for gender identification.  The birds must be at least 4 months old for feather-sexing because it requires a double plume feather.  Ratite sex chromosomes are different from other bird species so it is best to use a lab that is experienced in DNA testing of Ratites.  Results may take a week or more.

SEXING BY EAR

As chicks, emu make a whistling, chirping or cheeping sound. There is no way to tell them apart by sound.  When they reach adulthood the sounds commonly made by each sex will change.  The “voice change” begins when the birds are between 10 to 14 months old.  At this time both sexes will be heard making grunting sounds.  Soon after the female goes through a physical change the male does not, her throat sac begins to develop.  During this time the sounds she makes will vary from grunting to a guttural drumming.  By the time she is sexually mature, the female will have “found her voice” and it will be easily distinguished from that of a male grunt. The female can usually drum in two pitches.  One is a higher, faster sound made when excited or stressed.  The other is a deeper, richer booming that sounds like a drum.  The male will make a variety of grunting sounds, varying from short stuttering grunts to deep gruff sounds.  Males will also whistle to their chicks. The most common time for booming and grunting is during evening hours or just before rain.

SEXING EMU

It is difficult to tell the difference between the sexes from 3 to 14 months because the growth rate of the sexual organs is non-existent, often causing mistakes in gender identification.  The sexual organs enlarge at puberty and then again at the onset of breeding season, after which there is a slight reduction in size until the next breeding season.  For  this reason it is better to determine the sex at hatch, or wait until maturity.

CHICKS

Vent Sexing
Many farmers prefer to vent sex chicks immediately or prior to moving from the hatcher to the brooder for several reasons:

  1. Permanent or semi-permanent IDs are being applied at this time so a notation of the chicks sex is appropriate.
  2. Lack of manure.
  3. Chicks are easier to handle.

In order to manually sex chicks you will need to be very gentle so you don’t hurt them.  Never insert a finger into the cloaca as it could injure the chick.

Wearing latex gloves, turn the chick upside down and very gently part the feathers on either side of the cloaca.  Using the thumb and forefinger, apply a little pressure to either side in a gentle kneading motion to evert the sexual organs.  If the chick is male, the phallus will show as a little gray or whitish stem with a white tip.  A female will have a pink or purple to bluish triangular shaped clitoris similar in shape to a rosebud.  If sexual organs are not well-defined, the chick is culled.

Feather Patterns
Male chicks have a bulls-eye pattern; females have an irregular feather pattern.  If a chick has a salt and pepper speckled or mottled pattern, it will not reproduce and is culled.

Male
Female

MATURE EMU

For adult emu a finger can be inserted into the cloaca and the sexual organ can either be palpitated or gently everted and visually examined.  Always wear latex gloves for this process to protect both you and the emu.  Some farmers use emu oil as a lubricant when sexing mature emus.

See Facts for the Emu Farmer – Handling and Transportation of Emu for information on how to restrain adults.

Palpitation

Palpitation requires feeling for the presence of hard cartilage on the sexual organ.  Hard cartilage indicates the presence of a phallus, lack of this cartilage indicates female.

Visual Examination

In order to visually examine the sexual organs, they must be everted.  Insert the gloved finger into the cloaca and feel under the sexual organ, applying firm pressure until it is everted.

  • Males: The non-erect phallus has a short firm cartilage base and an ostium or opening in the tip that contains the portion of non-cartilaginous phallus that extends during arousal.
  • Females: The clitoris will feel softcompared to the phallus and vary in sizefrom ¾ inch to almost nothing.  Therewill be no ostium in the tip.

Founded in 1989, The American Emu Association is a non-profit trade association representing breeders, producers and marketers of emu meat, oil and other emu co-products. The emu industry is an alternative agricultural industry, dominated by the small farmer, who is devoted to humane and environmentally positive practices that will produce beneficial products for society. For more information about the American Emu Association (AEA) or the emu industry visit http://www.aea-emu.org or call 541-332-0675.