Breeders Aim to Hatch A Big Market for Emus US Ranchers and Speculators Hope the Flightless Bird Will Become a Commercial Source of Meat, Hides, Feathers, and Oil

By Keith Henderson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 12, 1994 | Go to article overview

Breeders Aim to Hatch A Big Market for Emus US Ranchers and Speculators Hope the Flightless Bird Will Become a Commercial Source of Meat, Hides, Feathers, and Oil


Keith Henderson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


WHERE milk cows and sheep used to roam on the rolling acres of Bill Kipp's Lake Champlain Valley farm, emus now trot in long pens. Australia's first cousin to the ostrich is the newest twist in Vermonters' search for alternatives to their shrinking dairy industry.

Mr. Kipp's interest was sparked a few years ago when a friend told him of the investment value of emus. Kipp worked as a nutritional and financial consultant to dairy farmers in the state.

Commercial use of emus - large (about 125 pounds when full grown), flightless birds with feather-duster bodies and legs that can propel them at 40 miles per hour - is more a future possibility than a present option. Emu meat, hide, feathers, and oil are all believed to have commercial value, but they are not produced in any quantity in the United States as yet. Some emu meat is imported from Australia, and an emu ranchers' cooperative in Texas has put out a line of cosmetics made from oil rendered from the bird's fat.

The Southwest, in fact, is the center of America's emu industry, and Kipp's Green Mountain Emu Farm is one of its few northern outposts. From 200 members in 1988, the American Emu Association now boasts a membership of 5,500, most of them in Texas.

What's driving this fledgling industry is the "breeder's market." Seated with his wife, Deborah, in their office on the second story of what used to be a milking barn, Kipp explains that in May 1991 he bought six emu chicks for $800 apiece. Two years later, the birds had grown in value to $2,000 each, and his small flock, with some additions and changes, was worth about $20,000, he says.

The Kipps have added birds and hatched many of their own chicks to bring their emu flock to more than 100 birds, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars at current prices. Individual birds are priced according to age, with breeding pairs fetching top dollar. A female chick hatched last February is valued at $5,500 on Kipp's price list.

The income to a breeder like Kipp comes primarily from investors - individuals or partnerships - who want to buy a bird for later sale. They often pay Kipp to care for their birds on his farm. About half his emus are investor-owned.

How long can the breeder's market last? Kipp estimates at least another five to eight years. By then, he hopes, the number of birds in the US will be at a point where commercial production of emu products can begin.

Pierce Allman, director of the American Emu Association, estimates that if every person in the US consumed only a quarter-pound of emu meat a year, that would require an annual processing of 2.5 million birds. "At this time, there aren't that many in the world," he says.

The industry is encouraged, however, by signs of international interest in the birds, particularly in France and China. …

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