Problems for new emu owners

Discussion in 'Ostriches, Emu, Rheas' started by ES Emus, Mar 6, 2014.

  1. ES Emus

    ES Emus Chillin' With My Peeps

    As I glance over the most recent thread titles in this forum, I see that 6 out of the last 8 threads deal with health issues involving emu chicks, most of which will not, unfortunately, have a happy ending. Many people get involved with emus, not realizing just how delicate a future 150-pound bird can be, if it even survives to adulthood. I made the same mistakes, losing the first two chicks I ever dealt with and shedding more than a few tears over them, despite doing everything by the book.

    Most of the "older", more experienced emu raisers (for a better term) on here are glad to provide what we know, think we know, or share our experience with the beginners, for we were once beginners ourselves.

    Here's a little bit of experience, guidance, history, ec.

    First, raising a ratite is not like raising a giant chicken. Emus for example, have been illegal to export from Australia since the 1940's. Why is this important? It means that the current emu population in the US is descended from the zoo population at that time. Translation: there are very few stocks of emus that are now unrelated. Interbreeding over many generations weakens the bloodline which makes them very susceptible to geneticly-based health problems. This is not a problem when you are raising birds for consumption/slaughter, but it is when you are breeding and rebreeding these birds for future stocks.

    I hatched my first emu chick from an egg which I bought off of eBay from a seller in South Carolina. I did everything perfect, the incubator temperature was consistent, the humidity was consistent, it was turned at least three times a day. It hatched out to be a perfect-looking chick. I kept it at the right temperature, fed it the right feed, provided a supply of clear fresh well water,and exercised it as directed. Yet, after a few weeks, I noticed that its foot started turning outwards, it got worse daily, and despite my best effort and that of a vet's, the bird eventually had to be put down.

    My second chick was bought, already hatched. It came from an old farmer in PA who had raised emus for years. Despite the same effort, the chick suffered the same fate as the first one.

    Why did this happen and what did I learn? How can one do everything right and still get bad results? First, unless you are willing to gamble on incubating an egg for 50-some days and still not have a decent chance of hatching a healthy chick, do not buy your eggs from a source that you have not researched first. An emu chick's health depends highly on the health of its mother at the time she developes the egg. If the mother had health problems and/or she was not receiving the necessary diet (amino acids, vitamins, nutrients, etc.), she will not produce healthy offspring. Her chicks are probably doomed from the start. Same thing with parents that have been inbred over several generations. My old PA farmer had been breeding emus for years, but they were all descended from the original 2 birds he started with and those two birds were from the same source!

    There are some great emu farms/breeders out there who do everything they can to ensure that the crossing of their birds is reduced as much as it can. They may charge a little more, but their successful operations speak for themselves and there are the casual emu owners who have a couple of birds (usually bought at the same time and are brother/sister) and try to make some extra money selling off their eggs and/or chicks and from those, its buyer beware! Do your homework first and don't be afraid to ask questions and ask for references.
    2 people like this.
  2. chooks4life

    chooks4life Overrun With Chickens

    Apr 8, 2013
    Thanks for sharing. I see quite a few chicken threads on here where the chicks are exhibiting problems which would be due to the parents not being fed or tended correctly; too many people seem to forget about the influence of the parents. The female has greater influence but even the father's nutritional state counts as well.

    I hope to keep emus sometime in future, but being an Aussie I don't anticipate having such inbreeding problems with the stock I can source. Shame you guys aren't able to import new stock. I read somewhere that there are more emus outside of Australia (in the US I believe it was) than 'inside' it, lol.

    Did you find out what caused the folding foot issue, and how to fix it?
  3. yinepu

    yinepu Overrun With Chickens

    all are excellent points

    When I got my first emu eggs I made sure to get eggs from different sources and even asked them where their birds had come from.. getting "unrelated" birds is hard to do since as you have pointed out.. many are from the exact same imported birds from years ago...

    So getting a few eggs or chicks from different sources can help ensure that your birds aren't brother/sister and hopefully are far enough apart in recent ancestors as possible..

    When I bought my first eggs I made sure that the eggs came from "unrelated pairs".. even though some of the eggs came from the same seller .. I only kept two of the males from her eggs.. I culled the excess males based on personality and overall health.. asking myself which were the strongest and had the best legs and I made sure that the two males that I kept from her were not from the same parent birds.. our oldest female came from eggs from a different seller just to make sure there was a wider break in the genetics.. I had bought several eggs from the same person just to ensure a better hatch rate (USPS can destroy the eggs pretty easily) and when I had more than one hatch I made sure that her brother was rehomed since I didn't want or need a brother/sister pair and he was a nice representation of a healthy emu... We have several yearlings now that we will be evaluating over the next few months.. debating on if we want to keep them for breeding in the future or sending them elsewhere (rehome or freezer camp) based on personality

    Lack of certain vitamins and minerals does impact the eggs and the future chicks as well as the incubation temperature.. incubating too quickly at too high of a temp can result in chicks with more leg issues.. chicks that otherwise may have had no issues if allowed to grow inside the egg at a more normal rate.. But I also suspect that in the chicks with more leg issues that the parent birds diet may have been lacking in something which just compounded the issue.. so it may make things worse if the chick was also incubated at too high of temps.. two strikes against the chicks from the start.. it's no wonder that many don't make it past the first few months... and it makes things worse if the birds were from closely related pairs

    There is an "old" saying among emu farmers here... "if a chick can survive it's first year it becomes darn near bullet proof"
    as many of the people on here have found.. getting them through that first year is the hard part...
  4. briefvisit

    briefvisit Chillin' With My Peeps

    Nov 9, 2013
    Well done!

    Ages ago -- I can't and shan't -- I suggested that we create a sort of 'gallery' of 'essays' on subjects that we are repeatedly asked about. Like the health of chicks. And fencing. And the nutrition of purchased ratite foods.

    And broaching the subject of interbreeding was a major move. Gee! I didn't understand this. (Casuarius does!)

    So, the best thing S.E. could would be fill a tramp steamer with wild emus from here, and choof on over to refresh your gene pool. I have been paying attention to the leg-problems issue for years now, but was not sure enough to speak out -- it seemed to me that too many chicks had this problem, but I didn't know what the situation in the wild was.

    Last edited: Mar 7, 2014
  5. Nicophorus

    Nicophorus Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 19, 2011
    Central Florida
    In "my" opinion, people should not buy chicks until they are at least 2 months old and save themselves the heartache and financial loss of the risky and fragile newly hatched.

    But will people pay a bit more to cover the extra expense of raising birds to a older sell date where the farmer has to absorb the cost of the runts/rejects that don't make it that would of otherwise been sold soon after hatch?
  6. yinepu

    yinepu Overrun With Chickens

    most people won't be willing to pay more.. I have found that in this day and age (and this economy) most people want to wheel and deal to get the cheapest price for everything that they can get

    it's a sad but true reality...

    I had a buyer call the other day wanting a "buy one get two free" deal... I told them that "sorry.. but all the chicks are spoken for" (which is true)..

    they cursed me before they hung up... [​IMG]

    in retrospect even if I did have chicks available I would have turned their "offer" down... after all if they don't want to pay for the chicks and expect several for free.. how would I know that they would even try to properly care for them?...
    As it is I don't let chicks go to their new home until I know they are up and eating well (for a few weeks) just to make sure that they are strong and starting out as well as they can be
    I also give an "owners manual" to the new owner.. when asked why I tell them that even a toaster comes with a manual.. and what could be easier to use than a toaster!
  7. Ellamumu

    Ellamumu Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 15, 2013
    I think it's great that you keep the chicks longer and prepare a manual, my husband bought me my first emu chick as a surprise from a lady who gave it to him at 2 days old, not eating or walking , she said he'll start walking in a few days, I am glad I didn't wait more than 1 more day and then found this very helpful forum that let me know about proper nutrition, vitamins and stuff, and how to make tiny hobbles and run that chick all over the farm. Now my chick is 2 years old and strong and the love of my life but he wouldn't have been without this forum! So thanks guys!
  8. briefvisit

    briefvisit Chillin' With My Peeps

    Nov 9, 2013
    Yeh, I don't think of myself as an 'animal rights activist' or anything like it. I will chop off chookey's head and make her into soup. But people who can't tell the difference between a twenty-year responsibility and a cutie little cheepcheep make me grind my molars.

    This thread sure has helped me in time of need. Even sometimes when there is nothing to be done, it's good to know that.

    I am a libertarian, so I don't usually look to An Authority to get things done. Perhaps -- after the excellent posts of recent days -- we could all have the consciousness and the stubbornness to start a Month Old Chicks Only Movement. It would be simple to at least try -- after all, people, we are, without a doubt, the nucleus of Planet Earth's emu breeders and educators.

    So, we might, henceforth, agree to a simple policy: we don't support the shipping of chicks less than a month old. Perhaps more importantly, we don't mince words about WHY we don't support it:

    we love the chicks; they die more often when shipped young to inexperienced people; and the buyer is really getting a much much better 'chance' of a healthy living pet by paying three or four times as much.


  9. yinepu

    yinepu Overrun With Chickens

    That's one reason why I don't ship any critters.. just too much at stake in the hands of USPS or anyone else (though I am still guilty of buying chickens and ducklings and having them shipped to me *hangs head in shame*).

    I remember buying a couple of iguanas back in the early 80's.. they were shipped to me in the dead of February (I was living up in the "cold north" at that time).. when FedEx delivered them they were in a box full of holes sitting by the driver's seat as he drove his little delivery truck down my road with the door open because he couldn't find my address through his iced up side window.. needless to say when they arrived they were iguana-cicles
    They did thaw out (lost some toes and tail tips due to frostbite).. and the seller didn't give a rats patootie if they were alive or not .. I wasn't even expecting them that day.. I had asked for a "spring delivery" but was assured that they would be fine and would have several heat packs to keep them warm (no tracking numbers or anything to let me know that they had even been shipped).. you can probably guess already that the heat packs were never added to the box... so they were lucky to be alive.. had I not been home they would have been dead since the driver had planned to leave them on my front steps ...
  10. Nicophorus

    Nicophorus Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 19, 2011
    Central Florida
    The other day I visited a roadside attraction that had a couple Emu out back (in separate pens due to not getting along) and the male looked absolutely ANCIENT. I mean his face and head just screamed out to me that this bird was decades old.

    When I asked the owner how old that male Emu was, she stopped to think a moment, saying she got it as a chick when her son was a small boy (son is now a adult) and said the bird was at least 26 years old.

    So owners need to know that these birds can easily live 25+ years in captivity, I've seen one with my own eyes.

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