Introduction to Emu farming
Emus belong to the ratite group and have high economic value for their meat, eggs, oil, skin, and feathers. These birds are adaptable to varied climatic conditions. Although emu and ostrich were introduced in India, emu farming has gained much importance.
Ratite birds have poorly developed wings and include emu, ostrich, rhea, cassowary, and kiwi. Emu and ostrich are reared commercially in many parts of the world for their meat, oil, skin, and feathers, which are of high economic value. The anatomical and physiological features of these birds appear to be suitable for temperate and tropical climatic conditions. Farmers can maintain these birds on extensive (ranches) and semi-intensive rearing systems with reasonably high fibrous diets. United States, Australia, and China are leading in emu farming. Emu birds are well adapted to Indian climatic conditions.
Features of Emu
Emu has a long neck, relatively small naked head, three toes, and body covered with feathers Birds initially have longitudinal stripes on the body (0-3 months age) then gradually turn to brown by 4-12 months of age. Mature birds have bare blue necks and mottled body feathers. Adult bird height is about 6 feet with a weight of 45-60 kg. Legs are long covered with scaly skin adaptable to hardy and dry soil. The natural food of emu is insects, tender leaves of plants, and forages. It also eats different kinds of vegetables and fruits like carrot, cucumber, papaya, etc. Female is the larger of the two, especially during breeding season when the male may fast. The female emu is the dominant member of the pair. Emus usually live up to 30 years. They produce eggs for more than 16 years. Birds can be maintained as flocks or in pair.
Management of Chicks
Emu chicks weigh about 370 to 450 g (about 67% of egg weight) depending on egg size. First 48-72 hours, emu chicks are restricted to an incubator for quick absorption of the yolk and proper drying. Clean and disinfect the brooding shed thoroughly and well before receiving chicks, spread litter (paddy husk), and cover new gunny bags or burlap over the litter. Arrange a set of brooder for about 25-40 chicks giving 4 sq. ft. per chick for first 3 weeks. Provide brooding temperature of 900F at first 10 days and 850F till 3-4 weeks. Proper temperature makes the brood successful. Provide sufficient water cups of a liter capacity and equal number of feeder troughs under the brooder.
A chick guard must be 2.5 feet height to avoid jumping and straying of chicks. A 40 watt bulb should burn in the brooder shed throughout the day for every 100 sqft area. After 3 weeks of age, slowly extend the brooder area by widening the chick guard circle and later remove it by the time chicks attain 6 weeks. Feed starter mash for the first 14 weeks or till gaining a standard bodyweight of 10 kg. Ensure proper floor space for the birds housed, as these birds require run space for their healthy life. 30 ft run space is required; hence floor space of 40ft x 30ft is required for about 40 chicks if outdoor space is provided. The floor must be easily drained and free from dampness.
- Never overcrowd the pen
- For the first few days, provide sanitized water and anti-stress agents
- Clean the waters daily; otherwise, automatic waters are preferable.
- Monitor the birds daily for their comfort, feed intake, water intake, litter condition, etc., for making immediate corrections, if any.
- Ensure proper minerals and vitamins in the feed for the healthy growth of chicks and to avoid leg deformities.
- Practice all-in-all-out rearing to maintain better biosecurity
- Never handle the birds during hot hours.
- Birds easily excite. Hence, a calm and quiet environment in pen is required
- Birds easily grab any item, so avoid objects like nails, pebbles, etc. in the vicinity of birds
- Avoid unauthorized persons, materials in the farm. Proper biosecurity must be ensured in the farm.
- Never keep the birds on smooth and paddy husk spread surface, as the young chicks easily excite, run and break their legs due to slipperiness.
As emu chicks grow, they require bigger size waterers and feeders and increased floor space. Identify sexes and rear them separately. If necessary, place sufficient paddy husk in pen to manage the litter in good and dry condition. Feed the birds on grower mash till birds attain 34 weeks age, or 25 kg body weight. Offer greens up to 10% of the diet, particularly different leaf meals, for making the birds adapt to fibrous diets. Provide clean water all the time and offer feed as much as they want.
Ensure dry litter condition throughout the grower stage. If necessary, add the required quantity of paddy husk to the pen. Provide 40ft x 100 ft space for 40 birds if outdoor space is considered. The floor must be quickly drained and avoid dampness. Restrain the younger birds by securing the body by sideways and hold the body firmly. Sub adults and adults can be secured by holding the wing by side way and by grabbing both the wings and place by dragging closely to handling person’s legs. Never allow bird to kick. Bird can kick sideways and front ways. Hence, better securing and firm holding is necessary to avoid harming the bird as well as person.
- Monitor flock at least once daily for the alertness of birds, feeding and watering troughs
- Notice leg deformities and droppings. Identify and isolate ailing birds
- Practice an all-in–all-out system. Never keep in the vicinity of the adult birds
- Never keep sharp objects and pebbles in the vicinity of the birds. Birds are mischievous and grab anything near them.
- Never handle or disturb the birds for restraining or vaccination during hot weather conditions.
- Provide cool and clean water throughout the day.
Emu birds attain sexual maturity by 18- 24 months of age. Keep the sex ratio of male to female as 1:1. In the case of pen mating, pairs should be selected based on compatibility. During mating, offer floor space of about 2500 sqft (100 x 25) per pair. Trees and shrubs may be provided for privacy and to induce mating. Offer breeder diet well in advance, i.e., 3- 4 weeks before the breeding program, and fortify with minerals and vitamins to ensure better fertility and hatchability in birds. Usually, an adult bird consumes 1 kg feed /day. But during the breeding season, feed intake will reduce drastically. Hence increase the nutrient level in feed.
The first egg is laid at around two and half years of age. Eggs will be laid from October to February, mainly cooler days of the year. The time of egg-laying is approximately from 5.30 to 7.00 PM. Eggs should be collected twice daily to avoid damage by the birds in the pen. Typically, a hen lays about 15 eggs during the first year cycle; In subsequent years, the egg production increases till it can reach about 30-40 eggs. On average, a hen lays 25 eggs per year. An egg weighs about 475-650 g, with an average egg weight of 560 g in a year. The egg appears greenish and looks like tough marble. The intensity of color varies from light, medium to dark green. The surface varies from rough to smooth. The majority of eggs (42%) are medium green with a rough surface.
Feed the breeder ration with sufficient calcium (2.7%) for ensuring proper calcification of egg with strength. Feeding excess calcium to the breeding bird before laying will upset the egg production and impairs male fertility. Provide extra calcium in the form of grit or calcite powder by placing it in a separate trough.
Egg collection and storage
Collect eggs frequently from the pen. If eggs are found soiled, clean with sandpaper and mop up with cotton. Store the eggs in a cool room providing 600F. Never store eggs for more than 10 days to ensure better hatchability. Eggs stored at room temperature can be set every 3 to 4 days for good hatchability.
Incubation and Hatching
Set the fertile eggs after adjusting to room temperature. Place in a horizontal or in slant arranged row-wise in a tray. Keep the egg incubator ready by cleaning and disinfecting them thoroughly. Switch on the machine for setting the correct incubating temperature i.e dry bulb temperature of about 96-970F and wet bulb temperature of about 78-800F (about 30-40% RH). Place the egg tray carefully in a setter once the incubator is ready with the set temperature and relative humidity and place identification slip for date of set and pedigree if required. The incubator can be sanitised by fumigation with 20g potassium permanganate and 40 ml formalin for every 100 cubic feet of incubator space.
Turn the eggs every one hour till the 48th day of incubation. From the 49th day onwards, stop turning the eggs and watch for pipping. By the 52nd day, the incubation period ends. The chicks need drying. Hold the chicks for at least 24 to 72 hours in the hatcher compartment to become healthy chicks. Usually, hatchability will be 70% or more. There are many reasons for low hatchability. Proper breeder nutrition ensures healthy chicks.
Emus need a balanced diet for their proper growth and reproduction. Based on the literature, specific nutrient requirements were suggested (Table 1 and 3). Emu feed can be prepared by using common poultry feed ingredients (Table 2). Feed alone accounts for 60-70% of the production cost; hence, the least cost rations will improve the margin of returns overfeeding. In commercial farms, feed intake per emu breeding pair per annum varied from 394-632 kg with a mean of 527kg.
Nutrient requirements suggested for Emu at different age groups
|Parameter||Starter (10-14 week age or up to 10 kg body weight)||Grower (15-34 wk age or10-25kg body weight)||Breeder|
Ratite birds are generally sturdy and live long (80% livability). Mortality and health problems occur mainly in chicks and juveniles of the emu. Starvation, malnutrition, intestinal obstruction, leg abnormalities, E. coli infections, and clostridial infections are the major problems. Improper brooding or nutrition, stress, improper handling, and genetic disorders are the significant causes of disease and death. Other diseases reported were rhinitis, candidiasis, salmonella, aspergillosis, coccidiosis, lice, and ascarid infestations. Ivermectin can be given to prevent external and internal worms at 1-month intervals beginning at 1 month age.
In emu, enteritis and viral eastern equine encephalomyelitis (EEE) were reported. In India, so far, few outbreaks of Ranikhet disease were recorded based on gross lesions but were not confirmed. However, the birds vaccinated for RD at the age of 1 (Lasota), 4 (Lasota booster) weeks; 8, 15, and 40 weeks by mukteswar strain gave better immunity.
Meat from emu and ostrich is of high quality; it has low fat, low cholesterol, and gamey flavors. Valued cuts are obtained from the thigh and muscle of the drumstick or lower leg. Emu skin is fine and strong. Leg skin is of distinctive pattern hence highly valued. Emu fat is rendered to produce oil with dietary, therapeutic (anti-inflammatory), and cosmetic value.
Emu farming in India
Emu farming was flourished in India, especially in southern India, in the first decade of the 21st century. Many emu breeder farms and hatcheries were evolved during this time. Direct marketing and advertisements in print media were done regularly by these firms. Many emu chick suppliers assured buy-back options for grown-up birds to the farmers. But they failed to establish a standard stable market for emu birds in India. An exponential increase in the number of farms resulted in massive production of emu birds, but demand was very less. Farmers were unable to market their birds during that time, and they found it financially challenging to feed and maintain emu birds. This crisis resulted in the closing down of all the farms that opened during that time. Since then, These birds are mainly reared for fancy and exhibition purposes in India than for their meat and fat.
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