Raising Emu as Pets – Should I Get One?

Having a pet around can make your life a lot better. There’s something about bonding with an animal and taking care of it that just makes your days more meaningful. Most of us are dog or cat people, but birds and exotics are popular with some folks. And then some folks want exotic birds. Big exotic birds…

emu seen from the back
emu seen from the back

I’m talking about emus. Emus are all the rage right now, both being kept as poultry, humongous poultry, and as genuine pets.

At first glance, it seems downright crazy. These birds are enormous, strong, and fast. It’s not a parakeet we’re dealing with! Nonetheless, most of their owners report that they really love them and it seems they are actually here to stay.

If you’ve been considering getting an emu as a pet, it’s not something you should undertake lightly.

There’s a lot to consider, and overlooking critical factors might make for a very bad time, for you and the poor bird. Keep reading, and I’ll walk you through what you should know before you commit to buying or adopting.

What are Emus Like?

Emus are enormous, flightless birds, the second largest in the world right behind their close cousins, ostriches.

Your average emu will weigh anywhere from 110 to 130 pounds and stand 6 feet tall from head to foot, or just a little bit less.

They can run at speeds in excess of 30 miles per hour, climb, jump, and swim. They’re curious, highly active, and sometimes a little bit neurotic- like all birds.

Nonetheless, they are highly intelligent, trainable, and can form very close bonds with people who raise them, which is what makes them such cool pets in the first place. If you’ve ever wanted your own real-life dinosaur, an emu is about as close as it gets.

As long as you raise them from an egg or from chicks, you’ll probably enjoy a lifelong bond with your bird if you treat it right. But you should know that emus can be highly temperamental, especially if they get hormonal because they want to breed. We’ll talk more about that later.

Are Emus Friendly?

They can be, but as a rule, no. I’m going to qualify this statement and explain.

For starters, as I said, if you personally raise an emu or get one that’s been diligently and properly raised by people, you’ll probably have a pretty friendly bird, or at least one that isn’t afraid of or overtly hostile towards people.

Like I said above, they do bond with humans when they are chicks, and that bond will often last for life.

However, wild emus, or ones that aren’t raised with much socialization, or if they are abused, it will be extremely standoffish, skittish, and can be outright aggressive towards people. That’s a major problem considering the size, strength, and potential ferocity of these birds.

They also have a reputation for mood swings, with friendly, docile birds suddenly turning hostile for no reason, so you always need to be on your toes around them as with any large and powerful critter.

In short, be prepared to raise it yourself or get one from a vetted and ethical breeder- unless you want to deal with a terror for the rest of your life.

Can Emus Be Dangerous?

Yes, they absolutely can! Emus are incredibly athletic, very fast, very strong, and can react with incredible speed. They typically attack by whacking with their beak or, more likely and of much greater concern, kicking.

Their kicks are incredibly powerful, and their large, stout toes have impressive claws. An emu that kicks you squarely can inflict serious blunt force injuries, broken bones, or lacerations, and they can and do kill people although deaths are rare from birds in captivity.

Again, this isn’t some little songbird or parrot that can just give you a nasty bite: an emu can easily outrun you, physically overpower you, and kick you to death, though there are proven techniques for holding them back and restraining them.

How Much Does an Emu Cost? (Fertilized Eggs, Chicks, Adults)

Emus tend to be pricey, although surprisingly enough they cost a lot less than many other, much smaller exotic birds owing to their increasing popularity throughout the country.

Fertilized eggs will usually run you anywhere from $50 to $100 depending on the breeder and the local market. Chicks are highly variable owing to age and other factors, but may run anywhere from $500 to $1,000.

Adult birds are generally the most expensive of all, usually selling for between $5,000 and $10,000, although those from prestigious lines or breeders might go for as much as $40,000 or a little more!

Note that these are typical US prices; emus tend to be a lot cheaper outside the US where they are more common.

Can You Incubate and Hatch an Emu Egg Yourself?

Yes, you can! Emu eggs take a long, long time to incubate compared to chicken eggs, and will need to spend nearly 2 months in an incubator, averaging 51 days, prior to pipping and hatching.

The egg must also be turned constantly throughout, preferably a couple of times a day until the final nine days or so when it must remain still.

How Much Room Do Emus Need?

Emus need a lot of space. They are big birds that require lots of exercise owing to their strength, size, and overall athleticism. Remember, they are flightless, and so they run around everywhere and they are quite fast. For a single emu, you’ll need at least a half acre and one acre is best.

However, emus are also social and get along best if they have another bird to bond with, so consider two emus and one acre the absolute minimum when it comes to requirements.

Also, these birds are shockingly good climbers, and only tall fences have any hope of keeping them in.

Even then, ask any owner who’s had them for a while and they will tell you more than one story about how they had to track their bird down and bring it home after it got loose. A 6-foot fence or similar barrier is the bare minimum for keeping emus contained, and 8 feet is better.

Do Emus Need Shelter?

Yes, they do. Emus are remarkably hardy and adaptable to different weather conditions, but they need protection from wind, rain, and other inclement weather.

A simple enclosure or hut, one large enough for them to stand up in and lie down in comfortably, is mandatory. It doesn’t have to be very sophisticated, but it should help them stay warm when it gets cold out and provide shade from the sun.

Emus should always have unfettered access to this shelter.

Diet and Nutrition

Emus are omnivorous, and eat a wide variety of food. They are also expert grazers and can completely depopulate an area of insects and other small critters in very short time, along with many flowers and plants, so watch your ornamentals!

We know that emus eat all sorts of insects and invertebrates, including slugs, caterpillars, grubs, and the like but also small reptiles, and amphibians, and even mammals. All sorts of plants, seeds, and nuts are on the menu as are the eggs of other birds, including chickens and turkeys.

However, the specific requirements and caloric intake needs of emus are poorly understood, but we do have some basic guidelines that are reliable.

Also, these birds are huge and need lots of water so you’ll need an appropriately large water source. An adult emu will drink at least 6 liters a day!

Don’t Forget Emus Need Healthcare, Too

Emus also need supplementation of vitamins, minerals, and calcium for optimal health, and of course, they’ll need vaccination and protection from various diseases and parasites – though they tend to be remarkably healthy compared to more common poultry.

And that’s part of the problem with owning emus: expert healthcare is extremely rare in the West, and you’ll probably be doing much of it yourself after collaborating with other owners in person or online.

You’d be smart to track down an exotic bird that has some skill and experience with emus before you commit.

The Commitment: Emus Can Live for Decades!

One thing that most emu owners I know completely overlooked before they jumped in is how long emus can live. These mammoth birds can for a long time. A very long time; around half your lifespan!

Emus live for decades. An average emu will live around 30 years or a little bit less, and it is not uncommon at all for some birds to live 40 years!

There are very few animals that will live longer than an emu, like elephants and tortoises. That’s about it! If you’re committed to going the distance with your bird, they must factor into your life and estate planning.

Make Sure Emus are Legal Where You Live Before You Buy

Surprisingly enough, these gargantuan birds are legal pretty much everywhere at the state level. One of the only states where you couldn’t own them, Alaska, recently changed its laws regarding them, and now you can.

However, the situation is very different at the county and potentially city level, so make sure you check all of your relevant local laws, and especially any restrictive covenants or HOA guidelines, before you pull the trigger on getting an emu.

They might be easy to hide while they are still chicks, but they grow fast and they grow big, and soon you won’t be hiding it from anyone!

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