Emu, the feathered critter, to be spotlighted by state

By Ed Brock

There's just something special about the emu.

In fact, the flightless, ostrich-like birds are so special that Gov. Sonny Perdue has declared May 3 through 11 Emu Week in Georgia.

That's just fine with David and Barbara Baker, owners and operators of Baker's Acres Emu Farm in Hampton.

"We get a lot of publicity during emu week," David Baker said.

Perdue made the proclamation because "a growing sector of Georgia's agricultural economy comes from the efforts and contributions of emu growers, most of whom are small farmers involved in raising, processing and marketing emu products through humane and environmentally positive practices that produce beneficial products for our society."

Emus are also environmentally friendly, according to Perdue's proclamation.

Emus are native to Australia and are an old species that includes ostriches and rheas, the Bakers say. But as a business they are a good investment, producing extremely healthy meat, oil for cosmetics, hides for boots and feathers for decorations and feather-dusters.

The Bakers even carve designs on the large, emerald green eggshells.

They also grow quickly and are easy to maintain.

"The hardest part is putting up your pens," David Baker said.

With over 100 birds on their 11.5 acre farm, the Bakers have 34 breeders that are right now approaching the end of the laying season. After hatching in the Bakers' nursery the young birds are kept in a divided pen until they grow to their full height of five to six feet in about eight months.

The grown birds are kept in a large pasture where the numerous groups of school children and senior citizens who come on field trips to the farm can see them.

"They're very human friendly," David Baker said.

Baker said he decided to start raising the birds when he retired.

"Mainly I wanted to do something a little different when I retired, and this is definitely different," David Baker said.

The breeders can be productive for more than 30 years of their 50 year life spans. They lay from October to May and the eggs take about 48 days to hatch when kept at 97.5 degrees in an incubator.

When the young birds are born they are placed in a breeder box for about a day where they are kept company by stuffed animals. They tend to cry if they don't have something to cuddle with, the Bakers said.

Emu has many uses

Emu products have several health benefits. Emu meat is approved by the American Heart Association for its low fat content.

"The thing about emu meat is we put no animal byproducts in our feed, no growth hormones," Barbara Baker said, adding that they do not slaughter the birds at the farm. "We make sure everything is done humanely."

But emu oil is the main product of the more than 200 emu farms in Georgia, Georgia Emu Association President Pat Jackson said.

"It was a big breeder market in the 1990s, but that's gone by the wayside," said Jackson, who also operates Misty Oaks Farm in Macon. "Since then we've done a lot of oil research."

That research has shown that the oil, a natural anti-inflammatory, can be used for diabetic skin and wound care, to improve circulation, arthritis relief and even to prevent stretch marks.

This Emu Week will be the second one proclaimed by a Georgia governor, and its purpose is to "educate and make the public aware of this alternative livestock."

Jackson, whose son Jeff Jackson of McDonough also works at the farm, will kick off Emu Week on May 3 and 4 with "A Taste of Emu" at Misty Oaks, a free event that will include farm tours, emu egg crafts, feather crafts and various emu meat meals.

There are several other emu farmers in the area, the Bakers say, and they often work together.

"We more or less help one another to help promote the business," David Baker said.

The Bakers take up to 40 people on their tours of Baker's Acres that lies just off Upper Woolsey Road. For more information call (770) 946-3041.

For directions to Misty Oaks, call (478) 781-1468.