So, Here’s the Drill…

(And, this is only a drill.)

A.V. Walters

This must be what it’s like having triplets. We now have five emu chicks in our care. I swear, the older ones have developed a swagger. They are dominant, and clearly in charge. (As in charge as anyone can be, of emu chicks.) The two youngest struggle to keep up and are the first to nod off after exercise or a meal. (Sometimes nodding off while standing in the middle of the food dish.) In the past day or so, the volume of food they eat has quadrupled. They finally have the technique down and are eager to demonstrate their belly-stuffing proficiency. Their food (chopped kale and apple bits) must be finely minced. I feel like a cook at a high school cafeteria, all the work and none of the appreciation.

We’re trying to imitate what would be the normal emu-raising techniques of the average emu dad. (In the emu world, the female lays the egg, and that’s it. The male hatches them and raises the chicks.) At this stage they would need a lot of warming time (and, apparently sleeping time) underneath their dad’s umbrella of warm feathers, so we let them spend a lot of time under the warming lights in their “nest.” We take them out, four or five times a day to “run” them—they need practice walking (and also running.) Because they are enormously messy, (they eat a lot, and so…) they are confined to the tiled areas of the house. (In fact, for one or two of those exercise breaks, Rick has to watch them while I clean their nest and the area around it—you cannot believe the mess made by five, very tiny birds—weighing only about 14 ounces each.) While exercising, we have tissues at the ready. I swear, they must poop their body weight each day. Released to the kitchen area, they run from end to end. (Actually, they’re kind of led—being hard-wired to follow two, tall legs.) Their little emu feet are not designed for slippery tile floors, so once they pick up speed, there’s a good bit of rolling, sliding, and a little bit of crashing, in the mix. I’m convinced that the older ones are doing this on purpose. Yesterday one ran at full tilt, and then went into a high-speed slide, just as he reached the lower rungs of the chairs in the breakfast nook. He slid clear through, under the first chair, stopping squarely under the second.

Out for a walk.

Out for a walk.

I have to give them credit. In less than a week they have managed bipedal locomotion, even standing on one foot to scratch the occasional itch! They mostly eat standing (an entirely different balancing act.) They have (for the most part) mastered pecking at and snagging small food items and then getting the whole business down their gullets. This is quite impressive for creatures whose brains are smaller than an almond.

We look forward to the day that it’s warm enough to take them outside. Actually we need to get an enclosure before we try that (again!) The other day, we thought a little excursion would be good—it was warm enough and sunny. Before we could get the stragglers out the door, two of them had taken off, at high speed, in different directions. We rethought the whole deal and dashed to round-up the two speedsters. They’re quicker than we are—so now, fencing first.

With the little guy, straggling behind.

With the little guy, straggling behind.

They’re fed about four times a day, and that’s a lot of chopping. They have emu “kibble” available all the time, but prefer the fresh, so I chop. It feels as though regular life has been pushed to the wayside to make room for emus. It’s a lot like parenting, without the backtalk. (Well, there is a little peeping.) Already, we have one adoptive home waiting. Some of these emu-babes will find homes as sheep guardians. A couple will be pets and some will stay here on the farm to guard the sheep here.

Are we missing someone?

Are we missing someone?

This fostering gig will be short but intense. The emus will stay with people until they are big enough to have a fair shake with predators, (especially foxes.) They have to be too big for a hawk to carry away, and they will need to get to know the kinds of critters that they’ll be guarding. (Mostly sheep, but one family will have them to guard their free-range chickens.) It’s all in a day’s work for emu foster-parents. At least they’re not asking for the car keys… yet.

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