Archives for posts with tag: emus

Emus in Absensia

A.V. Walters

Elmer called the other night—they have emu chicks. Mr. and Mrs. Emu are at it again and, with all the food we gave them over summer, and the mild winter, they now have a sizable clutch of eggs. Or had. Out of the original twelve, two chicks have already hatched and died. Stretched so thin, Mr. Emu has difficulty watching the new little ones—he’s still nest-bound.

So Elmer and his daughter kidnapped the one little guy they found still alive and plan to remove the rest as they hatch. Between cold nights and predators, little emu chicks have a rough go of it in Northern California. Hence, the call. Rick and I are the only ones on the farm who have successfully hand-raised the little guys, and they need help.

They’ve decided that more emus would be just the ticket to guard over their new venture in organic duck eggs. (You should see all the ducks, it’s pretty impressive.) Emu guards are not a bad idea. We learned, the hard way, that the emus in our front yard were, in fact, protecting the chickens.  And so, the questions begin. What do we feed them? (Finely chopped kale and apples, to start.) Can we give them chicken feed? (No, chickens are seed eaters. Emus are grazers and need green fodder.) How warm do they need to be? (94 degrees F for the first two weeks, tapering off 5 degrees a week, after that.) What about water? (Not for about a week, until they’ve mastered balance and eating.) Those, and more, are all questions that we had to find the answers to, a year ago—either through trial and error, or what we could find on the net. As it turned out, we did okay. We had no losses from the five we raised. I guess that makes us emu experts. (And, given some of the so-called “expert” advice we found on the net, we are!)

We haven’t been homesick since our relocation. We miss some of the people, but we are caught up in the possibilities of our new lives. This, though, gave us pause. We definitely miss the emus—and raising them was an adventure we really enjoyed. So, we stand ready to be emu emissaries. We’ll provide all the information we can. And, of course, we’ll worry.

 

 

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Empty Nest

A.V. Walters

Our avian stalemate was short lived. One of the chickens decided to break ranks. I don’t know the dynamics of chicken-chicken relations, much less chicken-emu exchanges. In any event, chicken-number-two decided to change sides and hang with Gatsby and Kelvin. She followed them around, even slept on the ground near them, in their corner emu haven. That shift changed her routine and she stopped laying eggs in her usual spot. Every day we’d have to go searching for her egg. The egg hunt caught the attention of the emus (though I doubt they had any idea what was up.) I’d be stalking around the yard, poking here and there, with two emus following so closely behind that if I stopped suddenly, they’d bump into me like some Laurel and Hardy routine. Just behind them was the emu-friendly chicken (following the emus) and the regular chicken, not to be totally left out, brought up the rear. What a parade!

The emus are amazingly social. They tried to play and dance with their new chicken friend, but she didn’t get it. Just keeping company was enough for her.

Feeling their oats, the emus proceeded to try to engage with the antisocial chicken, and it resulted in a spirited emu/chicken chase. They could not win her over—so it was a three-to-one club in our front yard.

 

The Emu Transit Trailer

The Emu Transit Trailer

And things would have remained so, had it not been for the arrival of the trailer. I’d talked to Don and Elmer about transferring the emus across the road—for training with sheep at the tutelage of emu-dad. Being a softie, I’d requested that they use a fully enclosed trailer. Emus do not like travel and do not transfer well. I thought the experience would be less traumatic if the trailer didn’t offer the view of the world whizzing by at high speed. So, out of the blue, Elmer arrives with a perfect livestock trailer—not one of the ratty open trailers he uses to transport chickens, but a real, fancy trailer. Apparently he borrowed it for an extra large load of sheep he needed to haul, and thought he’d take the opportunity to move the emus. There we were, without notice, for the fateful emu moving day. It’s probably just as well, because I’d have fretted over it.

 

Not liking that trailer!

Not liking that trailer!

Hmmmph! Smells like sheep!

Hmmmph! Smells like sheep!

With a minimum of trauma, and only a few tears (mine), the emu-youths were loaded into the trailer and off to new pastures, literally. For their initiation, we decided not to mix the young with the adult emus—so as to let them get used to their new digs first. Good thing, too! Those little emus were in total, “Where-are-we-now, Toto?” shock. They stood in the middle of a large pasture, slack-jawed at the openness. The only thing that captured their attention were the almost equally curious emu parents, gawking from across the upper fence. Emus!

 

Look! EMUS!

Look! EMUS!

The little guys set off at a trot to explore these new relatives. But blood isn’t thicker than water. It doesn’t come close to being as thick as food. The deck was stacked against the youngsters.

 

Maybe not so friendly

Maybe not so friendly

You see, our dry summer has been so dry that the summer grasses have browned early. There’s little nutrition in grazing this season. Even up by the pond, where the emus have been kept, it is pretty brown. Elmer has cut back on the number of sheep he’s running—keeping only breeding stock. There’s little grass to feed them and the cost of hay and feed (grain) reflects the dry conditions and scarcity. Usually, if the emus are with the sheep, they’ll supplement summer’s slim pickings with the sheep mix. But this year the emus aren’t with the sheep. Nobody bothered to check on the emus up in the high pasture and they are hungry. So the kids were not visitors—they were competitors for scarce resources; the emu-babies’ homecoming was punctuated with hisses and grunts from mom and dad. If the little ones got too close to the fence, they were rewarded with pecks on the top of their heads (Just like the chickens!) Sadly, this hasn’t dissuaded the little ones. They are eager to commune with other emus. Gatsby, especially, runs to the fence whenever the adults are in view. I think this relationship may be forged on the enthusiasm of youth.

 

Perhaps a little supervision is in order

Perhaps a little supervision is in order

I also think we can fix this. I think a few days of ample rations all around will bring out the better natures of those cranky adult emus. So it’s been kibble and apples all around.  Yesterday, Mr. and Mrs. Emu scarfed down ten good sized apples in minutes. The solution is Food-Aid. We’ll use food as the social lubricant. Today I’m going to slip in some sweet mix (corn and other goodies used for lambs) for extra calories. While the special emu kibble is a better dietary choice, sometimes junk calories are in order. I’m walking across the farm—about a mile—to the back pastures several times a day to provide extra goodies for the parents and company and play for the kids until they settle in. I am hugely relieved that there are two of them, and that they are such good company for each other.

 

Hey, watch your back!

Hey, watch your back!

Meanwhile, on the home front, we have answered a burning question in a sad way. We decided to keep the two chickens for a few days. We like the eggs and, though chickens are no social substitute, we were missing the emus. The unanswered question was whether emus were guardian animals for chickens. The answer is that just the presence of emus helps to guard the chickens. The morning after the emu relocation, we woke to just one chicken, and a lot of feathers. It took the predatory critters less than twelve hours to figure out that those chickens were unprotected in the front yard. We hadn’t even thought of it—that maybe the chickens were at risk without the emus. We feel a little guilty. Chicken number one was eaten—by whom we couldn’t tell. That was it. The other chicken was quickly returned to the relative safety of the barn and our home is now bird free.

Rick spent that next day scrubbing the porch and walkway, removing the temporary fences and returning our yard to normal, residential habitation. The cats are happy. They’ve been going in and out the cat door and re-exploring the front yard. When I miss those emus, I hike across the farm for an emu fix. It’s not the same….but it was time. Nature abhors a vacuum. Territories quickly adjust. But the emus will always have a special place in our hearts.

 

 

They Grow-up So Fast

A.V. Walters

When the two baby emus made their run for it, we realized that the small pen in the back yard was too small. Still, they could have said something, instead of just making a jail break and heading out for the highway. A growing emu needs room to stretch its legs. (And, we can appreciate that, because if there’s one thing a emu has, it’s legs.) There’s a balance; too little space and they get bored and nervous, too big a space and they are intimidated and cower in a corner.

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So, with the help of some folding pen-panels from Elmer, we secured the front yard.  Now they have a forty by eighty foot area with trees and bushes, and grass almost as tall as they are—enough for any growing emu. They seem mollified and haven’t made any further escape efforts. (Not that we’re giving them much opportunity.) They roam about eating the greenery, and have decided on a favorite corner for their hangout. The new digs won’t eliminate fence running (that’s an emu fact-of-life) but it has stopped the neurotic pacing. Also, the emus seem very much in tune with the sounds of our voices (even when we’re inside the house) and that appears to give them some reassurance that they are not alone and unprotected. (I know, I’m anthropomorphizing again, and being an overly vigilant parent, but when I talk on the phone, in my office, they gather at the steps outside and munch away quietly. If I move to the living room, they munch away under the window, there.)

Huh?

Huh?

It’s still too cold at night for a complete outdoor lifestyle, though that’s coming soon. It might have happened this week, but I’ve been down with a bug. When I’ve got chills and fevers I’m less inclined to banish the babies to the elements. Now that they’re in the front yard—we need to parade them through the house, morning and evening to get them to their little emu warming station in the back bath for the night. It’s quite a production—much emu cheerleading banter—to get their enthusiasm up—followed by a mad dash to the destination (front door or back bath.) The emus will follow you if you walk fast or run. But they’re not smart. If they’re distracted along the way they’ll forget the objective and then wander around the house, which, given their messy proclivities, is not a good thing. Rick is much better at it than I am. They really get that cheerleading vibe from him and follow at a clip. I spend more time in emu roundup mode, rather than leading.

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They are destination happy. Once outside, they barrel around in circles at full speed.  And, full speed is impressive. Their legs have grown and they can really move. Standing around, they’re knee-high, but when they do their happy dance, they come up to mid-thigh. An adult emu can run 30 miles per hour. I haven’t clocked these little guys, but they outrun us.  The “lawn” is hip-high on them (shin-high on us) and, running, they look like they’re speed-swimming on a sea of green. All this cavorting and dancing I take as a sign of healthy, happy emus. In the evening, they’re eager to come back in and canter after us to settle in under their heat lamp to relax after a long day of emu vigilance.

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Most of their food now comes from grazing, putting a welcome end to the endless chopping of their early days. We still give them apples, as treats. It pays to have something they want, to get their attention. At some point we’ll have to move these guys to the pastures, where the sheep are—and we’ll probably need those treats as bait. There’s a tension to how much we handle them. There is one kind of contact they tolerate and, if they’re relaxed, actually seem to enjoy—they like having the front of their necks stroked. (We’re suspecting that neck contact is important to them. If the chicks are nervous, they’ll pace and crisscross each other with their necks. Also, the few times an adult emu has displayed what might be considered affection, it “caressed” with its neck.) But, we have to remember they are not pets. They need to develop a tolerance to human contact without making them dependent, so “training” is not an option. (Besides, they’re not that bright—think of the term ‘bird brain’ in the context of a 150 pound, flightless locomotive.) Still, it’s fun and gratifying to step out on the front porch and immediately have two emus hurtling in your direction to see what fun or treats are in store (and because they like to be near us.) In fact, I think I’ll go check on them, right now.

Apple treats, anyone?
Apple treats, anyone?