AREA FARMERS TAKE BIRDS IN HAND
By Brenda Owen
On the whole, say growers, emus are totally marketable. Virtually every part of the emu can be sold.
The feathers, which have a magnetic quality, are used as dusters to clean delicate computer parts. Both the skin and feathers are sold as fashion accessories. And, each adult carcass contains about a gallon of an oil that can be used in lotions and ointments.
Because the oil is hypo-allergenic and absorbs quickly into human skin, research trials are currently under way to test the oil as a vehicle for transferring medicine through transdermal patches and ointments. These preliminary studies have proven successful and could have significant impact on the treatment of burns and heart disease as well as providing an effective and safe vehicle for nicotine patches for smokers trying to kick the habit.
Emu on the menu
According to the Food marketing Institute Report of 1993, more than 60 percent of American consumers are seeking healthier diets. But they don't want to sacrifice taste. Emu meat fits the bill for this growing market.
Emu is a 97 percent fat free red meat, similar to beef, in both taste and appearance. It is higher in protein, vitamin C and iron than beef and lower in cholesterol than chicken. Since emu can be raised naturally, the meat contains no preservatives. Emu meat gives red meat lovers what they want and health-conscious consumers what they need.
Mature emus yield 25-40 pounds of meat, meaning that if every American were to eat just a quarter pound of emu meat a year, it would take 2.6 million birds to fill the orders.
Woody's Restaurant in Tupelo added emu meat to their menu about five months ago. Feather Burns, general manager of the restaurant, said the exotic meat had created quite a sensation.
"It has a slightly wild taste, similar to venison," Burns said. "We've done quite well with it."
In order to prepare the meat in a variety of ways, Burns said, the restaurant obtained several Australian cookbooks containing hundreds of recipes for emu dishes.
Even amateur chefs can expect accolades when emu is served. Pontotoc emu farmer Kim Faulkner said fellow farmer Balford Patterson, recently made a big hit at a benefit for the American Cancer Society when he donated and grilled emu steaks.
"Cooked right and put beside a good beef steak, you can't tell the difference," Faulkner said, adding that his wife had recently made banana pudding using the white of an emu egg as a main ingredient. "It tasted great," he said.
Each emu can yield an average of five to six quarts of deep-penetrating natural oil. Proponents say this complex, primitive oil, properly rendered, is non-toxic, anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, and anti-inflammatory. It is an excellent moisturizer and emollient, soothing and softening the skin.
Long known for its healing and penetrating properties, emu oil is well suited for cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, according to the American Emu Association. For thousands of years the Australian aborigines have used the oil in the treatment of muscle aches, sore joints, inflammation and swelling.
Today, the oil is marketed in products found from the family medicine cabinet to the professional sports training room. Emu oil helps to build healthy skin and in burn creams, helps to calm the tissue beneath burned skin and restore elasticity. Additional oil applications include skin and hair care products, sun screens, and perfumes.
Jeanne Kneisly recently began featuring some of the cosmetic products in her Tupelo store, Little Bo-Tique. In addition to the pure oil, the line includes glycerin soap containing emu oil, body lotion with alpha hydroxy, an analgesic lotion and body hydrator.
"Since we're basically a children's store, we're asking our customers to try the oil on everything from their babies' diaper rash to their own stretch marks after the birth of their baby," Kneisly said. "The lotion has a wonderful scent and the soap is a beautiful product in the shape and color of an emu egg."
Emu leather is being used for designer apparel, handbags, boots and other accessories.
New Albany emu farmer B. A. Teague said the leather is less durable than ostrich hides, but added that emu is a beautifully detailed, very supple, breathable leather. The emu body hide has an attractive full-quilled pattern, he said. The surface visually shimmers due to the raised imprints left from the feather follicle structure. Emu leather has the ability to accept and enhance any color dye.
According to American Emu Association literature, the skin from the legs has a dramatic reptilian texture, which fashion designers find a suitable substitute for certain hides from endangered species.
Emu feathers, eggs and toenails are being used as unique and creative jewelry accents for fashion items and craft goods.
"The emu is a totally usable bird," Teague said.