Australia Weather News

Emu farmer Wayne Piltz says his birds laid fewer eggs this year because of the drought. - ABC

Despite being extremely hardy animals, the drought has interfered with this year's emu breeding season with some farmers seeing egg production slashed in half.

Emu farmer Wayne Piltz runs 1,200 birds at his property near Moorook in South Australia, including a 140-strong breeding flock.

He said it certainly was not a good breeding season this year because the birds started laying eggs late and finished early.

"In other years they start in March whereas this year it was late June before we started getting eggs," Mr Piltz said.

"In an average season we have anywhere between 600 and 800, even up to 1,000 eggs, but this year we only got about 400.

"They won't breed until they know there is going to be some feed for the chicks when they hatch in spring."

Emu farmer Phil Henley runs emus near Tooraweenah in central New South Wales and said he felt the impact of the drought at his property.

"Normally in total we get about 4,000 eggs, so we roughly get about 20-23 eggs per female bird — and this year it probably would have been about half that," Mr Henley said.

"The emus seem to be able to forecast to a degree the weather conditions.

"So, if there is a drought looming or a drought on, the theory is that the emu will hold the egg back and reabsorb the egg back into the body, so that nutrition is not wasted if the egg does hatch and the chick is going to die in the drought anyway."

Ian Marston farms emus at The Rock in southern New South Wales and said emus varied their egg-laying time depending on weather conditions.

"If you haven't got the feed and the nutrition for the birds to lay they are not going to lay as many or not at all."

President of the Emu Industry Federation of Australia Chris Gregory said emu egg production was dependent on the breeding pairs or individual breeders a farmer might have.

"But certainly, if there are fewer eggs being put on the ground it certainly will reflect on the number of birds coming through for the next 12 or 18 months," Mr Gregory said.

High feed grain prices an additional challenge to emu farmers

While a lack of egg production is one challenge to farmers this year, a feed shortage and high feed prices are driving the cost of production up.

"I think it has an impact right across the board on all livestock and certainly emu farming," Mr Gregory said.

"As a result, farmers need to revise their breeding program to cater for what feed is available."

Mr Henley said, despite a lack of eggs this year, they were happy with the amount of eggs they got for hatching.

"The biggest problem, we didn't want many [chicks] this year because of the high price of grain."

Mr Piltz said they have to buy their feed in and an additional issue to this year's breeding season was the lack of pasture.

"There is no growth, it's very bare because we haven't had any rain to get any grass up, which they [emus] nibble on."

"That's another reason why they haven't done well this season — because they haven't had that bit of green pick."

Emu oil most valuable for farmers

Mr Piltz said they were hoping for a better season next year as emu oil production was the most valuable for him.

"I can get up to $40/kg for the fat, but we are better off putting it into oil because we get more money out of it."

The current retail price for one litre of pure emu oil sits at $140.

Mr Piltz said emu oil had cosmetic and therapeutic benefits.

"The oil is very good for skin repair for eczema and as an anti-inflammatory for arthritis," he said.

"It contains the right fatty acids of omega three, six and nine, not only rubbed on the skin but also taken internally as capsules."

Mr Marston said demand for the oil was high.

"They found in March this year that emus in Australia carry Vitamin K in their oil, and it is the most potent in any fauna or flora in the world."

"What that does [vitamin k], it boosts your immune system."

He said they sold all their oil and were waiting for their next processing season starting in February, but it was also important for consumers to keep in mind that it took 1.5 to 2.5 years to produce a bird.