Birds of a feather

Kim CousinsCountryman

In the hills around Toodyay, there is a mixed farming enterprise with a difference. Kip and Charmian Venn run 150 Merinos and 150 Wiltshires on their property, of which they own 141 hectares and lease a further 182ha.

But if you look closely, you'll also notice two-legged stock running around the property - emus.

Kip and Charmian got their first emus in 1980 and a licence to farm them in 1987. They now run 200 adults and 100 juveniles and chicks on their property, The Free Range Emu Farm.

"It's a fascinating business to be in," Charmian said. "But you have to be physically fit. You can't just round them up, you have to build laneways and allow them plenty of time.

"And you can't run the younger birds with the older birds - they will chase them."

As far as livestock go, the emus tend to look after themselves, with the biggest issues being herding and winter egg collection.

"Foxes can also be a problem but there's no drenching or dipping," Kip said.

"They jump the fence sometimes - emus can jump two metres from standing."

The adult emus live in 32ha of fenced off area, while the younger birds are raised in large pens.

"They 1kg of grain each per day and we feed them oats or barley. They're not picky," Charmian said.

"If you're a grain farmer and have plenty of seconds grain, they will eat it."

There isn't much of the emu that can't be used - everything from their eggs to leather is sold through the farm.

The birds are sent to an abattoir in Beaufort River, near Kojonup, although production is, at times, problematic, because it's the only abattoir in WA that processes emus.

"They send us back boxes of feathers, fat and meat," Kip said.

Bags of feathers are sold in the on-farm gift shop and the fat is used in moisturisers, lip balms and soap, while most of the meat - which has a similar taste to beef and is low fat - is sent to restaurants in the eastern states.

The Venns recently sold chicks to Granada Productions to feature on film sets in Queensland. They have also been fielding calls from India.

"This year, we've had a lot of enquiries," Charmian said.

"We are getting phone calls from India, they like emu because it tastes like beef. But we can't sell live emus or eggs overseas."

Kip and Charmian both work off-farm but together handle the tourism side of the business, showing visitors and locals around the farm.

In the height of the season, they can have 20 cars come through on a single day.

"There is steady income from tourism, and we sell online and in Toodyay but don't want to get too big," Charmian said.

"We would really like to see more people farming emus. It really is rewarding."

For information on farming emus, contact Kip and Charmian Venn on 9574 1415 or go to www.emufarm.iinet.net.au

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