A SCATTERED stillness fills the air, broken by cicadas as rain clouds hug the mountain range - bearing down on Stephen Schmidt’s Coleyville emu farm.
“I don’t reckon it’ll rain,” Stephen says as he walks toward the chick pen.
“They’re almost fox proof.” He points to the young emu chicks whose light brown feathers are growing darker by the day.
“Once they get to that point, they can pretty much take care of themselves.”
One of the only successful free range emu farms in Australia, Stephen now runs two properties, devoting his time between Marburg and Coleyville.
“I’ve been at Marburg for a bit over 25 years now and, before I became an emu farmer, I used to buy, sell and cart hay throughout the Lockyer Valley - I was known as the ‘Hay Man’.”
Stephen said long days and extensive physical labour eventually led to sleepless nights filled with joint pain.
“I was given some emu oil about 20 years ago and I just rubbed that on my aches every few hours for five days straight and that’s why I became an emu farmer - I was so amazed at the results over such a short period of time.
“I used to be flat out sleeping and, being truck driver, not sleeping is not good - so I studied the oil further and, about six months down the track, I went into farming emus for their oil.”
During the first developments of emu farming in Australia, Stephen said many producers hadn’t considered transporting the live animals.
“It’s the reason why so many emu farmers have gone broke - transportation is a disaster.
“A smart farmer will have their own abattoir on their property and that’s what we have at Marburg and that’s what we’ll be having here in just over a year’s time.”
Stephen said the stress placed on the birds during transport severely affected the meat and fat quality.
“It was a nightmare trying to catch them and put them on trucks to be processed. You’re triple handling them and it’s bad for the end product.
“It’s a very big investment having your own processing facilities but I would have given up long before now if I didn’t have them. It’s easier on us and on the birds.”
Stephen takes great pride in processing his emus on-property with as little waste created as possible.
“We’re doing everything ourselves and we’re trained to process them.
“We do what we’ve got to do. We pluck them and we sell them to people who do craft work to the army for their hats or finches for their nests - we then take the carcase to another room where we strip the fat which is sitting on the outside of the meat like a big blanket, then we separate all the muscle groups, take the sinuet off and crivac it and store it.
“It’s December now and we’ll process in March but the meat is already sold.
“There’s not much left that we throw away in the end - The birds are giving up their lives for us so we believe we should use every part of them.”
Lauded for its healing capabilities, emu oil has been said to lower cholesterol levels and fend off diabetes.
“About three years after I first started using the oil for my joints, I ended up with badly affected arteries and suffered from chest pain,” Stephen said.
“I looked at the health within cultures around the world to see what they were doing differently and came across some research on indigenous people from the Arctic.
“Their diets were heavy in seal and whale fats which are high in healthy acids and they never suffered heart conditions.
“That’s the same in every country in the world and today we are cooking with them and heating them and, once they’ve gone through that process, they have the opposite effect.
“Emu oil is exactly the same, if you overheat it, it’s no good.”
I have to farm the emus a specific way to produce the quality of oil - it’s really about focussing on the amount of fat production.”
The free range birds roam in the fresh air on the Coleyville property as I chat to Stephen.
“They love the grass, grass seeds and insects and stuff like that and we also have a grain in front of them at all times and fresh water available.”
Stephen said the “fat machines” will simply cease eating once they hit their limit in fat storage.
“Initially, at 18 months of age, those birds would normally get processed around March but they won’t here, we will keep them and let them go through a breeding season, re-fatten them and then process them in March/April the following year.”
Stephen said this cycle of fattening and breeding will allow the birds to gain more fat and also increase the quality of the fat - making the product more powerful.
“If they get any older, the emus won’t get any bigger so we keep them the extra year.
“Once they get to about 18 month, they will pair off and the female will lay one egg every three days.
“She can lay around 10-20 eggs on average and we’re collecting them and putting them in the incubators.”
Busily collecting eggs from clumps of grass or around the fence line, Stephen said he and his son are always on the lookout for them.
“If you were going to let the male sit, then you would allow the female to lay in the one spot and once she gets to about 10 eggs, he will start to sit on them and not eat or drink for 56 days.
“They virtually don’t eat through the winter months and will use the fat she’s stored from summer to produce the eggs.”
Feed costs at Try It Emu Farm have been curbed as Stephen moves to become a more sustainable business.
“If we’re doing 1500 birds, which is three generations, we probably go through at least $100,000 worth of grain a year but it was nearly double that because we were buying it all in but now we make our own.
“We go through about 30 tonne every couple of months - mainly barley and a little bit of corn and molasses and good sea salt.
Processing his birds annually, Stephen said he works to a very different calendar to most other producers.
“We’re flat out processed at the beginning of the year and then, come winter, we’re taking care of chicks and then in between that, we take care of the older animals and maintain the property.”
With the new abattoir breaking ground and the company producing more than 2 million capsules each year, Stephen has his sights set on continuing production of the high quality cure-all.
“My main focus is people’s health and providing a product which can help people live a better life.”
For more information visit www.tryitemufarm.com.au
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