4 D Acres

  (Louisburg, Kansas)
Everything Emu
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Once Upon a Time, There Was an Emu Farmer, Part 4

  Two very special emus reside on the farm at 4 D Acres. Barney is their pet and Blue is their farm mascot. You might wonder what the difference is. Blue travels with Mike for the purposes of ag education. He doesn’t get stressed on the trailer but Barney does. On the other hand, Barney is much more at ease than Blue with crowds at the farm, and so is a staple attraction at the farm tours.

Their guard llama is named Sambo. When compared to guard dogs, the llama can not be drawn out by a pack of coyotes, unlike the dogs which might be lured away. The llama does not leave what it is protecting. After a year old, the emus are generally big enough and strong enough to fend for themselves so Sambo is on vacation until the next batch of birds are put out on pasture.

In addition to the emus and llamas, 4 D Acres raise chickens, and they have had goats, pigs, cattle, sheep and dogs in the past. They have pet cats as well to keep the mice population low.

Current projects on the farm include preparing for the next brooding season. The upcoming winter season will bring craft shows and farm shows followed by lawn and garden shows in the spring. As the daylight grows shorter, days on the farm at 4 D Acres do not, evening chores just get done earlier.

Mike and Dee welcome any questions via email at info@4dacres.com and visits to the farm via scheduled appointments only.

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Once Upon a Time, There Was an Emu Farmer, Part 3

As mentioned in the prior post, the emu products became a central part of the operation, and emu oil is certainly not least among them.

Mike says regarding the emu oil, that one thing that really piqued his interest the oil was originally used by the Australian Aborigines as part of their native medicine routine. They would hang the hide from a tree in the heat of the day, and put a container underneath to catch the drippings that would come off the fat content on the hide. The oil was then used to treat their skin ailments. If they were injured, they would even wrap themselves in the hide so the oil content would treat their wounds.

Emu oil has been found to be transdermal, anti-inflammatory, hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic, and moisturizing. All of these properties contribute to the effectiveness of the oil in treating burns, cuts, bug bites, rashes, bruising, dryness and other skin ailments.

For that reason, emu oil is added to many cosmetic and health products, from skin moisturizer to muscle rubs. 4 D Acres offers a large line of products including pure emu oil, skin care products, analgesics, hair care, blemish care, bath care and more.

Also, Mike and Dee love to hear the reports about how the emu oil has helped people. In fact, on a recent visit with a gentleman, he told Mike that he used the emu oil for his dry elbows, but that his wife had recently been burned and used the emu oil on that burn. “She said the next morning she had no pain, and the redness was clearing up.” Another customer stated, “Oh, you said it would be good for burns, but I didn’t believe it until I got burnt, and I tried it. And oh, it’s fantastic. The next day the pain was gone and there was no scarring.”

Mike says that he would have missed all of these personal testimonies, and others, had he and Dee decided to have a livestock focus for their business instead of an emu product focused business.  

To be continued...  

Once Upon A Time, There Was an Emu Farmer, Part 2

The 4 D Acres emu operation started with eight chicks in 1996, and shortly thereafter 2 breeder pair for egg laying. The bird business was off to a start, however rough, the breeder pair was not productive, so… as in any sustainable operation, they were utilized for food. Again in 1999 Mike bought a breeding trio of birds from Dallas, TX, a male (Texas State Champion) and two female birds. Mike and Dee would also obtain birds when other emu farmers due to health reasons and age began to go out of business and offer equipment for sale. They would buy the equipment and the birds as a package deal.

Realizing that the Exotic bird market was collapsing, for the farming operation to be most successful Mike and Dee began to focus on developing a market for the emu products and their benefits.

Emu meat, while considered poultry, is a red meat and is high in protein, lower in fat than chicken or turkey. Interestingly, people who are allergic to beef and other red meats can eat emu meat used in the place. Ground emu meat can be used in any recipe that calls for meat, such as meatloaf, chili, burritos, etc. The steaks can be grilled, smoked, pan fried, baked and more. Emu is excellent made into jerky and summer sausage as well.

Emu eggs also provide a healthy and substantial substitution for chicken eggs. One emu egg is equivalent to 10-12 chicken eggs. Or by measurement, 1/4 cup of beaten emu egg can replace one chicken egg in cooking and baking. The emu egg makes cakes and cookies lighter and fluffier. It should be noted that because the volume of the yolk is so great, it does have more cholesterol than a chicken egg, but scientists are now confirming that it is not cholesterol alone that causes heart disease. The relation between Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids determines more how good and bad cholesterol affect your body.

The toenails, feathers and egg shells are also utilized in creative ways in crafts. From necklaces and other jewelry, to dream catchers and carved egg shells, the products are popular at art shows. Many crafters order the empty egg shells, feathers, etc. directly from 4 D Acres to utilize in their own craft items. Dee has also done quite a few engravings on emu eggs.

A note on the feathers: Each quill on the emu has 2 feathers. Unlike with chickens and turkeys, the emu feathers release very easily, because the quill which is fed by a fatty deposit is less in the emu. This seems to be a defense mechanism, in that if something were to attack the emu, and only got a mouthful of feathers, the emu would be able to break away from the predator and escape across the tundra.

Of course the primary product from the emu is the oil that is refined from the fat of the bird. We will explore emu oil in depth in the following post.

To be continued…

Once upon a time, there was an Emu Farmer - Part 1

Largely influenced by visits to Grandpa’s farm as a young boy, Mike Martin would eventually work the holidays and summers of his teenage years on that same farm with his uncle putting in long hours for low pay, and “loved it!” “I was totally immersed into it.” While his uncle was a wheat farmer, there were also cattle, sheep, and chickens which provided the livestock and poultry exposure.

After high school, Mike served a tour of duty in the military, married and started a family. This caused him to have to consider stable employment to provide for the family. Even then, they bought a large piece of land, planted a garden on it, and rented the rest out.

It wasn’t until 1993 that Mike was able to begin to fulfill a lifelong dream when he and his second wife Dee, bought a 23 acre piece of property to dedicate to farming. The property, called 4D Acres, was named after Mike (Dad), his wife Dee, and their two sons David and Daniel.

They began raising chickens as Mike did not like the taste of store-bought chickens. Free range broiler chickens are still a staple part of the farm today.

Around 1996 Mike and Dee began to look further into other livestock to optimize the operation. At one point they had four head of cattle, but the farm size would not allow for much more, and therefore would not be sustainable.

It was at a summer farm show in Southeast Kansas that Mike first saw some baby emus and after talking with the owners took some information. His intentions were to explore it further upon arriving home, the busy-ness of life caused that information to gather dust and eventually find its way into the round file known as the trash can. The following February, Mike was again at a farm meeting and came across more information about the emus from the Missouri Emu Association. After considering it again, Mike got in contact with the Kansas Emu Association and found a monthly meeting that was relatively close to home, which the family began attending to research more about the potential to raise emus.

The timing happened to be right, as the prices for emu were dropping, after there had been much market speculation regarding the bird’s value. Because the emu was an exotic livestock market and not a product developing market, it saturated very quickly. Mike knew that he would need to market the product potential of the emu to make the venture worthwhile.

To be continued…

 
 

A Day in the Life...

It all starts with the false dawn appearing in the East as I rise for another exciting day. I dress and meet Dee at the breakfast table to discuss our plans for the day.

Then I enter the office to check the computer for orders that came in overnight. I will prepare them for shipment later this morning.

The first item on the agenda for Dee and I to tackle is to stack a few bales of hay the neighbor delivered earlier in the week. They did the majority of it, but we didn’t have enough pallets to finish the job until I brought a couple more home. The hay will be used to feed the llamas during the winter months and we use it as bedding for the emus during the breeding season.

After that job is tackled I mount the riding mower and head out to the emu pens. Dee opens and closes the gates to the breeder pens so I don’t have to dismount my mower. When the breeder pens are all mowed I head to the new emu chick pens that are under construction and mow that area.

Back in to the office to take care of the orders that came in since this morning. I answer a few e-mails, check Facebook and make a few phone calls.

The morning is now just about over, time to get a shower, shave and dress (suit and tie) for a luncheon in Kansas City, Missouri.

Before leaving the house I collect the packages that are now ready to be shipped and head to the Post Office.

I drive to Kansas City, Missouri for the luncheon and when it’s over at two o’clock, I point the truck in the right direction to go to the feed store near Kansas City, Kansas. Once the feed is loaded I am off again, this time to a meeting at the Ag Hall of Fame in Kansas City, Kansas.

The meeting is over by 5:30 PM. Back in my truck and on the road again, this time I’m heading home.

Dee has dinner fixed and waiting for me when I walk in the door. (It helps that I call her to let her know when to expect me home.)

After eating our meal and changing into my chore clothes, Dee and I go outside to unload the feed off the truck.

I again step into the office to check the computer for orders and catch up on the afternoon’s e-mails.

The evening is winding down here on the farm. The weather started out in the upper 70’s then peaked over 100 degrees, still no sign of much needed rain. The forecast is going to be the same for the next week. 

Well folks, it‘s off to bed to recharge this ol’ body so I can do it all again tomorrow.

Goodnight and thanks for letting me share one day in my life.  

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Whistle, Crack and Hatch

Okay, so it’s not snap, crackle, pop, but in the spring, we eat, sleep and breathe the whistle, crack and hatch. You see, it’s hatching season.

The whistle begins about a week before the cracking, but the story begins long before that, so let’s start at the beginning. Here at 4 D Acres, the breeding season begins in September and lasts through May. It is during this time where our best hens and their male counterparts let the magic begin. Within days to weeks, the hens begin to lay eggs and our ‘round the clock work begins. The eggs are laid after dark, so we must check the pens during the night so that the eggs do not freeze in the cold weather or are not pilfered by predators. Once an egg has been taken from the pen, it is weighed, assigned a number for record keeping and then placed into refrigeration at 45°F for 30 to 45 days. A batch of eggs is then brought to room temperature before being placed in our floor-model Hatchrite incubator at 97°F and 33% humidity.  The eggs stay here until the hatching begins, approximately 52 days. Our incubator maintains the ideal temperature and humidity level and even rotates the eggs, so unless an alarm sounds signifying a change in ideal conditions based on external factors, all we have to do is check the water reservoir for proper levels and fill as necessary.

Whistle: About a week before an egg is ready to hatch, the most amazing thing happens. If you whistle at the egg, it sometimes starts rocking as the baby chick responds to the sound, and every once in a while, it whistles back!

Crack: One of the most exciting things for us to see is a tiny shell fragment on the floor of the incubator as it means that the hatching has begun. That egg is then placed into a hatcher, where the hatching process takes anywhere from one to two hours, and up to twelve hours. If the chick has some difficulty hatching, we must resist the temptation to help the chick out of the shell. Much like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon, the emu chick must exercise survival muscles including the pipping muscle that does the majority of shell-breaking work.

Hatch: Once the chick is completely hatched out, it is again weighed, sexed and tagged. Then it goes into the brooder box with all the other hatchlings, and does not come out of there until we see that it eats, drinks, and poops, - basic survival skills.

From newly hatched chick to sexually mature adult, it takes eighteen to twenty four months, and the birds are kept in areas accordant with their age, generally recognizable in their height.

This year, in addition to all the other chores that it takes to run a farm and a household, the hatching and brooding season will keep us constantly busy as we go through two phases, the first hatch planned for the beginning of March with sporadic hatching finishing out the first batch under our careful vigilance. Our second phase will begin in May and hopefully by summer, we are on to a whole different season at 4 D Acres.

 
 

Snow Birds

While there is no snow currently on the ground at 4 D Acres, and there has only been a light dusting of snow earlier this winter, we wanted to share the answer to what is a common question in the winter.The question is regarding emus in the snow, although often phrased in terms of comfort, behavior, or special needs.

The snow does not actually bother the birds. If it has not snowed in a while, they are leery to walk in it at first, but soon make their way to the open air of their outdoor pens, and are thereafter not affected. We make sure they have adequate shelter available that they can access at will. We have noticed that they will seek shelter when the temperatures are below freezing and there is a strong wind. The emu will often stand, unbothered, under a snowfall until they have a couple of inches on their backs. While their feathers are not waterproof, they do have a layer of fat just under their hides that insulates them and keeps them warm.

One might think that the emu, originating in Australia, might be accustomed to only warm temperatures. It does get quite cold and even snows in Australia. Their seasons just mirror ours. The emu acclimates itself as the temperature changes, but a sudden long-distance transfer of location might disturb them, because of temperature, humidity, air density and air quality factors.

Even when the weather is quite cold, the birds love to be hosed down with water. They are also quite unaffected by any ice accumulation on their feathers. The emus walk carefully when there is ice on the ground. The emu could slip and fall and potentially break a leg if there is ice on the ground, but they seem to manage, walking carefully so as not to slip and slide.

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Christmas Lights, Flashlights and the Emu Round-Up

Christmas always brings back memories of a day in the life of an Emu Farmer. It was an early, early Sunday morning, about a week before Christmas. Temperatures were in the mid 20’s as I woke at 2:00 am and headed into the other room to wake one of my sons. It was time to get dressed and ready to take a trip to North Central Kansas where we would be picking up some birds from a farmer who had decided that he was ready to retire from emu farming.

After meeting another emu farm couple who would also be getting some birds, picking up my other son, and stopping to have breakfast, we pulled into our destination about an hour after sunrise. Maneuvered into is more accurate as the roads were heavily rutted and the farm road was tight for 2 trucks and trailers.

While we easily loaded the breeder pair onto my trailer, the fun was about to begin. The other emus were roaming freely in a large open space enclosed by a very weak fence. We took into account that emu can just as easily run 30 mph as they can jump a six foot fence. The wife of the other emu farmer would hold the door open or closed as necessary, while her husband helped me and my sons round up the remaining emu, one by one, to walk them to the trailer. Sounds easy enough, right?

After the sun rose, the air and ground temperatures started to rise quickly into the upper 40’s, so the once frozen ground now became a mud pit. After slipping on a fence panel buried in the mud, I fell and twisted my knee, while a fugitive emu escaped from the trailer back into the pen, using me as a launch pad.  We slipped and slid as we corralled and wrangled the rest of the emu into the two trailers. While this would have been a YouTube video sure to go viral, no cameras were present to capture the chaos.

While we should have been done by 9:00 am, by 11:00 we had loaded all the emu and were headed out the way we came in, but the roads had gone from frozen ruts to a slimy, muddy slip-n-slide. We were glad that we had 4 x 4’s or we certainly wouldn’t have made it off the country roads. We were now well on our way to the processing plant in Central Kansas, and little did we know that we were in for more fun.

Emu are funny birds. As hard as they are to load onto a trailer, they often don’t want to get off once safely aboard. (Never mind the one that mistook me for a diving board.) While unloading all but two pairs of breeders into pens, one emu decided after he was off the trailer, that he would march right back up the ramp to the trailer again.

We finally finished at 2:00 pm, and famished, headed to a burger joint for a well deserved meal. We said goodbye to my youngest son, and the eldest and I headed back to 4 D Acres, completing our 450 mile round trip, only to arrive after dark. Because earlier attempts to unload the birds in the dark had failed, we decided to leave them safely on the trailer until morning.

My wife, waking early at 4 am to handle some of the feeding and farm chores, saw that it was beginning to rain. Knowing that my son and I were still sleeping off our long day, she decided to see if she could unload one of the breeder pairs by herself. Because each pair was in a separate compartment, it seemed that unloading just two at a time might be easier. As it was still dark, she had a flashlight with her, and when she shined it into the trailer to check on the birds, they started to follow the beam of light, right off the trailer. Might as well try it with the second pair as well. They seemingly unloaded themselves, mesmerized by the light. After my son and I heard the story of her super powers, we had to give her a good-natured ribbing, asking her where she was when we were loading the birds. We might just have to call her the Emu Whisperer.

 
 
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