The earliest emu farm in Australia appears to have been operating in the 1930s at Dromana, Victoria. It was pictured in the West Australian, but I can find no further references to it or what (if anything) it produced. My guess is it was more of a petting farm. After a long hiatus, in 1970 two Swiss families began commercial emu farming in Kalannie, Western Australia and in 1976 a government-backed farm was established in Wiluna, WA.
Long before emus were commercially farmed in Australia, local farmers had been raising ostriches. The birds had been farmed in their native South Africa as early as 1865, and an ostrich farm was established at Murray Downs near Swan Hill, Victoria, in 1874. The birds were farmed for their feathers, then much in demand for ladies’ hats.
In the early 20th century, the success of ostrich farms prompted a number of letters to newspapers suggesting the establishment of emu farms. At this time, emus were regarded as a pest, especially in the wheat belt of Western Australia, where large mobs would trample crops. In 1922, that state passed an ordinance declaring them as vermin and a bounty was paid on emu beaks. There were calls for farmers to have machine guns to stamp the birds out. This led to the “emu war” of 1932, when an officer and two soldiers of the Royal Australian Artillery, armed with two Lewis guns and 10,000 rounds of ammunition, conducted a blitzkrieg against the emus in the wheat belt. Emus are now protected throughout Australia, although the Western Australian government can still authorise killings for pest control.
In 1933, newspapers throughout Australia reported a proposal to solve Russia’s meat shortage by importing Australian emus, “providing the proletariat with ample supplies of succulent and savoury meat”. It suggested the birds would readily adapt themselves to the conditions on the South Russian steppes. Other reports claimed that both a kangaroo and an emu farm had been established in Moscow.
The fate of the Russian venture is unclear but it took another four decades before anyone made a serious attempt to farm emus in Australia. Most sources claim our first commercial emu farm was set up by two Swiss families around 260 km north east of Perth. It was not successful and operated for only three years.
In 1976 a government-backed emu farm began operating at Wiluna, on the edge of the Gibson Desert in WA. The farm was run by Applied Ecology Limited, a Federal Government-funded company established to research and develop viable projects in remote areas compatible with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. The farm was handed over to the local Ngangganawili Aboriginal Community in 1981. A second commercial farm was approved at Mt. Gibson in 1985.
A former manager of the Wiluna farm now runs what he claims to be the world’s oldest still-operating emu farm in the world at Toodyay, 85 km north east of Perth. There are now emu farms in most Australian states, as well as in many countries around the world, including North America, Peru and China. They have had varying success. In the early 1990s, a number of schemes promoted emu farming and by 1996 there were more than 50o emu farms in Australia. However, the schemes vastly over-estimated the demand for emu meat and other products and most collapsed.
In 2018 fewer than 12 emu farmers remained in business in Australia but, according to the ABC, there was an increasing demand for emu products, including meat, leather, oil and eggs. One emu yields about 11 kilograms of meat and seven and a half litres of oil. The oil has apparently been shown to aid in various conditions including arthritis and is used in a salve and swallowed as capsules. The meat has less than 0.05% cholesterol and is higher in iron, protein and Vitamin C than beef. One emu egg makes an omelette the size of one made with a dozen chicken eggs.
The emu industry is tightly regulated by state and territory governments. Wild birds, even if legally culled, cannot be used for meat, oil or leather production.