Emu is much maligned in Tamil Nadu, where its farming led to a scam, but Thiruvalla farmers are gung-ho about it.

Emu is the fastest bird in the world after ostrich. Strong, agile legs help the flightless bird from Australia traverse great distances in quick time.

The taluk of Thiruvalla boasts, perhaps, the largest emu farm in Kerala. It is not the bird’s running skills that make many keep it in their farms. Promoters of emu farming say the bird has tremendous commercial value, its organs fetching good money.“We started it as a fancy, keeping 10 pairs of emus a few years ago. But the commercial value of the bird and the enthusiasm shown by the local people and bird lovers elsewhere made us think bigger. We started two fairly big emu farms at Neerettupuram and Kavumbhagom in Thiruvalla four years ago,” say Viji Vengal, Dubai-based businessman, and his manager, Thomas Manalel.

The emu farms attract bird lovers, especially children, and tourists. The farm has 360 emus, besides an ostrich, vigova ducks, turkeys, geese, flying ducks and so on.

George John, better known as Amil Shaji, who runs a drug house in Thiruvalla town, says emu farming is fast picking up here because of the high market potential of its meat, oil, feather and eggs.

Mr. John, who keeps a few pairs of emus in the courtyard of his house, says, “Each part of the bird, from its nails and legs to skin and feather, has got high commercial value in the national and international market. An emu egg costs Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 1,500 depending on its demand from time to time.” The oil extracted from its fat is priced at Rs.5,000 a litre and a fully grown emu will give four to five litres of oil, Mr. Thomas says. The oil is used for cosmetics and dietary and therapeutic products.

“Similar to beef, emu meat is red. But it is low in fat and cholesterol. The meat is delicious and in high demand across the world. Here, in Kerala, it is priced in the range of Rs. 400 to Rs. 500 a kg. A fully grown emu weighs 40 kg to 50 kg,” Mr. Thomas says.

Mr. Thomas says some multinational companies used to buy emu eggs, oil and legs at a handsome price from their farm. The legs of this herbivore are strong and are used to make telephone stands and legs of chairs after chemical processing, he says.

The emu skin is ideal for making bags, belts, clothes, footwear and so on. There is a belief that keeping emu shell in a house will bring good fortunes, Mr. John says. The farmhouse at Neerettupuram has got its own hatchery with a capacity to incubate 700 eggs at a time.

A pair of emus even as young as one to three months is priced between Rs. 8,000 and Rs. 10,000. A pair cost used to cost Rs. 16,000 to Rs. 22,000 two years ago in Kerala.

Mr. Johnson, caretaker at the farm at Kavumbhagom, says it has got caterers as clients who buy emu meat for making speciality dishes. Bird and animal lovers in this part of the State have started adding a few pairs of emus to their collection.

An emu lays 35 to 45 eggs a year and the egg-laying season extends from October to March, Mr. Thomas says.

Ostriches

The farmhouse at Neerettupuram had four ostriches, bought at Rs. 1.25 lakh each, till a year ago. However, the farmhouse, at present, houses only one giant bird in the cage.

Mr. John says the State government should launch schemes to promote emu farming identifying it as a better commercial option suitable for the climatic conditions as well as the environment.