Emus are very beautiful birds.
With an average height of about six feet, it is the second tallest bird in the world, after ostriches. It weighs more than 100 pounds and cannot fly.
But, like chickens and turkeys, they are also called chickens. It is harvested for meat, leather and oil. And this summer, it was considered illegal in the state of Alaska by an Anchor Point man named Pike Ainsworth.
Ainsworth was inspired to breed in Alaska after learning about emu farmers in Maine and British Columbia. He orders some products and he can click one.
“It’s great,” he said. “It’s growing fast. It’s a great little creature.”
Then, he discovered that emus are not on the White List – a registry of animals that are allowed into the government without a permit. He began working to get emus on that list in 2019.
But it is not easy. Ainsworth said he had problems with the Game Board, the authority that determines which animals go on the White List. Game Board Executive Director Kristy Tibbles said the board only consults with the White List every three years, and they won’t until 2021. That meeting was eventually postponed until the spring. of 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ainsworth filed a motion to amend the program to bring his proposal before the board, but it was denied. Tibbles said he did not meet the board’s criteria for being asked out of the cycle.
Finally, in March of this year, Ainsworth was able to present his case to the board. At the meeting, he presented on the state of food security in Alaska.
“Food security is a very important issue, especially now during the war and the COVID-19, stores have run out of food, the price of food has increased, so it is impossible Alaska is mostly red meat,” he said. “I have a request. I would like to add emu to the White List.”
He told the board that the emu is more nutritious than beef, that the most powerful eat it as fuel, and that the bird weighs less on the ground than other animals. He added that with little food and water, the emu grows rapidly.
“Emu can be hatched from an egg and ready for the market in six months,” he said.
Ryan Scott, an assistant director at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the board needs time to review Ainsworth’s request because the birds carry so many diseases. However, they looked into it and he said there was no problem.
“We have very little impact on Alaska’s native species,” he told the board during its deliberations on Ainsworth’s proposal, three days after his presentation. The state veterinarian has no concerns. Scott said emus are not under threat of extinction.
The proposal was passed and will take effect on July 1.
Since then, Ainsworth said many farmers have thanked him for putting emus on the Clean List, allowing them to raise their birds without fear of fines. He said that on top of the health and nutritional benefits, the emu is just a good pet. “They are very loving, they are not evil creatures.”
Ainsworth currently has two emus and plans to add more. He also built a geodesic dome to house his birds without heat in the winter, made of concrete with air bubbles for warmth. He shares that design, along with his knowledge of emu breeding, with others who are interested.