Both the emu bird and the ostrich are members of the ratite family. This family of birds include the kiwi from New Zealand, being the smallest in the family, to the cassowary from New Guinea, the rhea from South America, the emu from Australia, and largest is the ostrich from Sub-Saharan Africa. The largest distinguishing factor of this family of birds is that they are flightless.
The two ratites used extensively on farms worldwide are the emu bird and the ostrich. These birds are very similar, yet very different. Many of the farm management activities of emu farming and ostrich farming are the same, and lessons can be learned from both sides. The farming practices are unique due to two main factors. Ostriches are not as hardy as emus, and raising ostrich chicks has a much higher mortality rate than emus. The age at which the birds need to be slaughtered also makes a measurable difference in the farm management practices.
Here are some similarities and differences between emus and ostriches:
The emu is a little smaller than the ostrich. Emu males and females are impossible to tell apart from looks. They sounds they make are unique however: Males make a guttural grunt, and females make a drumming sound. Ostriches are larger than the emu birds. They have more meat. Females and males can be separated by looks. Males have distinctive black and white feathers, whereas females are more uniformly grey.
Emu birds are hardy, and very easy to domesticate. They have no aggression towards people, although they can be aggressive towards other livestock. Ostriches are aggressive birds during the breeding season. The chicks are harder to raise, with a higher mortality rate. Eggs have a lower hatchability than emu eggs.
Emu meat is classified as a red meat. Almost no intramuscular fat exists. Ostrich meat is also classified as a red meat, also with almost no intramuscular fat. Ostrich has much more meat than emu birds. Both meats are seen as healthy alternatives to common red meat such as beef.
In an emu, the fat deposits are found under the skin over most of the body, but the largest pad of fat is situated on the rump. The emu bird can have up to 14 kg (30 lbs) fat. The fat is similar to that of ostriches in composition. The fat deposit found on an ostrich is much smaller than on an emu bird. It is situated as a pad on the undercarriage, and along the spine. Little testing has been done on this fat,l whereas for the emu, extensive testing has been done to evaluate its properties.
Emu feathers are made of filaments that do not interlock. Their feathers are soft, long and thin. They are unique in that they have a double shaft, after starting as a single shaft. They are mainly used for crafts and flower arrangements. Ostrich feathers on the other hand are much larger, and are made up of individual filaments. Ostrich feathers are in high demand for fashion, interior decorating, arts and crafts, and for the manufacturing of goods like feather dusters. Both types of feathers absorb dyes readily.
Emu eggs are emerald green, and oblong in shape. The shell is thinner than that of the ostrich egg. Ostrich eggs are much larger than emu eggs. Their egg is white to cream in color, and has a thick shell. Both types of eggs are used for crafts, painting and carving.
An emu skin is thinner than that of an ostrich skin. For the fashion industry, ostrich leather is the preferred leather since it is more distinctive with its quill pattern, and stronger. Whilst emu skins also have a quill pattern, it is more like pinholes and considered less attractive. Whilst you may find for example cowboy boots made from ostrich leather, you are unlikely to find high fashion branded items from emu. That’s the situation at present, but you never know, it may change.
Both emu farming and ostrich farming can be profitable businesses. Many unique products and by-products stem from the emu bird, although some products are similar to ostrich.