It’s not every day an emu becomes a social media sensation, but that’s just what happened when a southwest Missouri FFA chapter advisor brought an emu into the classroom.
“The students loved him! I’d hear a comment every day about how his picture went up on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.,” said Justin Mauss, Carthage Technical Center Agriculture Teacher and FFA Advisor. “He became a local celebrity overnight!”
Carthage FFA, home to 300 members, had experience raising poultry before. Every spring Carthage Ag Science I classes conduct a poultry hatch, where they’ve hatched out chickens, turkeys, ducks, and quail. But this spring was their first emu.
A popular ratite used for meat, oil, and leather, emus do have a practical and realistic place in today’s agriculture market. Mauss thought why not.
“I also wanted to spark an interest in my students to think outside the box and find their niche,” Mauss said. “An emu was the perfect way to accomplish that.”
For $50, Mauss purchased two emu eggs off an ad he found on Facebook. The eggs were placed in an incubator and around 50 days later, on March 24, the 100 students in Ag Science I found they were the proud new owners of a baby emu they affectionately named Emerson.
And over the next two months, Emerson became the class pet.
The class took turns feeding, watering, and caring for Emerson. When he was let out of his cage, Emerson played follow the leader with the students and never strayed too far away.
As cute as Emerson was, Mauss said the bird still provided a valuable lesson to the students.
“Raising any type of livestock animal teaches students responsibility, work ethic, and patience,” Mauss said. “Since roughly 80 percent of our FFA chapter comes from a non-traditional background, the emu project has been an excellent way to expose them to the livestock industry and teach them those traits.”
But as school came to a close for the summer and Emerson kept getting bigger, the FFA chapter knew they would have to do something with the bird. After all, emus are the second largest living bird by height, after the ostrich.
On May 31, he was sold as a pet to a local farmer who had the facilities to care for him.
“Since emus can get six feet tall and weigh 160 pounds, the Carthage FFA chapter couldn’t keep him any longer than that two-month period,” Mauss said. “If I’m able to find more fertile emu eggs I know the students would love to repeat this project!”
Mauss says other FFA chapters should give an emu a try.
“I’d encourage other FFA chapters to consider raising an emu or two since it will get a lot of attention from your students, faculty, and community,” Mauss said. “Emerson was a great recruiting tool for our agriculture department. It will definitely be something your students never forget!”