Delaware’s only emusOct 17, 2022 10:01AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
Carolyn Palo has made money and saved money with her emus, the only ones in Delaware.
Over the 30 years or so that she has raised the birds, she has sold a wide range of products, including eggs, chicks, feathers, dog treats and almost 20 items using emu oil for body care. “I use almost all the products,” she said, and she estimated that her body-care regimen saved her thousands of dollars to reduce pain in her knees, until she got them replaced as a 65th birthday present from Medicare.
The emus are the most striking product of Pine Hill Farms on Smith Way, just south of Interstate 95 and just east of the Maryland line. She and her partner, Kathy Goldstone, also own land on Dixie Line Road, about a mile away.
The business was established by Palo’s grandparents as a chicken farm. Palo’s mother started with the emus in the mid-1990s. The farm now raises hay for horses, plus pumpkins (if they have any), hay and cornstalks for Halloween décor. They also offer hay rides. And they maintain two produce gardens, mostly for their own consumption.
They live in a house designed by Palo’s mother and built by her grandfather, and the property includes a half-dozen buildings and a pond created by her grandparents. Palo’s mother also named both roads, with Smith Way for an early Black family that lived there and Dixie Line for how it hugs the state border. Palo and Goldstone, who has a day job as a land surveyor, share the property with two pet goats, two dogs and six cats.
How emus are raised
Emu raising, like all disciplines, takes, well, discipline that’s developed with experience and supported with data monitoring. Palo has also learned from being a member of the American Emu Association, and she’s president of the Maryland Emu Association.
Emu groups are traditionally called mobs. The seasons at Pine Hill include egg laying December through April and hatching April through July. Emus grow fast and reach full size in about six months. They can run quickly but cannot fly.
“Emus have interesting calls,” according to the American Emu Association. The males grunt; the females make a throbbing drum; and the chicks whistle, with the males whistling back.
During a June visit to Pine Hill, there were about 15 birds, with separate fenced outdoor runs and indoor pens. They keep breeding pairs together and big birds – they’re the world’s second-largest, following their cousins, the ostriches – apart from little birds.
In the living room is an incubator, holding eggs at the right temperature and humidity and regularly rocking them. In the basement is a small pen, this day containing just one chick, with a stuffed animal for company.
Their oldest emu is a male named Isä, who’s more than 20 years old. That’s the Finnish word for father, a nod to Palo’s heritage. He’s paired with Hillary (as in Clinton) after his mate Äiti (Finnish for mother) passed on.
A bountiful harvest
A typical 100-pound emu yields about 30 pounds of fat and 25 pounds of meat, plus four bones and a trachea that are smoked for dog treats, she said. The heart, liver and neck have fed animals at the Plumpton Park Zoo, fed dogs or become part of a raw-food diet. Feathers can be used for fly-fishing and in crafts, such as dream-catchers, she said.
Most of the attention on https://pinehillfarmsde.com and the brochure they give out at farmers markets and fairs is on the emu oil, made from the fat. “This safe, sterile oil has proven to be hypoallergenic and will not clog pores,” the brochure notes, adding that it “contains several essential fatty acids, including omega 3 and 6.”
Aborigines in Australia, where emus are from, have used the oil for more than a thousand years to heal wounds, treat insect bites and alleviate arthritis, the brochure says. It then highlights more than three dozen uses for the oil, including arthritis, psoriasis, eczema, rosacea, acne and massage for chronic injuries. Prices range from $4.50 for lip balm to $90 for acne and rosacea creams. Such products based on the Pine Hill fat come from artisans in Alabama and Tennessee, with the bar soap from Iron Hill Soapworks nearby.
“Emu eggs are nutritionally equivalent to hen eggs yet non-allergic,” the brochure says, noting they equal about 10 medium hen eggs. Blown-out eggs have three layers – a dark green outer shell, a pale green intermediate layer and a white inner shell, making them “an excellent item for carvers.”
Although Palo spoke highly of the meat (noting that it looks and tastes like beef but is a heart-healthy alternative), they don’t always have it for sale. She has referred potential customers to Amaroo Hills Emu Farm in Tennessee.
The joy of work
Emus are not the telegenic spokescreatures popularized in Liberty Mutual ads, she said. They’re largely standoffish, and she told the Newark Post that “they are dumber than dirt” and don’t recognize her from one day to another as she cares for and feeds them.
Palo and Goldstone have decided to pass along Pine Hill Farms to Yes U Can USA, a Delaware nonprofit co-founded by Vickie George and Debora Woolwine and focused on “getting people with disabilities and limited mobility moving.”
Palo handles most of the farm work and acknowledges it can be daunting. “People don’t want to work that hard,” she said – and she was just talking about the short season for harvesting hay. While she was convalescing, tenants Lisa Miller and Paul Arendt stepped up to handle the chores.
“At the end of the day, if I can put my feet up and have a cocktail, then it’s fun,” Palo said, paraphrasing an inspirational quote by “Peter Pan” creator J.M. Barrie: “Nothing is work unless you would rather be doing something else.” And to emphasize her outlook, she also cited a Finnish term – työn iloa – which she translated as the “joy of work.”