Australia’s emu farmers are ramping up production of oil, with demand increasing as more people become aware of the product’s medicinal qualities.
Veteran emu farmer Wayne Piltz said the market has grown significantly in recent years, but production has not risen with it.
Mr Piltz, now the only emu farmer in South Australia, currently has about 1,000 chicks at his Moorook farm in the state’s Riverland region.
“It’s just got to the stage where there’s a lot of it being exported, a lot of it’s going into local products, into cosmetics and therapeutic goods,” Mr Piltz said.
“We’re basically short of oil throughout Australia.
“I know the other suppliers over in Victoria, they’re struggling to have enough oil, so it’s in pretty good demand … which keeps the price very attractive for us.”
How do you produce emu oil?
Although Mr Piltz breeds the birds, he does not process the oil himself, instead sending his stock to a facility in north-west Victoria.
He expects to send up to 400 birds to the interstate facility in coming weeks.
“It’s an added expense to get birds over there for slaughter, but it’s certainly worthwhile,” he said.
“Because the slaughterhouse at Wycheproof has also got a rendering and refinery facility to do the oil.”
The benefits of using emu oil
Postdoctoral medical researcher through the University of Adelaide Dr Suzanne Mashtoub said medical trials have showed promising results for the reparative qualities of emu oil.
“It’s been most effective in terms of wound-healing and repair of the intestinal lining,” she said.
“Emu oil has been used for thousands of years by Indigenous Australian people, and they used it topically for wound-healing and for treatment of inflamed joints and burns.”
Dr Mashtoub said the oil has high levels of omega-9, which is an anti-inflammatory fatty acid.
“Initially, it was thought that [the oil] was predominantly used for it’s anti-inflammatory properties, but we also discovered that it has antioxidant properties,” she said.
Research into the medicinal qualities of emu oil are ongoing, and this year will see a world-first clinical trial on humans take place in South Australia.
Dr Mashtoub will lead the study at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide, and said the patients in the trial will be children with ulcerative colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease.
She said once these trials are complete, doctors can begin prescribing doses of emu oil for medication.
“At this stage we don’t make any recommendations in terms of a dose that [patients] can take,” Dr Mashtoub said.
“We simply say we have very promising results from our pre-clinical studies and we are hoping that will translate into the clinical setting in humans.”
In-demand skin treatment
Talyala Emu Oil director Mia Murphy agreed, and said her customers use the oil to help manage skin conditions and dryness.
“Most of our customers use emu oil to help with inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and joint pain,” Ms Murphy said.
Despite demand increasing and awareness for the product growing, Ms Murphy said there is still room for the market to develop further.
“Where we see those surges in demand are when there’s a bit of publicity,” she said.
Mr Piltz agreed, and said producers can also help tell the public about the oil’s health benefits.
“It’s one of the only natural oils that will not clog the pores of the skin, it’s got very good dermal penetration, so it goes into the deep layers of skin where it’s beneficial,” Mr Piltz said.
Producers to start ramping up production
Mr Piltz hopes to increase his emu production to keep up with the demand for oil.
“We’ve got facilities here that we can breed up to, well 600 or 700 birds or maybe more a year,” he said.
“We’re not up to that stage yet, but it wouldn’t take long.
“We like to hopefully average between 8.5 and say 9 or 10 kilos of fat per bird…if we can average over 8 [kilograms], we’re happy.”
Ms Murphy said she hopes more producers will be encouraged to enter the industry for sustainability reasons.
Despite this, the drought has had some impact on emu numbers in recent years.
“It depends on the drought conditions … this year, 2019, there was a very, very small harvest of emu oil just because we didn’t have that many birds,” Ms Murphy said.
“Only a minimal amount of birds were hatched because we couldn’t get the grain for feeding.”
But she said it is looking promising for the years to come.
“[A Victorian producer] is really, really increasing the amount of of chicks he will hatch out for next spring,” Ms Murphy said.
“Producers in Victoria are absolutely anticipating that the industry is going to continue to grow.
“We would love to see some of those farmers who are struggling with their current crops, look at their land and go, ‘right, yeah, we could run emus here’.”
Mr Piltz also had high hopes for his farming future.
“I hope [the industry] continues to build, and I can’t see why it won’t, because you’re utilising a native ingredient from Australia,” he said.
“Our biggest native bird has produced some very good products for cosmetics and therapeutics and eating.”