In the Mood

Have you ever seen two nearly six-foot birds having sexual intercourse?

This past week the farm morphed from a platonic PG rated place of miscellaneous poultry and a pig to a palace of porn.

Here is what I saw:  Upon entering the pasture to feed Miss Hibbitz and the Emus, I observed one of the Emus walk over to a far gate and calmly lay down.  I then watched as the second Emu calmly sauntered up behind the first one and began lowering its moppy body down as well.  A strange place for a nap, I thought.  Then, with complete disregard for my presence, the second Emu began thrusting and pumping in a physical expression of pure lust.  The first Emu appeared to find it equally delightful.  Upon completion, perhaps a full minute later, both Emus returned to a standing position and, with slightly dazed expressions, paced off a bit to let their feathers dry.

I then tried to discipher which Emu was which in order to confirm my long-standing record of misnaming animals by gender.   It became clear that I had done it again:  Shirley Emu was a dude and Squiggy was a lady.

(Shirley Emu has been renamed Shirley Jackson with the goal of slowing rubbing all of the extra letters away to leave simply:  Jacks.   Squiggy is a name that can definitely bend in either direction.)


Squiggy and Jacks, before they had inappropriate names, when they first came, as week-old babies. Notice the beautiful markings, which disappear after about six months.

After my catcalls across the field to them died away, I fed everyone and took a walk around the field to see if Squiggy was laying any eggs yet. Last year we began finding the greenish blue giant Emu eggs, although the birds were only a year and a half old then.  What we didn’t know is if one or both were laying, nor if they were fertilized.  The peep show I had just witnessed made these gorgeous eggs even more interesting.  Having finally realized that Emus are excellent security guards for the hen house, we hoped to be able to incubate some of the eggs to hatch another pair of Emu who could live out with the chickens.

(Squiggy and S. Jackson are deeply committed to their current pasture.  After the barn burned down, we arrived at the barn on several occasions to find both Emus had somehow gotten out of their temporary pasture and were back in the yard they were raised in.  Once I came to the farm to do the chores and found the builders working on the new barn while both Emus strolled contentedly amongst them under the new construction.  Nobody thought it interesting enough to call us, which is fascinating to me.)

Happily, I found S. Jackson hovering over two lovely eggs.  In the Emu family, the male sits on the eggs and tends to the young, often not eating for the duration.  I’m not sure what this says about our guy’s character, but he obviously gets up to get it up and I’ve seen him eating with gusto all week.  I also found another egg around the corner, which I purloined for a gift.

What I forgot about is how much Miss Hibbitz enjoys Emu eggs.  The first time I found an egg I was walking with Hibby and we both saw it.  I figured out what it was three seconds after my smart sow and two seconds before I saw the giant yolk flow out of it.   She’s been an addict ever since and never thought to consider the joy of fatherhood that Jackson was hoping to experience.  I received an outraged text from Michael two days after the sex scene regarding Hibby’s selfish (pig) behavior (she ate all of the eggs) and news that she had been banished to a different pasture.

Emus lay between 20 – 40 eggs a year in late fall, early winter, so we have plenty of time to incubate more.  A slight problem is that Emus hatch in as little as eight weeks, which would mean that we would have baby Emus in frozen February.  And we need to build an incubator, since Jacks seems to be a bit of a dead-beat.

Also seen on the farm, aside from the usual rooster rapes, is one of our Tom Naragansetts looking all droopy-eyed and romeoesque as he lowered his body repeatedly over a half deflated basketball.   But let’s talk turkey later.



Useful Muppets


Shirley Emu posing for a self-portrait with me.

After two and a half years of feebly fielding questions regarding the purpose of having the Emus, we feel that we’ve hit on something solid.

First, here are reasons we’ve given in the past, each of them lifted straight out of the Emu Handbook:

Their Feathers are Highly Prized by Knitters

En masse, the Emu feathers present a dusty muppet appearance, but the single feather is a delicate herringbone of interwoven taupe and charcoal that makes it, allegedly, highly prized by
knitters.  As far as I can determine, this is a myth.  I have not investigated how the feathers are extracted nor at which frequency, but I did become curious as to who is really weaving wearables from Emu feathers.  A quick google search reveals that the native to Australia Emu’s feathers mainly end up in Native American dream-catchers.  The only woven products that I found were in ads from the 1950’s featuring lovely ladies wearing sweaters made with Emu brand ‘wool’.  Both of these search results point to the idea that Emus are a very misunderstood bird.

Emu Steak:  The new low-cholesterol ‘red meat’

Next we dutifully list the culinary delight that an Emu steak is said to offer, even thought the idea of eating our friendly big -bulging-eyed pets is so foreign I can’t even imagine it.  Emus, touted 40 some years ago as the ‘new red meat,’ are basically all leg and feather and only provide about 30 pounds of meat per bird. (In contrast, we’ve had turkeys weigh close to 40 pounds.) The meat, however, is 97% fat free and high in protein, vitamin C and B12 and iron and low in cholesterol.    There really is no point in continuing to discuss this.  I don’t care how tasty and healthy it might possibly be:  I’m not eating Shirley and Squiggy.  This option is completely off the table.

Emu Oil is the new Mortgage Lifter

This brings me to the cash cow of Emu farming:  Emu Oil.  An Emu carries approximately 24 pounds of fat that can be rendered into two pounds of an oil that sells for between $7 and $10 per ounce.  The oil works wonders on arthritis, aching joints and has been shown effective as an anti-aging moisturizer.  My sister became a fan of the oil when she first moved to Manhattan for graduate school and her joints were acclimating to the concrete jungle.  When she heard the news that we’d adopted a pair of Emu, her immediate plan was to tap the oil out of the living bird much like taking syrup from a maple tree.  When I shared with her that the Emus would need to be killed before extracting the oil, she was unfazed, which is a testament to how well the oil works – or to the poverty of graduate students.  Regardless,  I am not killing my friends to harvest their fat, melt it down, and rub it on my body, so this is another moot option I should refrain from mentioning to people.


Shirley and Squiggy Emu at home on the farm.

Don’t Mess With the Muppets

Here is what we’ve discovered Emus do really well:  They keep our chickens safe because predators, too, have no idea what the purpose is of these tall ungainly birds with giant talons.  Our Emus have been very clear one one point:  they despise small furry creatures.   The sight of a cat crossing their pasture drives them into twisting lurching corkscrews of hysterical murderous rage.  If a cat could provoke this reaction, I must assume that possum, raccoon, and skunk are equally unwelcome.  The Cooper hawks, who live in the woods near the pastures and are the number one threat to the hens, seem to find the six-foot birds …. confusing.

But before I anthropomorphise too much, let me just give you these plain facts : last year, before the barn burned down, the chickens, Emus and hogs lived in the same pastures and we rarely, if ever, lost a chicken.  This year the chickens live in a different pasture away from the Emus and Miss Hibbitz.  We bought 100 pullet brown-egg layers this spring and my last count was that we have 26 left, which means that 75 chickens were picked off this summer by predators before they even started laying eggs.

Why do we have Emus, you ask?  Because they are bad ass big birds who take care of business, that’s why.  You got a problem with that?


Your timing is way off

I wish that I were starting this blog in April.  Or, better yet, February.  Those are good months to launch a cheerful optimistic conversation about a garden, a farm, and all things verdant. Those are months where good intentions still count.  Your sad luck is that you’ve stumbled upon me, and I’ve stumbled across wordpress, at the wrong time. IMG_1594-0.JPG It is mid-October and gardens are pulpy, slimy mounds dotted with wasted wrinkled peppers and tomatoes.

(Unless, of course, you are the type of gardener who cleaned out your garden prior to frost.   If you are that type of gardener, I don’t think that we will have much to say to each other.  Probably because you are outside working like a smug smarty pants. )

This 14,000 square foot barn burned to the ground in 2013,

This 14,000 square foot barn burned to the ground in 2013,

Erma’s Garden is a different kind of garden.  We’ve taken a simple rarely tended garden and made it into a half-witted farm.  In fact, this whole damn thing was accidental; we sat down once while cleaning out some random debris from this abandoned barn to have a beer.  Maybe we had more than one and maybe the sun was blanching our brains because at some point we decided it would be grand if we started keeping chickens back there.  Mind you, the abandoned barn was a monstrous 14,000 square foot former commercial veal venture on a property we owned but did not live on.  It turned out that watching the chickens was such fun that we built a porch to sit on and enjoy it. Screens were added to keep out the flies.  Fences were added to keep in the dogs.  Veal stalls were demolished and the barn was slowly converted from a dusty torture pit for baby cows to a dusty but cheerful country get-away for us.  (Until it burned down to 14,000 feet of embers last July.  But more about that later.)


Shirley Emu and Squiggy Emu, in their post-barn burning down field.

And that is how Erma’s Garden was born… from a beer too many. Now, aside from the garden, we are host to gorgeous Miss Hibbitz the pig, Shirley and Squiggy the Emus, ten turkeys and an ever decreasing supply of chickens – thanks to their proximity to both hawk-infested woods and a varmint-infested creek.   Our farm, and our future house,  is a slow, achingly slow, battle against limitations of time, energy and motivation.   And, the elements of course.

I have the day off and the forecast is appallingly non-forgiving:  65 and sunny.   Unfortunately,  this leaves no room for excuses.  It’s off to Erma’s Garden I go, to feed my friends, brew ten gallons of IPA and tear out the evidence of a garden gone bad.