Good news Alaskans: your emus are now legal


an emu
An emu in 2016. (Creative Commons photo by Mathias Appel)

Emus are quite extraordinary birds.

With an average height of almost 1.80 m, they are the second tallest bird in the world after ostriches. They weigh over 100 pounds and cannot fly.

But like more conventional chickens and turkeys, they are also considered poultry. They are harvested for meat, leather, and oil. And as of this summer, they’re legal farm animals thanks to a man from Anchor Point named Pike Ainsworth, in the state of Alaska.

Ainsworth was inspired to raise emus in Alaska after hearing about emu farmers in Maine and British Columbia. He ordered some eggs and managed to hatch one.

“It was really neat,” he said. “It’s growing so fast. It’s a really cool little creature.”

Then he discovered that emus weren’t on the Clean List — a list of livestock allowed in the state without a permit. He started working on adding emus to this list in 2019.

But it wasn’t that easy. Ainsworth said he’s encountered opposition from the Board of Game, the agency that greenlights which animals go on the Clean List. Board of Game executive director Kristy Tibbles said the board only considers the clean list every three years, and it’s not planned to do so until 2021. This meeting was ultimately postponed to spring 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ainsworth submitted a motion to change the agenda to bring his proposal to the board sooner, but it was rejected. Tibbles said it doesn’t meet the board’s criteria for an out-of-cycle request.

Ainsworth was finally able to plead his case before the board in March of that year. At the meeting, he testified about the state of food security in Alaska.

“Food security is an extremely serious issue, especially now during the war and COVID-19, stores have been consistently empty, meat prices have skyrocketed making red meat out of reach for most Alaskans,” he said. “I have a suggestion. I want to add Emu to the Clean List.”

He told the board that emu meat is more nutritious than beef, that extreme athletes eat it for fuel and that the birds are less of a burden on the land than other livestock. He also said that emus require little food and water and grow quickly.

“The emu can hatch from an egg and be ready for market in six months,” he said.

Ryan Scott, an associate director for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the board needed time to consider Ainsworth’s proposal because birds often carry a range of diseases. However, they checked it out and he said there didn’t seem to be any problems.

“We would expect very little impact on Alaskan native species,” he told the board three days after deliberating on Ainsworth’s proposal. Even the state vet had no concerns. Scott noted that emus are not endangered.

The proposal was approved unanimously and went into effect on July 1st.

Since then, Ainsworth says several farmers have thanked him for putting emus on the Clean List so they can raise their birds without fear of retribution. He said in addition to the health and food security benefits, emus are just great pets. “They’re really a bonding animal, almost like a dog,” Ainsworth said. “They are so loving, they are not dangerous creatures.”

Ainsworth currently has two emus and plans to get more. He also designed a geodesic dome to house his birds without heat in winter, made of concrete with air pockets that provide insulation. He shares this design and his knowledge of emu raising with other interested parties.



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