HAMILTON, Mont. — The Wild Rose Emu Ranch is a survivor in an unusual business.
In 1998, there were some 5,500 farms and ranches across the country raising emus, the gawky, five- to six-foot-tall flightless birds; now, the best guess is that there are 1,000 to 2,000. Once, emus were viewed as a potential growth industry, a godsend to struggling farmers.
But the industry’s downward trajectory may have been stayed.
It is not because the bird’s meat, which is very lean, is becoming more popular, although it is. Instead, it is in the large block of fat that covers most of the emu’s body, between the hide and the flesh, that ranchers are finding a glimmer of hope.
“The oil is beneficial for almost any kind of skin condition,” said Clover Quinn, the owner of the Wild Rose, as she rubbed some of the oil on her hands. While there are a few studies that demonstrate the oil’s effectiveness for some things, proponents say it has a wide range of uses.