Keeping it Local at Three Feathers Emu Ranch
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM EMU TODAY & TOMORROW MAGAZINE, SPRING 2020 EDITION
Keeping It Local at Three Feathers Emu Ranch
By Kathy Alward, Staff Writer
Three Feathers Emu Ranch owners Tony Citrhyn and Janean Parker have many valuable insights into the emu industry gained from their personal experience. They found the property for their emu ranch in 2009 and have been slowly building up the business since. “It is a work in progress,” said Parker.
Parker emphasized that they took the model of doing “everything” to include incubating and hatching eggs, raising emu, and making and selling emu products. The two sell their products online and at local and regional farmer’s markets and fairs, and they also reciprocate the transaction for other businesses in the area. “We buy local products whenever we can—we buy local goat’s milk, local herbs when making our products,” said Parker.
Citrhyn and Parker have about 80 emus for commercial purposes, but they also have cows and sheep to eat the grass down and chickens that they don’t sell, according to Citrhyn. “We go to farmer’s markets, and we have a website. We do the whole cycle of raising the birds, selling the meat, selling the fat, selling the refined oil,” said Citrhyn. They have a Facebook page Instagram page, they write newsletters and press releases for the local news, and they sell their products on their online website at https://www.threefeathersemus.com/. “It’s more work than I ever thought I wanted to do. I am certainly happy with the lifestyle,” said Citrhyn.
January through May is an intense time of year—it’s when they usually start incubating, explained Citrhyn. They prepare for incubating early by making sure that the incubation house is set and checking the incubators around November so they can start running them after Christmas, said Citrhyn. The emu chicks are born in the hatchery, and then they go into a sheltered area where they can run for around two months until the weather warms up. Then, according to Citrhyn, they are put out in the pens with the other birds.
They learned early on from a painful mistake that they needed a generator. Parker explained, “Before we had a generator, we were out of power for 12 hours and we lost all our eggs.” Citrhyn further clarified that they live in an area where there are power cuts, so if a tree falls on the power lines, they lose power.
Citrhyn and Parker sell very few eggs as they usually try to hatch them all. When asked how many eggs they expect to hatch this year, Citrhyn joked, “We don’t like to count our chickens before they hatch.” The goal has been to get up to 100 chicks per year, and they have been trying to reach that goal for 10 years, according to Parker.
They have a 6-foot perimeter fence around everything, and they have 4-foot, 5-foot, and 6-foot fences everywhere else within the perimeter. According to Citrhyn, he has built a lot of fences in the past 10 years. “We have extended the perimeter probably about three times in the last 10 years, and we will do that again this summer,” said Citrhyn. “Now it is more fence repair than building,” said Parker, as they want to sustain the size of the operation while they continue to refine the business and grow customers.
They make lotions, soaps, and lip balms on their ranch, but they don’t refine their own emu oil, according to Parker. They get their oil back from an American Emu Association (AEA)-certified refiner. “AEA-certified fully refined is the emu oil standard,” said Citrhyn. Both Citrhyn and Parker wanted to give a shout out to the AEA for their strong support. The two try to use as many of the materials that the AEA provides, such as emails on how to promote National Emu Week (N.E.W.) and how to help market your business. They both said that AEA was especially helpful when they were getting started in the emu industry. According to Citrhyn, they also have a Washington Emu Association that is strong and very supportive.
Citrhyn and Parker both spoke highly of the support they receive from Emily Polkinghorn, who is an integral part of the ranch—they refer to Emily as their ranch manager. “Emily is my stepdaughter. She does a tremendous amount and does it well,” said Citrhyn. “She is as much an expert on emus as just about anybody at this point,” Parker added.
“We are very grateful for our customer base. They are just wonderful and keep coming back continually,” said Citrhyn. When asked if they had any interesting emu product requests from their customers, Parker mentioned one time when a customer came out and bought emu legs so they could taxidermy the legs and use a whole emu leg as a base for a lamp. They never heard back how that project went. Another customer, a teacher, used emu heads for science projects, according to Citrhyn, whereas another customer used emu feathers for a costume.
Citrhyn said that they are still waiting for emu oil to take off, while Parker added that they are very optimistic that they will be positioned to be there when emu oil does take off. Emu oil is a wonderful product, emphasized Parker. “I truly do believe in it and I think people in the industry are here because they truly do believe it,” said Parker.
In the future, they plan to continue as they are with no major changes, according to Parker. She advised that people who are starting out in the business should realize that it takes time to build up your business and customer base and to prepare accordingly. They plan to continue to use local products when making their homemade products because, as Parker emphasized, “There is definitely a demand for local products. People want to know where their products come from and where it’s made and how it’s made.”