Tulips and ambitiously planted tomatoes were not the only things thought to be lost in the snow and frost of mid-April.
Together, Emily Polkinghorn, her mother Janean Parker and stepfather Tony Citrhyn own and staff 3 Feathers Emu Ranch and Farm in Adna.
When Polkinghorn went out to check on her incubated emu eggs after the spring storm caused a power outage, she thought all the unhatched chicks were goners.
Typically when the power goes out, the ranch’s generator kicks on to supply power, and in turn, the heat necessary to incubate eggs. When the power comes back, the generator turns off and the heat is again supplied by main power. But this time, when the power switched back on, something went wrong — and the eggs were left without heat.
About four or five hours later, Polkinghorn went back into the shed and realized the incubators had reached 54 degrees. Emu eggs need to be incubated at 97.5 degrees.
“We thought that we had lost all of them. And we have like nine different trays that were in there and we thought we'd lost everybody. And we were almost crying,” Parker said.
Emu eggs are large and dark green. Unlike with most poultry, their eggs cannot be candled to check on the embryo growing inside for the 52 days between laying and hatching.
The owners at 3 Feathers had a choice. They could give up and throw out all the eggs or continue incubating and turning them — and hope for the best. Though devastated by the thought of the eggs never hatching, the family decided there was no harm in continuing to care for the eggs.
On April 22, Polkinghorn went to turn the eggs when she discovered a freshly-hatched chick. She shouted to her mother in a moment of overwhelming joy.
“I was like, ‘Mom, help! I’ve got chicks!’” she said.
For the batch they thought was lost, the farm has had about a 50% successful hatch rate, with which they are “very pleased,” Parker said. While grown emus more closely resemble a dinosaur than any creature native to the Pacific Northwest, the babies, like chickens, are precious, fluffy and small when they first emerge from their 5-inch eggs. Within a few short weeks, however, their size rivals nearly all chickens.
Besides the joy of hatching such an exotic animal, 3 Feathers Emu Ranch and Farm keeps the birds for a product Citrhyn describes as “miraculous.” It’s called emu oil.
About 18 months after hatching, the ranch butchers the mature emus for the oil derived from their fat.
“The meat isn't marbled like beef, there's a really distinct layer of fat around it and then there's some internal fat as well. And that's the part that we take. We just freeze it and we send it to a refiner,” Parker said.
Emu oil, according to Cithryn and Parker, is unique in the Omegas 3, 6 and 9 that it holds all at once. The fatty acids it carries can be absorbed transdermally when the oil is applied to skin, they said, and it is non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog pores and cause acne.
The emu ranchers use the oil for personal consumption and sell it through their website. Parker said the most compelling thing about the business is hearing customer testimonials saying the oil helped their skin conditions or relieved burns and aches.
The farm also has several sets of mated pairs of emus, who will continue producing new batches of babies up to their late teenage years. When something startles the flightless birds, they can be seen sprinting around the edges of their enclosures, flailing their long necks around. Female emus produce a low, booming, thump sound. A written description of this noise will not do it justice, so The Chronicle has posted videos of the birds on its Facebook page.
For more information, visit https://threefeathersemus.com/ or the business’s Facebook page, @3feathersemus. The family also frequents the Chehalis Farmers Market and other local markets.