Ann is special features executive editor and manages her team of special features writers, photographers and designers. Also, she writes stories and her column Country Connections.
INKSTER, N.D. - JoAnna Starkweather hopes to carve a niche in the emu market with sales of decorated eggs.
Emu owners since 1995, she and her husband, Doug, already have had success marketing emu oil, lotion and lip balm. Now JoAnna wants to focus her efforts on painting and hewing designs in the emu eggs.
“My objectives are to raise the birds and do the art,” she says.
JoAnna's flock of six female emus each have the capacity to produce from 20 to 50 eggs per year, she says. She incubates some of the eggs and paints a few.
The couple, like many other small livestock owners, got started in the emu business because they bought a farm. Both she and Doug were in the military, stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base, when they moved to the country near Inkster.
“Our objective was to start a business at home, to have animals,” says JoAnna. In 1995, after visiting with an emu producer at a farm show in Crookston and researching information about the birds, she and Doug decided to buy a pair of 6-month-old chicks.
Emus are a hardy bird and rarely become ill, JoAnna says. A native of Australia, the birds adapt well to North Dakota's climate.
The adult emus roam outside in groups of three in 20 feet by 100 feet wire pens and each pen has access to an 8-by-8 foot shelter so the emus can go inside when the weather turns extremely cold.
The chicks, which hatch between February and April are kept inside. The chicks are about 8 to 10 inches in height when they hatch and reach 5- to 6- feet tall when they are adults.
CareThe exotic birds eat a standard livestock diet made up of a mixture that includes corn, soybean meal, vitamins and minerals.
While raising the emus is relatively easy, marketing the birds has been more difficult than JoAnna anticipated, she says. The emu industry was evolving from a breeding industry to a commercial industry when the Starkweathers began raising the birds. Because the breeding market was saturated with stock, the couple had to work to find buyers for emu products, JoAnna says.
Marketing She and Doug teamed up with Dean Aasand, an emu producer from Carrington, N.D., to make and sell lotions, creams, oils and lip balm under the name of Vitality Inc.
The Starkweathers and Aasand sell their products at shows such as Pride of Dakota, online and at a few local retail stores.
Once people try the products many are sold on them, so Vitality products have a lot of loyal repeat customers, JoAnna says.
“I've been in the black a couple of years now,” she says. “The emus are supporting themselves.”
The Starkweathers butcher and process their emus, then extract the oil. Each emu yields from 1 to 2 gallons of oil in addition to 25 to 35 pounds of meat, 5 to 8 square feet of hide and 1½ to 1¾ pounds of feathers, according to the American Emu Association.
Eggs The dark green emu eggs are another potential product. JoAnna sells the 5-inch long carved eggs for $45 to $135 and painted eggs for $25 to $80.
While JoAnna's goal is to make the decorated eggs her main business, it's also been rewarding selling emu products, she says. The oil and oil-based lotions help ease the pain of arthritis and sore muscles.
“It reduces redness, itching and swelling or whatever the problem may be.
“My job satisfaction is helping people with their skin conditions or pain level.”
Ann Bailey writes for Prairie Country. Reach her by phone at (701) 787-6753, (800) 477-6572, ext. 753 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Emerging Female Entreprenuer: JoAnna Starkweather
Grammar Composition I
An older house with chipped white paint comfortably settled in a green yard with a large willow tree in the front and other various trees border the ranch.Black-eyed Susan’s wave at visitors and a shiny black German shepherd and old golden retriever announce any new arrivals.To the left, red fences supporting wire fences contain the odd-looking birds raised on Morning Star Emu Ranch.JoAnna Starkweather, the owner, walks with determination and purpose as she prepares for a tour due later that day.Medium in stature with shoulder length blond hair and lively blue eyes, she carries herself with an ease and assurance that speaks of experience.
She never imagined she would be raising emus one day.She grew up in Foston, Minnesota, wishing to be a career woman in the city.Financial shortages led her to choose the military to get her education.There she met Doug, a military man who shared her love of hunting, fishing, and camping.After they were married, she had to get out of the military for medical reasons.The happy couple decided to settle in the country and start their own business with Doug staying in the military.
Crookston Winter Shows, visiting conventions, other farms, and doing much research finally convinced them to start their own emu farm.Starting small, they purchased their first pair of chicks in September of 1995.They expanded as their chicks grew- buying more birds, building fences, and buying equipment.
In the beginning, large co-ops were buying large quantities of birds from private breeders, but the demand did not yet meet with the supply being produced.Many large farms flailed, but because Morning Start Ranch started small, they managed to keep going.Soon producers recognized the need to promote their products to increase the public demand.Joanna and Doug had planned to sell primarily the meat and the eggshells Joanna painted, but they realized they needed to do more.After 9/11, however, Doug would be deployed several times, leaving JoAnna to handle the business primarily alone.
She learned not to expect hand-outs from anyone.She had to dig and search for the answers.They became members of the State and National Emu Association.More meetings, conventions, and networking followed as they learned and expanded their services.She helped to start “Vitality” with another private business owner.They developed their own all-natural line of lotions, lip balm, and crème products from the emu oil.The market has grown with the new demand, now offering meat, leather, feathers, oil, and eggshells.
Now after twelve years of raising the birds, Joanna still claims that the best benefit she derives from it is helping people – mostly with the oil products.The money does not make up very much of the profit gained from the business so far, but she plans for expansion.Although she has had to sell her stock in the company “Vitality”, she still supplies much of the raw products the company needs and she receives profit every time it is sold.She has developed her own feed formula for emus, which has shown wonderful results.She plans on selling this as well.The main idea is to invest in and promote the products she can be a part of so that even when she cannot do so much, she will still receive profit from the growing industry she has invested in.
Joanna helps the University of North Dakota with its research on the birds and conducts tours and school incubation products to help teach others in this area.This astounding lady wears many hats- Christian wife, woman, business owner, entrepreneur, sales representative, producer, seller, buyer, teacher, and student—as she strives to make the best decisions for her family and business.
As the tour vans arrive, she changes her role once more and greets the students.She animatedly gives the information about the emus, looking from the students to the birds.As she removes her sunglasses and grabs a rope, she announces, “I can probably catch Hensil or Mason for you,” opens the gate, and begins the hunt.
As America “catches up” to the benefits of emu products, private owners like Joanna Starkweather continues to plough ahead—living the dream millions of people around the world have wished for.She preserves the spirit and mindset that men and woman before us possessed that helped to build our country for generations today.