Morningstar Ranch
by Doug and JoAnna Starkweather

Living a country lifestyle and having a home-based business are two reasons why Doug and I began raising emus on our farm. Someday, when I "grew up", I wanted to raise animals, probably horses and cattle. But, traditional farming and ranching wasn't feasible because we didn't have land, equipment, nor money to purchase what was required. It seemed to be an unapproachable dream.

In February 1995, at the Crookston Winter Shows, I saw emus being promoted by the Emu Association of Minnesota and they had emu chicks on display. They sure were unusual animals...and ugly! I listened "politely" to Diane Anderson (emu and ostrich grower from my home town, Fosston, MN) as she talked about what "great things" they were. But, it wasn't until she said a key word - livestock - that I got interested in what she had to say. I took information home and talked to Doug. In September that year, we heard about an emu convention in ND. We attended it along with visiting about 5 emu farms in North Dakota and in Minnesota. (Inkster is located about 40 miles northwest of Grand Forks, ND.)

By October, we had 2 chick pair (different genetics and 2 each from ND and MN). We used an existing building on the property, built a 45 x 55 foot fence; and, of course, made sure we had a "wife, wheelbarrow, and a pitch fork" (something learned from Tom Murphy and Jim Pojorlie at the state convention).... Ha Ha!

We decided this would be an agricultural industry to start now while we were both in the United States Air Force (waiting for retirement days) and potentially it could be a good business on its own. But, of course, (as we emu growers all know) your business plans have changed much! Today, we are promoting and marketing emu products and growing very few emus. We later built breeder pens and fences, and bought a hatcher and incubator. But, we haven't grown any bigger to raise as many chicks as the breeders could provide. There just isn't a market for the birds yet. We hatch only a few birds per year to try improve breeding stock, for our own use, to sell a few, and because I enjoy raising animals. Baby animals (especially emu chicks) can be quite adorable.

In the beginning, (like most ND growers) we wanted to raise the bird, take it to market, and go to the mailbox to pick up a check. That's what we do best around here!! ND people are good at raising animals. We are an agricultural state. But, we have realized that to make it in the emu industry, as it is, we have to promote, educate, and market emu products by our own business, with other growers, with the state and national associations, and with our co-op. You can't put all your eggs in one basket and expect any of them to hatch. The industry is just too young to do that - especially in North Dakota. Being a member of other organizations is essential to keeping up with the industry, helping each other out, and supporting the efforts of those who are leading in these organizations and making things happen.

For our business, I have started out with fair and show booths, and moved to mail order, retail from the house. Open Houses, tours for schools, speaking engagements, and wholesale products in area stores. I mostly sell emu oil products, but now I'm also carving the emu egg shells (art), making crafts with the feathers (dreamcatchers), etc. So, it sounds like we are going 'great guns' around here. But, we're not. When you start out marketing, some things you are good at and others you aren't. I bet many of you still have unfinished or "bad" ideas sitting around your office, too, right?!?!? And sometimes you go broke over a project that sounds good. Much of what I do (for business) is still homey and creative. For example, I make my own brochures on an older computer - can't afford to have them printed. They are very neat and orderly, but not glossy or flashy. As a fledging marketer, many things are moving into a professional business look as I continue learning. I've picked up most of my ideas from the North Dakota Emu Association, the American Emu Association, and the Midwest Emu Growers Alliance. I've also become a member of Pride of Dakota, a organization by the ND Department of Agriculture. They have been helpful for our business, too. My education and careers over the years have also taught me skills that help in owning your own business.

Sometimes the emu industry business can be frustrating. But, I don't quit because every couple weeks, something interesting happens in the industry or in my own business to see that it's going to turn around "for real" real soon. People are coming to me for the emu products, instead of me looking for them. Same with the last two stores who are carrying emu oil products - they ask me. I've also had 2 two articles written about our business this past spring (our electric company and one local small town paper) - they called me to ask. And another article will be out soon by our Farm Bureau, too. It's great that the emu industry is slowly getting recognition here even though I'm only one person and not growing in business as fast as I'd like to.

As we all know, we have things that hold us back from going the pace we would like. Mine are time, money, and my health. I bet I'm not telling you a new story. We all have our own "sob stories" to tell.

But, one of the main reasons I keep going in the emu industry is a personal issue. Just like many of you, I don't stick with anything unless it means something. When we started, I didn't know that raising these birds would help me personally, but they do. In this case, it's my health. The emu oil improves my life because it relieves the pain for arthritis and the fibromyalgia. Also, the dietary supplements have the Omega 3s that helps with energy and depression. My life is better because of emu oil. And it does not have side effects like other traditional medicines do. Doug and the animals have also benefited from the emu oil - cuts, burns, wounds, bee stings, etc.

This is the same with other people - my customers. When they tell me why they like the emu oil and what it means to them, I feel job satisfaction in helping others. When you think about it, how would raising emus help other people's pain? It wasn't our objective starting out in the business. But, that's where our business started and has now become. I enjoy helping others, you could say I'm selling "pain relief!

I know this isn't your usual article for a ranch feature. But, I wanted to tell you a bit of how our emu ranch business is evolving in light of its realities with a dash of humor. I wish for all of us the fun and adventure of raising the emus and to change the frustration and struggles of promoting the emu products to bring about the appropriate success to each of us as the emu industry keeps growing - starting in our own back yards and moving across our nation!

For More Information:
Morning Star Ranch
Doug & JoAnna Starkweather
2981 37 St NE Inkster, ND 58244
701-865-4274
1-866-368-0368 (1-866-EMU-OEMU)
strkwthr@polarcommm.com

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