Local emu farm provides heart-healthy alternative to beef
“Never in our wildest dreams did we think we would live in Texas and have emus, but here we are,” says Lisa Gulick. Matt, her business partner and husband of 35 years, laughs in agreement. “Yes, it was one of those things where it just kind of falls into your lap and you’re like, ‘Oh, okay!’”
Together, Lisa and Matt unlatch a tall gate reinforced with chicken wire and step into the shaded pen of Optimus and Prime, a mated pair of adult emus. The large, ostrich-like birds emerge from their lean-to shelter and meander over to greet their keepers. Optimus gently pecks at Matt’s shirt buttons, while Prime leans into Lisa for neck scratches.
“They can seem intimidating because they’re so big, but they’re really social and friendly,” says Matt, stroking the thick brown plumage of Optimus’s back and the sparse feathers covering the bird’s bluish neck, which shimmers in the sunlight. “They might peck at you a little bit out of curiosity, but they won’t hurt you intentionally.”
Lisa enters the shelter and discovers a fresh, emerald green egg nestled in the hay. Female emus lay the eggs, which typically measure five inches long and weigh up to 1.5 pounds, but it’s up to the males to incubate them and raise the hatchlings. As the farm’s best breeding pair, Optimus and Prime produce two viable eggs per week.
Hailing from the Australian outback, emus are flightless birds, so their main lines of defense are their considerable speed and strong feet. A healthy adult emu can sprint up to 35 miles per hour, and when cornered or grounded, they will kick and slash at predators with their long claws.
Lisa and Matt relocated to Georgetown in 2004 after purchasing a home and acreage off Ranch Road 2243, west of I-35. The previous owner built the beautiful house himself, but buying the property came with a catch: they would also get the owners’ two emus. As nature lovers, the Gulicks accepted the deal and reached out to nearby emu experts Jimmy and Rita Bitz to learn to care for their new pets.
When the Bitzes later downsized their flock, Matt and Lisa adopted eight of their birds, and by 2009, the Gulicks had acquired a sizeable mob, including multiple breeding pairs from an operation in Crosby, Texas. At that point, Matt and Lisa officially founded their farm, Gulick The Emu—pronounced “Joo-lick,” as in “Did you lick the emu?”—and began selling emu products such as meat, oil, eggs, feathers, and even live chicks right out of their home.
“We use every part of the bird,” explains Lisa. “Besides processing the meat and oil, we’ll blow out bad eggs and gather feathers and sell them to artists to use in their artwork. Smoked emu bones make great dog treats because they don’t splinter like chicken bones, and the hides can be tanned.”
The American Heart Association lists emu meat as a healthy alternative to beef because it’s low in total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Gulick The Emu’s cuts are 97–98% lean, USDA-approved, and free of hormones, antibiotics, and bacteria such as salmonella that commonly contaminate fowl meat.
Now the Gulicks hold down full-time jobs at AMD and D&L Printing and spend their Saturdays at the Wolf Ranch Farmers Market selling their goods, passing out samples, and performing cooking demonstrations.
In 2017 they plan to make connections with local chefs who want to serve emu dishes. Celebrity chef Russell Jackson has used their giblets and fan fillets at various events, including the 2016 Black Chef Series finale and #BeeWarrior, a San Francisco benefit for honeybees.
However, the Gulicks refuse to allow their expansion plans to compromise their value for integrity. For example, research supports that fatty acids in emu oil can help skin to heal itself, but they don’t make any promises to their customers. Instead, they share their own experience and invite customers to try products.
They also go to great lengths to provide their birds—even ones raised for processing—with an excellent quality of life. “They are livestock, but we still want to give them a good life,” explains Lisa. “They deserve that. They’re good birds, and you do get a little attached to them.”
“We had a couple of birds that made a game out of peeling my glasses and lanyard off my head,” Matt laughs. “They would go running down the pen with them, looking back like, ‘Are you going to come after me?’”
“And they can turn our water on and open gates,” Lisa adds, describing several instances where their most mischievous emus escaped into adjoining lots, leading the Gulicks on almost literal wild goose chases until the birds ran out of energy and allowed themselves to be captured.
“So they’re these big, giant, goofy characters, but they’re also great companions,” Matt continues. “If I have a stressful day at work, I’ll just go out there and sit with them, and they’ll come sit around me and groom themselves and go to sleep. It’s my place of zen.”
To learn more about Gulick The Emu’s products vision, visit their website or stop by their Wolf Ranch Farmers Market booth on any Saturday morning between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.