Searching the Internet for emu oil turns up testimonials from around the world to this supplement and topical remedy.
But you don't have to search that far for an emu advocate.
Calling High Cascade Premier Enterprises in Eagle Point elicits a first-hand endorsement of everything emu from 90-year-old BonNell Walker, the company's president. With enough energy to man High Cascade's toll-free number nearly round the clock, Walker is living proof of emu efficacy.
"It's the thing that goes on the minute my shower is over," says Walker.
Walker applies oil refined from birds raised on her Highway 140 ranch just as readily to food, usually slathering it with butter on her morning toast. Otherwise, she doses herself daily with a teaspoon of the flavorless, odorless oil.
"Always, it can go on a salad," says Walker. "You never know the difference."
Local physicians have started promoting emu oil recently as an alternative to fish oil for patients who don't like the latter's taste or lingering "fish burps," says Kay Craig, Walker's daughter and vice president of High Cascade.
"You can take it internally and reduce blood cholesterol," says Craig.
That recently documented effect is just the latest in a long list of health benefits derived from cosmetic-grade emu oil, Craig says. The oil is marketed to sufferers of common skin ailments and irritation, hay fever, arthritis and headaches, as well as for burns, minor injuries and as insect repellent. Priced at $5.95 for a half-ounce, emu oil also is the key ingredient in some 25 products High Cascade has developed for external use on people and pets.
"Many, many people keep it in their medicine cabinets," says Craig.
Once touting emu as a healthful alternative to red meat, ranchers soon realized the bird's oil was their main commodity. Each fully grown, 90-pound bird sports on its back a 20-pound cap of fat that yields about five quarts of high-grade oil. High Cascade transports approximately 150 gallons of oil for refining every year to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. Each gallon has a retail value of about $500, says Craig.
"Oil sales are really up," says Craig, referring to the past two years.
The vast majority of High Cascade emu-oil products are bound for elsewhere in the United States, even internationally, says Craig, adding that about 30 to 40 percent of business comes via the company's website, www.highcascadeemus.com. Some customers order online from Medford with no idea that High Cascade is located only 15 miles away until they hear the company's offer for free delivery, says Craig.
Many products are stocked locally at Grange Co-op, Food 4 Less, Shop 'N' Kart, independent pharmacies and pet groomers. Once in the know, enthusiastic customers — including busloads from Rogue Valley Manor — make the pilgrimage to 8585 Highway 140, where they can buy direct from the source and even tour the emus' environs.
High Cascade raises about 75 emus per year for slaughter, sprung from about 18 birds kept year to year for breeding. The flightless birds' fiberglass huts — like elongated igloos — dot the 15-acre ranch's highway frontage. Inside their chain-link pens, the 6-foot-tall natives of Australia stalk the fence line by day and lay eggs by night during the winter-to-spring breeding season.
"These are still totally wild birds," says Craig. "They are directly related to dinosaurs."
Although the prehistoric avians with elongated necks and 2-inch-long claws look intimidating, they're not aggressive, says Craig. Ranchers maneuver them by their stunted wings, wearing leather chaps to avoid contact with sharp scales on the backs of the birds' legs. With a brain about the size of a walnut, an emu hisses when agitated and can run up to 40 mph, says Craig.
"They're really territorial."
High Cascade's emus eat a specially formulated feed, but the birds are not averse to dining on small rodents and reptiles. They usually kill larger vermin, including raccoons, that enter their pens.
"They do graze a bit," says Craig. "They eat a lot of bugs, and they eat a lot of dirt ... and rocks.
"They'll take your earrings right off your ears."
Drawn to shiny objects, emus aren't themselves gaudy birds. Their limp, brown feathers, although prized for art work and tying flies, look like piles of moldy leaves, says Craig. Their blueish neck feathers do intensify a bit during the mating season, while black feathers can point every which way from the tops of their heads.
Emu eggs, however, are a distinctive mottled green, almost resembling overgrown avocados. Each egg equals a half-dozen to a dozen chicken eggs in volume and cooks up fluffier with a very mild flavor, says Craig. High Cascade keeps a waiting list for the 100 or so eggs it sells every year for $5 apiece or $10 for three.
Customers also purchase emu meat for as much as $11.50 per pound. Available in July or August, the meat resembles grass-fed beef or game in flavor but is juicier and 97-percent fat-free, says Craig.
"That means it has half the fat and half the calories of beef."
Although emu had its heyday about a decade ago, some consumers still favor it for health reasons, says Cameron Callahan, co-owner of The Butcher Shop. The Eagle Point store has stocked High Cascade's emu in past years and most recently turned more than 100 birds into premium jerky.
"People love the jerky because it's low in cholesterol," says Callahan.
"The meat's a really dark burgundy color, barbecues up really well," he adds. "It really has a flavor of its own."
The meat, eggs and oil all are part of a healthful diet that Walker credits for her vitality. And although her hands show her age, Walker says she suffers no arthritis pain and can still work with shovel and hoe to grow her own vegetables.
Visitors to her ranch and business office often bear compliments that are "awfully nice for an old lady to get," says Walker. One couple's recent request rejuvenated Walker's 15-year dedication to emu oil.
"All they wanted to do was feel my skin."