When Steve Schmidt rubbed some emu oil on to his aches and pains 26 years ago, he was so shocked by how well it worked that he decided to change careers.
“Back then I was like an old man after a five day trip in the truck and lifting heavy loads,” Mr Schmidt said.
“But when I tried the emu oil, the pain was gone. I decided, that’s it, I said I’m going to become an emu farmer, and six months later I had 70 emus.”
Now, 25 years on, the owner of Try it Emu farms at Marburg and Coleyville processes thousands of emus each year and struggles to keep up with demand.
Traditionally an Indigenous remedy, emu oil is derived from the bird’s fat and is used as an alternative treatment for everything from arthritis to diabetes, skin conditions and high cholesterol.
University of Adelaide researchers have also found the oil’s anti-inflammatory properties and balance of omega fatty acids can help to treat bowel disease.
“When we started, we didn’t know all the benefits of emu oil, but we know so much more now, through lots of research, our own trials and what our customers tell us,” Mr Schmidt said.
While many businesses have been hit hard by COVID-19, Mr Schmidt said that local sales are stronger than ever.
“We’ve been surprised that the Australian population is actually spending a bit more and a lot of people are saying they want to try emu oil to build up their immunity,” Mr Schmidt said.
Mr Schmidt supplies emu oil to Australian pet food company Black Hawk for their specialty range of dog and cat food. But while local supply chains are largely unaffected, COVID-19 has caused some challenges with international business.
“Overseas mail orders are being affected and we’re seeing some delays with delivery to the South Korean cosmetic company which uses our emu oil in haircare products.”
While tour group visits to the farm have been cancelled, Mr Schmidt said he was grateful that he was able to keep his shop front open by allowing one customer in at a time to adhere to social distancing rules.
Elsewhere, it’s a different story.
“The emus certainly aren’t doing any social distancing. They’re coming right up to me, not further away,” Mr Schmidt laughs.
The farm made headlines earlier this year after the hit Netflix show, Jack Whitehall’s Travels with My Father, filmed scenes for its next season at the farms.
“Jack Whitehall loves emus and has a stand-up act where he dresses up as an emu, so they came out to our farm to run around with some emus while they were here,” Mr Schmidt said.
“The biggest problem was they brought all the England rain with them, so they were put back a day or so with filming and we didn’t get much of a chance to just sit down and talk.”
As Queensland’s only remaining emu farmer, Mr Schmidt credits his success with his farming methods.
“What we do differently to other emu farmers is we keep all our birds to almost three years of age, rather than two years,” he said.
“Once they go through one breeding season, you re-fatten them and process them the next February or March.
“That way you get the best quality oil and you get a lot more fat off each bird – we’re talking 18 kg of oil instead of 8kg.”
While the drought has sent grain prices surging and hit farmers hard in recent years, Mr Schmidt says he’s one of the lucky ones.
“Emu oil has saved my life in several ways, both with my health and financially,” he said.
“I love what I do. There’s no better feeling than hearing how emu oil has helped someone.
“You might be feeling a little flat one day, and then someone will call up and say ‘You’ve saved me from a double bypass’ and that really gives you a lift.”
Located off the Warrego Highway, Try it Emu farm Marburg’s shop is open 830am – 430pm Monday to Friday. One person is allowed in the store at a time to adhere to social distancing guidelines.