Table of Contents
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Join Nicole and Jake and Becky from White House on the Hill as they talk about their homestead and the adventures in raising emus!
What You’ll Learn
- Why did they name their homestead “White House on the Hill”
- How Jake and Becky became homesteaders
- Homestead goals
- Raising Emus
- Why Jake and Becky added Emus
- Are emus dangerous?
- Hatching emu eggs
- Housing and containing emus
Move over Doug and Limu Emu, it’s Jake, Becky and Bamboo the emu!
They weren’t always farmers/homesteaders/animal lovers. Jake & Becky lived in the city for a long time and only got into it all about 3 years after selling everything and taking a leap of faith to change their life. They wanted to raise our own kids, grow their own food and take control of their schedule and work from home, and so began White House on the Hill.
Jake & Becky post weekly YouTube videos about raising animals, building the farm and renovating their mobile home and raising kids in the country. They post daily content on Instagram and Facebook to show followers what they are doing and feature more of their animals.
Jake & Becky love to interact with their audience! They love hearing people taking action and growing their own food or raising animals for the first time because they gained confidence after watching their videos.
Resources & Links Mentioned
- White House on the Hill Instagram
- White House on the Hill Facebook
- White House on the Hill YouTube
- White House on the Hill Twitter
- White House on the Hill Website
- Homesteaders of America
- Email us! Ask@HeritageAcresMarket.com
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Announcer: Welcome to the Backyard Bounty podcast from heritageacresmarket.com, where we talk about all things backyard poultry, beekeeping, gardening, sustainable living, and more. And now here's your host Nicole.
Nicole: Hello, everybody. Thank you for joining us for another episode of Backyard Bounty. Today I'm joined by Jake and Becky with White House on the Hill, and today we're going to talk about homesteading and emus. Guys, thank you so much for joining me today.
Jake: Awesome. Thank you so much for having us.
Nicole: I was really excited to talk to you guys. I've been following you on social media for a while, and I just love watching your stories. You have so much going on, but the one thing I guess I have to start out by asking is why do you guys call yourselves White House on the Hill?
Jake: We were really struggling with a name at the previous place we lived at, and we were getting ready to start our YouTube channel and we wanted to have a name. We saw a lot of generic names of descriptive words for their homestead. I don't know, we just kept getting frustrated going around in circles on names. And then we lived in a white house and it was on a hill, and then we looked it up and we didn't find a lot of other... There are some different places that are White House on the Hill, like a wedding venue that sometimes we get tagged in on places, but for the most part it's just been our identifier and it was really easy. And then now we've moved to a new farm and we're still in a white house. It's a mobile home, but we live in a white house and it's on a hill, so it still works.
Nicole: No, I think that's a really creative name. That's always seems to be a challenge when people get started is, "What the heck should I call myself?"
Nicole: In your white house on the hill, I know that I personally enjoyed looking at all of your pictures of your birds because that's kind of my thing, but what all do you do on your homestead?
Becky: Well, we kind of condensed since we moved, but before, we had raised our own chickens. We had a main flock where we got eggs from them and we raised meat birds and turkeys for meat and ducks, and then we started exploring a little bit more with a little bit exotic more. We had pheasants and peacocks, and then we decided to get emus.
Nicole: You guys haven't always been in the homestead, right? That's kind of a relatively new venture for you guys?
Jake: Yes. Three, three and a half years ago, we were living in Kansas City and we were working a lot of jobs. I was working a lot of jobs. Becky was starting to transition from working a job and taking care of our one or two sons at the time, to be up two by that point, and I wasn't seeing the family that much. She was staying at home with them. We worked on selling our house for a long time. We finally got it sold. We moved out to the country, and we decided to look for a rental initially because we got stuck in a property with the whole mortgage crash in 2008 and we didn't want to get stuck in that again. And so we rented a place, the first white house on the hill for the last three years, and that's where we really started diving into all things homesteading.
Jake: It started with chickens. Becky wanted to get some chickens, and then we started to look up videos about how to raise chickens. And from there it led us to find a lot of homestead channels and family blogs, and we started thinking, "This is pretty cool. They actually have more than just chickens. They raise food. They're home with their family." And so we were really excited at that time to try to figure out how to make that work, and that's when we started doing YouTube and really delving into everything homesteading, knowing where our food came from, and starting to go down that avenue.
Nicole: I always called chickens the gateway drug, because I swear, everybody always starts out with their innocent flock of six chickens, and then the next thing you know.
Becky: Exactly. That's how it happened.
Jake: That was our intro video. It was called It All Started With Six Chickens.
Nicole: It happens to everybody.
Nicole: And yeah, your videos, you have a lot of really great educational resources and videos on your YouTube and your Instagram, and that's one thing I also really enjoy watching is there's so much information that you guys have out there.
Jake: Thank you.
Nicole: How did you end up with emus? Well, we all know it started with chickens, but why did you add emus to your homestead?
Jake: If I go back to last summer, we were primarily a chicken farm, and then towards the end of summer we decided to hatch out some peacock eggs and some peafowl eggs, and that was a whole ordeal for a couple months. We tried to do it the first time and they didn't quite make it to hatch, and then they hatched, and it just started to open up all these opportunities. We found a lot of viewers from India because they were really interested in peacocks, because we found out that was their national bird and they weren't allowed to touch it. In their country, they're not allowed to touch peacocks.
Nicole: Oh wow.
Jake: And so they were really fascinated that we were able to handle them. That let us head down into that realm, and then we started to try to hatch some other things. We hatched some, let's see, some Muscovy ducks. We had some fun stuff happen with them. I guess it's crazy stuff happened with them last fall, and then Ayam Cemani chickens we bought from eBay, and hatch them out around Christmas. We were looking for the next thing to try to hatch out. We were having fun experimenting with hatching projects, and I talked Becky into letting me order some emu eggs.
Jake: We weren't really sure what we would do with them, because we were in a one-acre rental and we knew they'd grow up to be big birds, but we thought it would be a fun experiment either way, that we'd find a place to house them. We'd give them away or move them somewhere else if we couldn't keep them. And when we hatched them out, or at least hatched out our first one who turned out to be Bamboo, and he's about nine months old right now, we really grew to love them and ended up hatching out a few more. That's where we decided ultimately that we wanted to keep them. We wanted to continue to raise them, and then that led us to our new property, to where we had much more space to be able to house them and then continue to grow our farm.
Nicole: Awesome. It really seems like they have a lot of personality.
Jake: They do.
Becky: They do. Bamboo is way more attached to us than the other two, because he was in the house for what, two, three months?
Jake: About two, maybe two months, and then the next two, the blonde girls, we had in for about one month.
Becky: Because we hatch them out in January.
Jake: We hatched out Bamboo at the end of January, so we had him in there February and March and then we moved him outside, and then we hatched out the next two in March. And then we had our third child, Isaiah, in April, and we really didn't want to be trying to raise a baby and have the emus. The emus were a ton of fun to have in the house, but it was also really-
Becky: A mess.
Jake: - difficult to try to keep them in. And then they were pooping everywhere.
Becky: Because they had little diapers that we had on them, but they were making a mess. And I was like, "I am tired of changing diapers and I'm going to have to change another baby's diapers."
Jake: So the second two we moved outside sooner, and so they weren't as attached to us as Bamboo was, who was solely dependent on us when he was born.
Becky: And he was by himself, so we'd cuddle up on the couch with him and watch TV. It was such a sweet little-
Jake: We didn't expect to have that kind of relationship, with a bird especially.
Jake: We've been very surprised about how close they are to us, but specifically Bamboo, how close he is to us.
Nicole: Other than the fact that you hatch them in the middle of winter, are they like peafowl where you can't put them on dirt when they're young?
Jake: No, there's not an issue like that, and that's part of the thing about emus is that they actually only hatch out in the winter. I think it comes from their Australian heritage that over there it's summer. I think they're fairly new to... I don't know how long they've been in the US, but that's their breeding season is November to February timeframe. They really only hatch out in the winter. I think that's kind of interesting that they haven't changed their cycle at all since coming to the US from Australia. That's the only time they have. Yeah, they're accustomed to, I wouldn't say cold weather, but they're accustomed to that time of the year to being born. We're still figuring out the time of the year. Like right now we're going into winter again, and we're trying to make sure that they stay warm enough. Because the places we did get the eggs from were California and Texas, and so their upbringing, their parents were from warmer climates, so we're watching them to make sure that they do well in the colder climate here. Because we are in Missouri, so it's a little colder here.
Nicole: Okay. I know that I had a customer that wanted me to try to hatch some emu eggs for them, and they had them shipped in from Florida, and unfortunately they didn't hatch. I don't think that they had the best transit to us, and then it took a little bit of time before they brought me the eggs, because I guess they got the eggs and then looked for somebody to hatch them. They had them for a little bit so they didn't hatch. But I know that when I was doing the research to look it up, it looked like there was a bit a science where you're supposed to weigh them every day and all that.
Jake: You don't have to, but we did. We did that just to track their weight, because you can tinker with the humidity if the weight is off, if they're not losing the correct percentage when... Because it's a long hatching period. It's like 50 to 60 days, and so you want to track that to try to keep the weight at the right level. We tracked it, but we never really adjusted. We were losing the right amount of weight on those, and so we kept the humidity where it was at. But yeah, absolutely the weighing can help guide you along that process, and then having an incubator that is big enough to handle emu eggs. Otherwise if you have a smaller tabletop one, you have to hand turn them, and then there's always issues with how often you do that, and if it works, that can be a challenge.
Nicole: Yeah. Did you guys have a pretty good hatchery?
Becky: We started out with two and one of them hatched, so that was a pretty good... I mean, 50/50. We opened up the egg and it was pretty much fully developed, so something at the very last cycle, it didn't hatch. It developed, so it wasn't that. It might have been weak or something happened, so it didn't survive.
Jake: Yeah, it was fully developed. Yeah, it just barely missed making it as well, and that's what caused us to have to go get a couple more eggs to try to get at least a mate for Bamboo.
Becky: And then we had two more, right? And then both of them hatched.
Jake: Two eggs and they both hatched, yeah. And we were lucky enough that they were both blonde emus. We started to learn about genetics with emus. A majority of emus are standard color, a brown color, and we found a breeder in Texas. Well, he would tell us about 50 percent of the time you'd get a blonde emu, and we ended up getting both of them to be blonde. And then if you take that further, you can actually breed two blondes together and you can get an all white emu, and those are fairly rare. I've heard there's less than maybe 40 or 50 in the US, white emus.
Nicole: Wow. Are they white or albino?
Jake: They're white. They're not albino. The feathering. Because right now, all of our emus look actually pretty similar. The blonde emus are a white with some brown mixed in. And then Bamboo was brown, but then he's almost getting lighter. They're starting to look very similar, but the white ones are just completely white. But yeah, I don't think it's a blonde. I think it starts to remove more of that brown feathering.
Nicole: How neat. You mentioned that it's starting to get a little bit colder where you live. Do the emus necessarily have to have supplemental heat? Here it gets pretty cold in Colorado. Or are they somewhat tolerant of colder temperatures?
Jake: We're having an issue with keeping them in their house. We built them a house. We've got straw in there, we've got light, we've got their food in there, and we've got everything to attract them to it, and yet they still want to sleep outside. Now, at our old place, we had... It was a whole ordeal and maybe they're traumatized by that still, I don't know, but we actually had harnesses on them so we could take them... We kept them in our fenced-in yard, and then at night we would take them into the chicken run and we would put them in there for the night so they'd be safe from predators when they were smaller. And now, all they want to do is be outside. Even at night, they sit outside. If it's snowing or raining, they stay outside and they still don't go in their house.
Jake: We've taken the harnesses off now, and some nights I still try to take them in there, but it's quite a fight. I'm trying to find ways to attract them there, like maybe take away their food and then put it in at night so they'll want to go in there. But that's what we're trying to figure out is how to get them in shelter when they need it to show them, "Hey, this is where you go when it's snowing or raining." And then also to see how they do, like Bamboo yesterday. We have a stock tank that's full of water and it's really high up on his body, but somehow he jumped into it. And it was freezing weather, so the water was really cold and he immediately jumped out. But somehow he jumped in there and jumped out. But doesn't seem to be cold, so I'm not totally sure. We're still figuring that out, but we're watching them to see, one, if I can get them inside their house, then I know there'll be warmer, but we're watching them to see how they respond to the cold weather.
Nicole: Sure. You mentioned him jumping into the tank. How about containment for them? Do you need tall fences, and how much of an area do you need for them?
Becky: Yeah, we built a tall fence. We used to have them in our yard, which was only about four-foot fence around the fence.
Jake: But they were smaller. And we had some viewers that had emus that said they had them inside their yard as well with a four-foot fence, and they would occasionally jump out but not too often, so we knew we'd need to go bigger than four. We'd read six feet would keep them in.
Becky: We built a six-foot fence, and we didn't want to worry about anything getting in either. They're just pretty much contained in there. They don't have to put them out in the barn or anything. We want to make sure that are secure.
Jake: But it's pretty funny, because our old place we had them inside our yard, and so they were right at our back door when we would go outside. They were with us all the time and so they were really used to us being around, and now we have them in a fenced-in area that's maybe a couple hundred feet from our house. And we walk in-between our house and our barn all day long, and they pace back and forth.
Jake: They'll follow us inside their yard. They'll follow us towards the outbuilding, and then they'll follow us back to the house, and they just have created this path in their yard. They totally still want to be near us. That's been interesting to see that they, even with no matter how much space we give them, they still want to be wherever we're at.
Nicole: Could you potentially, not necessarily free-range them but let them out when you're out too, or is that too risky?
Jake: Well, we had issues with that.
Becky: They got out at the other place a couple times. We just let the gates open or whatever, and they knew they were free so they would just run and it was really hard to catch them. We were really far away from the road, so we weren't as worried, but now that we're pretty close to the-
Jake: We're close to a busy street that's high speed.
Becky: And there is no fencing at all, so if they got out and they started darting towards the road, they just be gone or I don't know.
Jake: That's the big thing we need to do for our property next year. We moved to this property and it doesn't have any fencing on it. We need to put a big exterior fence so that if anything does get out on the inside fence, then at least they're staying within the yard. The second issue is when we had them out in the yard before, we would go out and relax and hang out with them, and it was fun to hang out with them for a little bit, but they were so curious they'd peck you. They'd pull at your shirt, they'd pull at your pants.
Jake: They peck your ear.
Becky: Fingers, toes.
Jake: I spent the night with them a couple of weeks ago and made a video about that, and a couple times they pulled my ear, and it just felt like it was bleeding. And they're not doing it to be mean, they just are doing it out of curiosity. They're really friendly, but at the same time, if you're with them all the time like we used to be in our yard, we got really annoyed. We'd have to put them up, because we're just trying to hang out by the fire pit or something, and then they would come over and they'd start pulling on Becky's hair, or they'd pull on the baby's feet, or they'd pull on my ear and we were like, "Oh, we just need some space." Having them in the yard really isn't something we're interested in. It'd be nice, because we do enjoy their company, but they just can't help themselves. They still want to peck at everything.
Nicole: I have some turkeys that are like that, and so I couldn't imagine having something much larger than a turkey that's just constantly just getting at you like that.
Becky: Yeah, because they're right at the height where we face-to-face right now.
Nicole: Oh, goodness.
Becky: And so it's kind of intimidating when they come up towards you, and you're like, "Oh."
Jake: They stare at you, and you can just tell, "Oh my gosh, you're about to peck me somewhere. Where are you going to do it?"
Nicole: Oh no. I guess that kind of leads into another question I've always had about emus. I hear stories about ostriches. Are emus dangerous? Is there a risk of them kicking you?
Jake: There is, I think if they're wild. We've had lots of warnings from... To tie back in what I was saying previously about the peacocks, when we hatched out the emus, all of a sudden we drew in this Australian fan base because that's their national bird is the emu. There, they're only wild. People are not allowed to keep emus unless they have a rehabilitation license. People in Australia would tell us, "Hey, these are dangerous wild animals there," and they kept warning us like, "These are going to grow up and be violent with you." We're aware of that part of it, but at the same time, we hand-raised them. They've never seen a predator. They've never been witness to anything dangerous to them so they're very friendly, but we are aware.
Jake: There's times when we've flown a drone near them, a little kid drone, or we've done some other fun stuff around them, had other toys, and we'll see the violent side come out a little bit where they could kick. And me trying to put them up at night also. I'll see where they resist that, and they'll try to kick me a little bit, but as far as when we're hanging out with them, they don't see us as a threat and so they don't ever do that. But at the same time, we do have to be careful with our little kids around them. But I don't feel threatened at all when I'm around them, but only because of how our relationship with them. If I was around one... There was earlier in the year, there's a cassowary, is it in the rat-type family with the emus and ostriches, and there was a story earlier in this year where a 70-year-old man was killed by his cassowary in Florida.
Jake: Emus have dangerous feet. They have these three toes that could definitely spear you, but the cassowary has even more dangerous-looking feet, and he ended up getting pierced or kicked by his cassowary and was killed. And I don't know what his relationship was with them, how much time he spent with them, if it was always in captivity. So that's something we're always aware of, but at the same time, I don't feel like our emus, at least Bamboo, is very calm and gentle with us. The other two are starting to show a little bit more-
Becky: Especially Cashew.
Jake: Cashew is like the head female, and we're finding out that with emus, the females are more of the leaders. They'll lay the eggs, and then the males will actually sit on the eggs when they do lay eggs.
Nicole: Oh really?
Jake: The female picks the mate and seems to be actually more in charge, will grow to be a little bit bigger than the males. It's kind of a different relationship that they have versus a lot of other animals. We're keeping our eye on especially Cashew, especially when they get to breeding season next year at age two. They'll start to breed and they may get a little bit more violent at that time. We're always aware of that, but at least they have their own area that we don't have to go near them if we don't need to.
Nicole: Well, and I'm sure you could argue, and I don't have horses myself, but horses have the potential to hurt you as well, and there's people that get kicked and bucked off their horses. So I think it's just being smart and knowing how to handle the animal, and-
Becky: And reading the signs. Like if you see that they're feeling threatened, you kind of back off and let them go.
Jake: Yeah, when we have other people over, and we'll bring them in with us to pet them or something, and they'll try to do something that you can immediately tell the emu starts backing up and wanting to run away because it doesn't feel comfortable. You can definitely tell when they're approaching you versus trying to back away from the situation.
Nicole: Sure. Do emus need any sort of specialized feed, or what do you feed them?
Jake: I think they do totally fine with a chicken feed. For a long time, we fed them chick starter feed when they were born, because they needed similar-type proteins, and then chick grower feed. But our feed store that we go to does make a rat-type feed. It's just a little bit different protein level than our chicken layer pellets. Very similar to it as far as the ingredients. It just has a higher protein. It formulated for everything they need, but they eat some grass. They eat some bugs. There's not a lot of access to that in their space, but they'll eat a little bit of everything. I think they would survive on a pretty hardy diet of all kinds, but we're lucky that our feed store at least had something to meet those needs.
Nicole: Sure. Was there anything else that you wanted to touch on about either your homestead or the emus or anything?
Jake: Let's see. As far as the emus, we really enjoy them. We're interested in still doing other projects with birds. We're still hatching out other birds. We just tried hatching out some guineas recently. We have some guineas and then we hatched out some, and the hatching out part didn't go as we had hoped. We've got some other hatching ideas. That's kind of the primary part of our YouTube channel. We do show starting a small farm. We do show everything that we're doing to develop that, but then hatching and then birds is still kind of a main focus. But this next year we're actually hoping to get into bigger animals if we can fence the property, getting into livestock and cattle, getting horses, and then we've got an area already planned out for some pigs. We're excited to delve into all those things that we weren't able to do on our old property where we were pretty limited to just smaller birds.
Jake: That's really the next phase of our property is fencing it and then getting into some other animals for meat, and then developing our property to make it more accessible. Everything right now is kind of on the front acre. And it's a really big property, so we're really hoping to move things further back so we can better access all of the property. As far as everything we do, like you said, our YouTube right now, we post about one to two videos per week on our YouTube channel and White House on the Hill. Instagram is what I really love to... It's kind of a fun side project to that, where I'll post every day pretty much on there. And that one, it's just a lot of fun. It's really easy to interact with viewers and just everybody, like-minded homesteaders.
Jake: We were the videographers for the Homesteaders of America conference that was out in Virginia in October, and we highly recommended everybody come out to that every year. It's always going to be in Virginia in October, so we'll be there as well next year. And we make a series of videos for their YouTube channel, Homesteaders of America, and we have one video left to put up there, so that's some videos we've been working on recently. Outside of that, I think it's just we've been fixing up the house that we're in. We're in a mobile home right now, so we've been fixing it up to have some fun experimenting with finding our style. We've never really gotten to fix up a house before, and then fixing up the property to just make it a fun place for us and our friends to come over and hang out. But that's kind of where we're at right now. We're a couple months into our new place, so we're just having fun with it.
Nicole: Awesome. It sounds like you have no shortage of adventures ahead of you.
Jake: That's right!
Nicole: Well, I know that I'll be following you on Instagram and YouTube, and see what your future holds.
Jake: We appreciate it.
Nicole: Awesome. Jake and Becky, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today, and of course, now I want emus. I feel very inspired. I appreciate you sharing your knowledge and your experience with us today.
Jake: Thank you so much for having us on to talk about it.
Nicole: Absolutely. And for those of you listening, thank you so much for joining us for another episode of Backyard Bounty, and we'll see you again next week.
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