Even when crop diversification efforts have flopped in the state, emu farming has made rapid strides in this district.
Progressive farmer Amit Palta of Doshanj village has farmed the fast but flightless ostrich-like Australian bird and made profit out of it. His success has shown a new way to not only the farming fraternity but also the agriculture and animal husbandry department.
Moga is the only district in Punjab where 27 farmers have adopted emu farming. Emulating Palta's idea has helped farmers overcome the financial problems. With the hatching of more than two-dozen emu eggs at his facility, Palta now has 100 own pairs of emu birds on his farm. A year ago, he had bought 100 pairs from Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh.
"A year's income from 25 pairs of emus equals the annual returns from 15 acres of farmland. Emu lives up to 40 years and, later, its meat sells for Rs. 1,200 a kilogram. An adult bird weighs between 40 and 45 kg. The bird lays eggs even at the age of 25," said Amit. "Each egg is worth Rs. 1,300 and then there's oil from these eggs that we can put on the market for Rs. 4,000 a litre."
A pair of emus lays 40 eggs in a year, which are worth Rs. 52,000 at current market price.
"Traditional cultivators who adopt emu farming can solve their financial worries in just four years," said Amit. Helping farmers market their produce, Palta also has been signing contracts with people who buy emu pairs from him that they will sell the eggs (for Rs. 1,200 each) of particular pairs back to him. He has received an overwhelming response from farmers from Bathinda, Mansa, Faridkot, Muktsar, Malout, Abohar, and Ferozepur.
Month-old emu chicks are worth Rs. 12,000 a pair, claims another progressive farmer, Rajinder Pal Singh Tharaj. "The price goes up as the birds grow older," he said. "A hen starts laying eggs (20 to 50 in a season) after 18 months of being hatched. I advise farmers not to buy the birds from the southern states because of inbreeding there."
Agriculture development officer Jaswinder Singh Brar, who was at Tharaj village on Thursday, endorsed emu farming. "It is useful to the farmers who can spend two or three hours a day looking after the farm," he said. "The incubation period of an emu egg is 52 days and then it has to be shifted to the hatchery for four days. Emu birds survive in temperature between 0°C and 55°C, eat simple feed, and give farmers best returns."