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`THE MEAT OF THE '90S' ISN'T ON THE HOOF

Jeff Beaudin always wanted to be a cattle rancher, but he couldn't afford the land. So he became an emu rancher, riding herd on the world's second-largest flightless bird.

"It's the meat of the '90s," Beaudin said. "This thing is gangbusters. It's open. This is the ground floor now."Beaudin and business partner John Rude are raising more than 40 of the birds on a 3-acre lot near Osburn. The two laid-off miners also are incubating 100 eggs that are expected to hatch this spring.

The Dallas-based American Emu Association estimates that its members will raise 1.5 million of the large birds annually by 1997, up from 250,000 last year.

While most of the birds are still used for breeding, growers say emu harvests are not far off. The emu, it seems, is a bird of many uses.

First there is the meat - lots of it. Full-grown emus can stand 6 feet tall and weigh 150 pounds.

"It resembles a veal," said Pierce Allman, director of the emu association.

"High protein, low cholesterol, low fat," said Beaudin.

"Less greasy than a regular burger," said Ralph Matt, who serves emu burgers at his Gresham, Ore., Roadhouse Grill.

"A lot of chefs compare it to a grass-fed beef as opposed to grain-fed," said Karen Mariani, co-owner of BK Emu Meat Co. in Turner, Ore. The company sells emu filets, summer sausage, pastrami and Italian sausage for $11 to $17 per pound.

Just as important as the meat, growers say, is emu oil. It is gathered at slaughter from fat deposits in the bird's back.

"It's a deep penetrating oil," Beaudin said.

Sitting on a shelf at the ranch are about a dozen emu oil products - Emuri Ultimate Body Lotion, Emuri Night Revitalizing Cream, Emuria perfume For Her, Emule Protein. There also is a hand lotion and a sports rub.

"Aborigines in the Australian Outback have used emu oil for thousands of years to relieve pain and reduce the signs of aging," claims one product brochure.

In addition to meat and oil, emus provide skin for leather, feathers for fly-tying and toenails for jewelry.

Laid off from the Star Phoenix Mine in Burke in 1990, Beaudin and Rude worked at odd jobs for about a year before deciding to go into emu ranching three years ago. With birds selling for $1,000 to $3,500 last year, the two say they sold 20 birds and earned about $45,000.

This year, with the emu population growing, the cost per bird is down to $500 to $1,200.

At their Bro Bird Farm, Beaudin and Rude have six breeding pairs, about 2 dozen yearlings and a small barn with about 10 newborn birds.