Late last month, Heartland received an urgent and very unusual request: A couple was selling their Wisconsin farm, and needed to find a new home for their seven emus. Yes, that’s right – seven emus. A couple of Heartland’s staff went out to the farm to meet the birds on a rainy, cold afternoon. The seven sisters are approximately 20-years-old and have lived at this farm for their entire lives. The couple had been raising the giant birds for meat, but had given it up quite some time ago. They were over the farm life, tired of dragging buckets of water to the birds in the winter time. They considered shooting and burying the birds, but the wife couldn’t bring herself to do it. She told us how hearty the emus were, and mentioned how she’d never lost a bird to sickness, but a few had died from slipping on the ice and breaking their necks.

We watched the gentle, inquisitive birds. We listened to (and were completely delighted by) the low, beautiful drumming noise they make to communicate with one another. We saw their leaky, plastic shelter that was much too small, and the scattered cracked corn on the ground – the only thing the birds had been eating for the past two years. We knew we had to get the seven sisters out of there.

We scrambled, reaching out to every sanctuary in the region we could think of. Most people aren’t familiar with emus, and they require 6-foot high fencing since they’re expert jumpers. The replies trickled in, and our hearts fell: “No, sorry”, “We would love to…but we just can’t right now”. We quickly realized that Heartland was the last hope for the sisters, and that we needed a home for the birds built fast! We called on our friends and Madison’s roller derby team – The Mad Rollin’ Dolls – for their help. Before we knew it, a large corner in Heartland’s arena had been completely cleared and raked out. The derby team, along with Heartland’s volunteer Project Coordinator, Bob, hauled fence panels, pounded in T-posts and wired the fence panels to the posts for added security. A few hours later, the emu space was complete – a large outdoor run for exercising and exploring, and a cushy indoor area for preening and relaxing. (Special thanks to Duane from Struck and Irwin fencing for getting the fencing to us ASAP–on his own time and waiving the delivery fee!)

The sisters arrived to the sanctuary a day earlier than expected, and we rushed to get their final accommodations ready. All seven traveled together in a horse trailer and after the hour-long ride, the birds were really banged up. Several had bloody gashes on their legs that were covered in dirty straw and feathers. One bird had a large, red bald patch on her wing, where feathers had been ripped out sometime during loading or transport. We cringed when we saw another bird bleeding from her mouth.

The girls were stressed and terrified and huddled together in their new pen, open-mouthed breathing and looking for an escape. We gently assured them that they were safe now, and would live out their remaining years surrounded by safety and love. It only took a couple of hours for the girls to relax around us. They started drumming and grooming, sure signs they were starting to feel more comfortable. We were able to clean their scrapes and cuts, and made them a warm straw nest to cuddle in for their first night at their forever home.

What could have been the sisters’ last year turned out to be their best. They found their forever home at Heartland Farm Sanctuary, and arrived just in time for Heartland’s Thanksgiving for the Turkeys – a celebration of our feathered friends. For the first time, the girls have much to celebrate: A new home, a group of 100+ volunteers who cannot wait to meet and care for them, nutritious food, safe shelter, and, finally, names. We couldn’t help but name the sisters after the Mad Rollin’ Dolls who helped make their happy ending a reality: Please help us in welcoming Donna, Goldie, Shanta, Crystal, Missy, Wolfie and Toast to the Heartland family.

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