Well-hatched science project

Incubating emu eggs gives OMS seventh-graders lessons in biology and life

KEEPING A CLOSE EYE on the scale as they weighed emu eggs in a biology class at Ozaukee Middle School were Roxanne Gall (left) and Evelynn Geis. The girls are among seventh-graders who participate in an annual incubation project overseen by teacher John Kirmse. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

While students at Ozaukee Middle School in Fredonia nurture emu eggs, they’re also learning lessons in biology, economics and even some important parenting skills.

Since 2005, teacher John Kirmse’s seventh-grade biology class has been raising emu eggs, a tradition that began when he was asked to help assist with the incubation process.

“There used to be a local farmer who was vested in emu production, and she convinced us to be an incubator for a year, and now we’ve been doing it every year since,” Kirmse said. 

Each year, the class receives 20 to 24 eggs, which take approximately 54 days to incubate before the anticipated hatching date April 13. 

“That’s the official date they are supposed to hatch, but they always hatch a little earlier,” Kirmse said. 

While the eggs are being incubated,  the students are busy inspecting them daily, which involves rotating and weighing the eggs. 

According to Kirmse, the eggs lose about 15% of their weight during the incubation period. 

“Because of the conservation of mass, they’re consuming the yoke, and the eggs are porous so the gasses come and go,” he said.

The project coincides with a class unit on natural selection.  

“This is where we teach them about overproduction, because not all of the eggs are going to hatch,” Kirmse said.

“They learn that more eggs are laid than are going to be hatched, and we focus on camouflage and other things like that.”

After the eggs hatch, the baby emus will remain in the classroom for four days before being taken to a farm. During that time, the students will be responsible for teaching the animals how to eat and drink. 

“The emus don’t know how to do that kind of stuff, so students learn to use their motherly duties by adding water to the incubator, checking the temperature and looking for any bad eggs,” Kirmse said.

“The students really act like moms, and it teaches them the maternal instincts they will need to know. It’s really cool to see that.”

The class also learns about the economics behind growing the eggs, which are a highly sought commodity in meat processing and cosmetic industries.

“Emus are one of the top animals targeted by the cosmetic industry because of their oils,” Kirmse said. “That’s where the big money is. It’s very lucrative.”

Kirmse said the students take a lot of pride in raising the eggs, and he only allows the seventh-graders to handle the eggs, much to their schoolmates’ chagrin.

“They’re the ones who are in charge because they raised them,” he said. “A year later, there’s still interest from the students because they took ownership of the project.”

The tradition of the science project resonates with Kirmse’s former and prospective students. Marcus Lubner, the school’s physical-education teacher, is a former student of Kirmse’s who said he still remembers the excitement of the incubation process.

“I have had people who have long since graduated that are well into their 20s and say, ‘Hey that was a lot of fun,’” Kirmse said. “It’s a real rich tradition. Sixth-graders on the first day of school will ask if they will be raising the emus for next year.”

Kirmse said there is also another tradition of sorts that is inevitable during the science project.

“Every year, somebody is going to get pooped on,” he said. “I prep them by saying, ‘Welcome to Wisconsin and welcome to the farm life.’” 



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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