So You Want To Be An Elk Farmer
First, why would anyone want to become an elk farmer? I believe there are four main reasons:
Love of the animals
Many elk farmers were (and still are) avid hunters. They love elk, but spending only several weeks in the bush looking for them is not enough. By farming them, they can enjoy trophy bulls all year round.
According to U.S. statistics, about two-thirds of American farms lose money every year. (The same is true in Canada.) Farmers are always looking for ways to spread the risk and diversify to smooth the economic cycles of traditional agricultural commodities. If you already have the land, raising elk is a reasonable addition to your farming operations.
Some people enter the business as an investment, with the expectation of significant returns. Yes, there are some fairly attractive prices being paid for top breeding stock and their semen, but there are also significant risks.
Some people who have the financial resources raise elk as a hobby, just as others raise horses or dogs. Since elk require little labor and almost look after themselves, they are a good choice for a hobby-farmer.
For what types of people would elk farming be most suitable? Four types come to mind:
Existing livestock farmers
If you are already raising cattle, you probably are a good candidate for raising elk. You already have the land, equipment and some of the facilities. You know how to handle and look after animals. Elk do well on marginal land that may not be suitable for your cattle. The big costs will be fencing and handling facilities.
You already have the land, the equipment and some of the facilities. However, do you have the knowledge, patience and experience to work with animals?
Ex-farmer types living and working in the city
At least you know what is involved in farming and some of the issues. Your regular job may give you some resources to invest in elk farming and to look after the animals on a part-time basis.
Yes, you may become a successful elk farmer provided you have enough money to invest in starting and operating a farm, and are willing to spend a lot of time and energy to learn about ALL the aspects of elk farming, i.e., business, production, animal management and health, and marketing. For you, it certainly is a riskier venture, and you would be well advised to do your homework before taking the plunge.
For those future elk farmers who would have to start from scratch, I ask you to consider less risky alternatives. These include:
- You can buy a few elk and board them on an existing, well-run farm. That way you can significantly minimize your risks, reduce your workload, and still enjoy your animals while taking time to learn how to look after them. If everything goes well, you can eventually move them to your own farm.
- You might buy into an existing farm through some form of partnership or equity arrangement. This is another way to reduce the risk and to work with people who have demonstrated they know how to raise and market elk. After you have learned what you need to know and gained some experience, you can sell out and start your own elk farm.
So the first and most important step for an elk farmer wannabe is to do some research and information gathering. Here are some of the questions that you need to ask:
- What is the legal status of elk farming in my province or state? If elk farming is not allowed, then you will have to move to a jurisdiction where it is, or forget the idea, unless you can gather a group of similarly minded people, form an association, and work together to change regulations.
- What are the minimum legal requirements that must be met, e.g., land requirements, fencing, registration, etc.?
- What resources are necessary for me to set up as an elk farmer? Do I have the resources? If not, how will I get them?
- Do I have the knowledge and skills necessary to run an elk farming operation successfully, e.g., business, production, animal management and health, marketing skills? If not, how do I plan to acquire them or hire them?
- What is the general outlook for the elk industry in my state/province and/or in my country? Are good breeding animals available at affordable prices?
- How do I plan to generate revenues/cash flows from my farm and become profitable? What is the market for each of the following products? On which ones will I focus?
- breeding males
- hunting or trophy males
- bred or breeder females
- animals for meat/venison
- bottle-fed young
- venison (wholesale, retail)
- processed meat products (snack sticks, jerky, etc.)
- raw/green elk velvet antler
- processed velvet antler products
- urine and urine products
- skins, hides and leathers
- What services, if any, do I also plan to offer? What is the revenue potential of each?
- farm/ranch tours
- private hunting on farm or ranch
- guiding services (on private or public lands)
- bottle raising of young elk
- boarding facilities and services
- semen collection, storage and handling
- AI services
- hauling and transportation
- farm design and construction
- handling facilities design and construction
- fencing construction
- meat processing and packaging workshops and seminars
- How will I sell my products and services to generate revenues and cash to pay for my expenses? What do I need to do to develop and implement a marketing and promotion program?
- How will I finance my elk farm? Do I need external financing? How much will I need and from where will I get it?
Where do you find the answers to these questions? For a start, try these:
- Web sites
Start with www.naelk.com, www.deerfarmer.com, and www.wapiti.net. Visit the discussion forums to see the problems and issues with which elk farmers are dealing on a day-to-day basis. Check out the classified ads to see who is selling what for how much. Use the links to find out more about supplies and services and to find other interesting sites.
Contact both your state/provincial or regional association and your national or international association. You may want to join as an associate member to get their publications. If possible, attend their meetings, and especially their conferences. An up-to-date list of associations can be found in the Deerfarmer.com Library, or call the NAEBA office for contact information.
- Other elk farmers
They are probably your best source of practical operational information. The best way to find other farmers in your vicinity is through the associations. If you call the NAEBA office, they can send a list of farmers in your area. When you become a NAEBA member, you will receive a directory of all members. Another source is Deer Farm Directory on Deerfarmer.com, although this listing currently is for white-tailed deer farmers. Our plan is to expand this directory soon to include farmers of all deer and elk species.
NAEBA members remember their journey to becoming elk farmers or ranchers, and most are very happy to assist beginners with advice and instruction.