Why consider Elk as an addition or alternative to conventional livestock in your current ranching operation? What makes elk a better choice? Following are some answers to these and other questions that are commonly asked about raising elk.
Q: What good is an elk? Sure, they are majestic animals, but what is the market for elk or elk products?
A: Elk provide a much broader range of market opportunities than most other common livestock. The four predominant market avenues are:
- Breeding Stock - predominantly for young females (heifers) and proven males. The value of quality registered elk is similar to the value of quality registered cattle.
- Velvet Antler - for hundreds of years, Asia (mainly Korea) has been buying elk antler as a medical/dietary aid. It is a consistent, strong, proven market for a totally renewable resource. Velvet antler sells for around $50.00 or more a pound. Typical velvet antler weights are 14-16 pounds per producing bull, with some producing much more. A bull will produce commercial quantities of velvet starting at about 2 years of age, and will produce for over 10 years. Since elk grow, then lose their antlers naturally each year, it is simple, safe, and painless to harvest, and causes the bull no distress.
- Meat - there is an established and growing market for elk meat. It is highly regarded in fine dining establishments and gourmet centers. As many hunters can attest, elk meat is mild, not "gamey", and is consistently lean. Many people say it is similar to lean grass fed beef.
- Sales to deer or game parks and exhibits.
Q: I live in the gulf coast region. Isn't it too hot here for elk?
A: In yesteryear, elk were naturally found throughout North America, except for Florida. Elk are predominantly "grazers" - they eat grass. They were once very common on the plains and in gulf coastal regions where they do well with proper care.
Q: Elk are wild animals. Do they do well in captivity?
A: Today, it is illegal to capture wild Elk, and no reputable modern elk rancher does so. The elk we raise are domesticated, descendents of elk raised behind wire for as much as 40 generations. They exhibit many traits cattle do; some are timid, but some eat out of your hand. Elk are a herd animal, and thus are not "skittish" like deer tend to be. With good, knowledgeable care, elk thrive in an agricultural setting.
Q: What kind of fence do I need for elk?
A: Although wild elk are capable of "leaping tall buildings at a single bound", domestic elk need only a 7' or 8' perimeter fence. There are differences in design between elk fence and cattle fence, but elk fence costs only slightly more. Current prices for fence is approximately $2.00 per foot for good quality fence and $1.50 per foot for installation.
Q: What do elk eat? How much will I have to feed them?
A: Again, elk are grazers just like cattle. Elk are more "efficient" grazers than cattle, however. A good rule of thumb is that if your land will support 1 female cow (bovine), it will sustain 3 female elk. This results in an overall lower cost, since you fence and manage 1/3 as much land for the same herd size. Elk do require better forage - 16% protein as opposed to 6% protein for cattle, so pasture improvement is sometimes recommended. During velveting, bull elk have higher nutritional needs than male cattle. Copper and selenium may have to be supplemented.
Q: How do the health costs compare to cattle?
A: Approximately the same or slightly less. Elk should be treated for parasite prevention and only other likely hazards - i.e. if your ranch is not in a blackleg area, you would probably not treat for blackleg as a normal course of preventative treatment.
Q: What kind of calving rate will I get with elk?
A: Typically, a female elk will deliver a single calf starting in her 2nd year. Calving rates are similar to cattle - in the 90%+ range.
Q: Where can I get more information on "elk economics" and on elk ranching in general?
A: Contact us at the North American Elk Breeders Association. Our primary objective is promoting knowledge of elk.