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 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 - predominately for young females and proven males. The value per elk depends upon the genetic quality of the animal; the more velvet producing background, the higher the value.
- Velvet Antler - for hundreds of years, Asia (mainly Korea) has been buying elk antler as a medicinal/dietary aid and is currently being recognized and consumed in North America. It is a consistent, strong, proven market for a totally renewable resource. Velvet antler has sold for as little as $20/pound and as high as $110/pound over the last 20 years. Typical velvet antler weights are 15 - 20 pounds per producing bull, with some producing up to 50 pounds! A bull will produce commercial qualities of velvet starting at about 2 years of age, and will produce for well 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 people can attest, elk meat is very mild in taste, not “gamey”, and is consistently lean along with very low in carbohydrates.
- Trophy Production - sales are becoming more popular to game parks and shooting preserves whether one is looking for the perfect trophy hunt or photograph opportunities for elk.
Q: How easy are elk to raise in my region?
A: Years ago, 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, descendants of elk raised behind wire for any number of years. 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 as “skittish” as 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: There are different requirements for each state. In South Dakota, an 8’ perimeter fence is recommended. There are differences in design between elk fence and cattle fence. Current prices range from $1.50 to $2.50 per foot for good quality elk fence.
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 dairy cow, 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 to maintain optimum condition, so pasture improvement is sometimes recommended. During velveting and lactation, elk have higher nutritional needs.
Q: How do the health costs compare to cattle?
A: Elk are susceptible to bovine diseases, however not as likely to succumb to them. Elk should be treated for parasite prevention like other farmed species.
Q: What kind of calving rate will I get with elk?
A: Typically, a female elk will deliver a single calf starting in her second year. Gestation lasts from 8 - 8 1/2 months. Calving rates are similar to cattle, in the 90% + range.
Q: Where can I get more information on elk ranching in general?
A: Contact any of the members of the South Dakota Elk Breeders Association. We are always happy to talk about "ELK"!!