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Raising elk: these large animals have multiple purposes, even as pets.

TRAVIS LOWE'S FAMILY HAS BEEN a member of the North American Elk Breeders Association since 1991. Today, the association has 350 members, who benefit from the non-profit organization, which promotes and protects the elk farming and ranching industry. The primary goal of the association is to educate its members and the general public through conferences, journals and newsletters on all aspects of the elk industry including proper management and breeding practices.

Lowe, the executive director for the past two years, says that elk provide something for everyone. "Some people grow them for meat, some as breed stock and others raise them as pets."

Lowe oversees the association's membership services, communications, policy, financials, and coordinates with the board of directors. "We promote the elk industry, and like products throughout the U.S. and Canada," he adds.

His family farm in Garnett, Kansas, is currently raising 30 elk on 55 out of his 100-acre property. He tells me over a phone interview that three elk can be raised on one acre.

"Elk are one of the most versatile alternative agriculture livestock animals out there," Lowe says. "The meat industry is large but there are other markets." Breeding stock is a large part of the industry and, like the horse community, there is a purebred registry.

Bulls grow velvet, yearly, with the antlers falling off around February or March. Velvet, a renewable resource, is used for many products including dog chew toys. "Pet owners are going nuts over elk antlers for dog chew bones--it's a natural bone and cost effective when you consider chew hours," Lowe explains. Antler products can be found online, at farmers markets, gas stations or on elk farms.

Centuries ago elk were native well across the U.S., northern Mexican and Canada. This allows elk to be raised throughout those regions today.

Cliff Carley says his elk in Atlanta, Indiana, do not need extra protection in the winter living on his wooded property.

"I wanted to do something with my five acres that was a little different than normal so we started raising elk," Carley says. He adds if you have a "small amount of land and want to do something productive with it," elk are a good choice.

Elk are predominately grazers, eating grasses and legumes. Carley says they can forage but gives his alfalfa, corn, oats and supplements. Elk consume more in the summer and males and females do require different diets slightly, so separating them is a good idea.

When asked if the cows can live together Carley told me, "They live together just like women."

Sue Keith, co-owner of Creek's Edge Elk Farm with her daughter Stacy Handy, has 13 elk on 30 acres. They choose to raise elk to complement their dairy business. "Since we both like animals and have a gift for working with them, the elk seemed to be a good fit."

Keith says that elk require very little care. "We feed once a day and in the winter we give them round bales of either second cutting hay or baleage. In the summer, they graze all the time. We feed oats and commercial elk feed once a day. And of course, they always have fresh water."

While the elk do have varying personalities Keith does not consider them pets. "There's no going in and petting them," she adds. "They are curious and suspicious at the same time. The cows are pretty aggressive and protective of their babies. The babies will play and frolic like goats and chase each other around the pasture." She says that they never go in on foot, only on a tractor to stay safe.

In their experience customers can't get close enough to the elk to make them part of a petting or feeding station on the farm. "They will strike out with their front feet when feeling threatened."

I would imagine some individuals could be trained to approach the fence and take feed, but Keith says her herd is very suspicious of strangers, which is especially true when they harvest one or two for meat. "The whole herd is cautious for at least a week." And I wouldn't blame them.

Keith would recommend elk to those with large animal experience. "Elk react and think differently than dairy or beef cows. If not handled correctly they can easily hurt you or themselves," she says. Those with patience and a calm demeanor would be a great fit for raising a herd of these alternative agriculture animals.

Upcoming Conferences:

North American Elk Breeders Association 2016 March Mingle March 18-20, 2016 Edmonton, Alberta


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Author:Coogan, Kenny
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2016
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