Fun Farm Friends - Elk

Believe it or not, you should believe it because it’s true that there are elk farms in Wisconsin. There is also a Wisconsin Commercial Deer & Elk Farmer’s Association (WCDEFA). This association, in February 2021, listed 14 farms identified as Elk Farms.

Why would one raise elk? WCDEFA says:

“Elk are raised for their nutritious, great tasting meat, for the medicinal value of velvet antler, for the decorative benefits of the hard antler, for breeding stock, and to satisfy the demand for trophy bulls.”

Joel Espe of Hawks Hill Elk Ranch, Monticello, Wisconsin, said in an interview by Mid-West Farm Report that his biggest cow weighed in at 660 lbs. His biggest bull was 1,112 lbs.

He has sold hides, ivory, meat, velvet antler, and dog chews from smoked hard antler, and his farm has enjoyed a lot of tourism, for which he does not charge. Instead, he educates the visitors, kids included. One of his elk, Diva, is a twin, which is rare.

He commented that the most enjoyable part of elk farming is when the calves are born. Within a few minutes, they are up and walking, and within a few days, they are running full speed.

In the 1880s, unregulated hunting and habitat loss caused elk to vanish from Wisconsin. While some disagreement remains, most experts agree the last elk was killed by the 1880s.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) decided to reintroduce them in 1995. Initially, the University of Wisconsin (UW) Stevens Point was in charge. In early 1995 25 elk were trapped in Kentucky. Kentucky has some 10,000 elk free of diseases.

They were held in a quarantine facility in Jackson County to check for diseases and then transported to Clam Lake in the Chequamegon National Forest south of Ashland. They were released in May 1995 in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

Since then, more elk have been introduced to Wisconsin, mainly from Kentucky. Kevin wallenfang, a wildlife biologist, commented:

“We joked that the invasion of Normandy was less complicated.”

In October 2020, the estimated elk population in the state had grown to 400, of which 95-100 are in Jackson County. The state hopes to grow to about 1,800.

Let’s spend a few moments on Elk Velvet Antler (EVA). EVA is a fuzzy velvet antler that appears before the antler has calcified. It is believed to have medicinal value, though the US Food and Drug Administration (FDAS) has warned of outlandish claims.

Oriental societies have used it for centuries as a growth tonic for children, joint and bone health, and calcium deficiency.  In the West, it has been used as a health supplement. Most EVA now comes from New Zealand, where the antler is usually removed at its base.  It is also removed from deer.

In the West, the EVA is dried, powdered, and consumed in encapsulated form as a dietary supplement. People with Arthritis use it, as do those needing improved joint structure and function. Considerably more investigation in the West is now underway. The Minnesota Elk Breeders Association has said:

“Velvet antler can boost hormonal activity, increase oxygen uptake to the brain, liver, and kidneys, decrease the rate of muscle fatigue, and promote muscular growth. However, it should not be used, or should be used cautiously, in people with prostrate problems, heart conditions, and lupus.”

While driving along Hwy 35 along the Mississippi River, I happened across the village of Cochran and Neitzel’s Elk Farm. It raises elk primarily for the harvesting of antlers.

It’s worth noting that the elk antlers have no nerve endings. Those raising them to say they can saw off the antler and the elk will show no reaction of pain from the event.