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(reprinted from North American Elk Breeders Association)
Fast Facts About Elk
- Elk are a single offspring species; twinning is rare.
- Selective breeding to enhance the benefits of the stock will always
be in demand.
- Bulls produce velvet every year. An average 2-year-old will grow
approximately 9 lbs. of velvet. Generally, bulls increase velvet yields
every year until maturity. Mature bulls (7 to 8-years-old) may produce
30-40 lbs. of velvet.
- A herd with an even distribution from yearlings to mature bulls will
average 15 lbs. per head.
- Velvet is a commodity which in the past 15 years has ranged from $25
to $110 per pound. North America presently produces only a very small
part of what the Oriental market demands.
- There is an expanding demand for velvet products in North America.
- It is a classic renewable resource.
- Elk meat has long been considered the premier venison.
- Since North America imports 150 tons of venison annually, elk meat
enjoys a ready market.
- It fits the needs of the modern consumer because it is lean, low in
fat and cholesterol, and delicious. Plus, it is raised using no growth
hormones or chemicals.
- Many enjoy hunting a trophy animal, a mature bull with a beautiful
set of antlers.
- People enjoy watching elk and will pay to visit them in a natural
- The leather is soft, yet durable. It is used to make boots, gloves,
and other articles of clothing.
- The antlers are used to make jewelry, pieces of art, and decorative
accessories for the home.
Environmental & Animal Welfare Concerns
- Elk enhance the habitat, utilizing marginal land and leaving land in
forage, in pasture, or as undeveloped land.
- In raising domesticated elk, we learn valuable lessons that can be
applied to the wild population.
- Elk are raised in a setting natural to them, with minimal handling.
- There is no castration of males.
- Antler removal is for the protection of the animal and owner, as
well as for economic benefits.
- Antler removal is very humane and is accomplished under vet care,
with no injury to the animal.
- Mature bulls average 800 to 1,100 pounds, stand 5' to 5'6" at the
shoulder, and are 7 to 8 years of age.
- They are capable of breeding at two years of age.
- Top velvet producing bulls have large circumference beams and mass
above the third tine.
- The antlers' number of points is influenced by genetics and feed, as
well as by maturity.
- Antlers fall off in March and regrow every year.
- When harvested in May or June, 20 to 30 pounds of Grade A velvet
should be the yield from a mature bull.
- They dress out at approximately 60% of live weight.
- Mature cows average 550 to 600 pounds, stand 4' to 5' at the
shoulder, and are three to four years of age.
- Most 18-month-old females will cycle if they weigh at least 430 lbs.
- They do not grow antlers.
- They are very good mothers.
- They are born in May or June and spend the first week of their lives
in tall grass, usually getting up only to nurse.
- They are spotted when born and develop their brown coats in six
- Through natural instinct, the cow watches the calf from a short
distance, drawing near when it is threatened.
- The rut, controlled by the day/night cycle, is from late August to
- For best success, breeding bulls should be three years old or older.
- One bull can service 20 to 40 cows.
- A bull will gather a group of females and keep them away from other
- Bulls compete for dominance through bugling, sparring, and chasing
would-be competitors away. (Injuries are rare.)
- Bulls and cows go through a ritual before the actual "high mount" of
- A cow's gestation is approximately 246 days,+ or - 10 days
- Artificial insemination is common, with a success rate of 50-80%.
- All cows will "bag up" before giving birth.
- The older the cow, the more "pregnant" she will appear.
- The cow will start to "walk the fences" prior to calving, looking
for a quiet, private place to give birth.
- Ensure through controlled feeding that cows are not fat, as this
restricts the size of the birth canal and increases the size of the
- Although calving problems are rare, farmers can help the cow by
pulling the calf, but only after waiting a lengthy period for a natural
- The cow will immediately accept the calf and clean it, and the calf
will stand to nurse.
- Elk are predominantly grazers.
- Elk eat most upland grasses (e.g. broom) and legumes (e.g. alfalfa).
- Elk will consume grains (e.g. corn, oats).
- Elk can consume up to 20% of their diet in browse.
- Elk are efficient converters of food. Three cow elks' feed intake is
the same as that of one beef cow.
- The feeding of cows and bulls is slightly different; therefore, it
is better to separate them after the rut.
- For a cow, post-rut to calving, feed a maintenance diet of good
quality hay, grain optional.
- For a cow, calving to post-rut, feed grain, hay, and a high-quality
feed rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals.
- Bulls should be fed well all year, but especially in the summer.
- During winter, bulls should be fed a much higher quality diet than
that of cows, so that can regenerate after the rut.
- If possible, weaned calves should be kept separate and fed extra the
- The elk's weight at the end of October is directly proportional to
its weight at the end of March.
- The calorie intake of an elk is twice as much in the summer as it is
in the winter. Feed elk very well in the summer to achieve optimum
velvet weights and calving percentages.
- Farmers can put elk on self-feed if they slowly bring them up to
that consumption level (full ration).
Remember: Feed is the most important part of managing your elk
DO: Feed the best possible feed. You will get better results, and
it costs less because of less waste. Elk pick through poor-quality feed to
get the good. Make sure the ration is well-balanced with an adequate
supply of copper and selenium.
DON'T: Pasture elk exclusively on fescue or use feeds with urea as
a source of protein.
Elk are hardy livestock with natural immunity to most diseases. Although
they can contract normal bovine diseases, they are not prone to do so.
There have been cases of domestic elk with TB (M bovis) as with other
domestic stock (e.g. cattle). Testing requirements and tests have been
developed to better identify and eliminate TB in elk. Elk now have a
federal UM&R herd accreditation program for TB. TB has been eradicated in
Internal and external parasites are of concern if you tend to over-pasture
or keep your elk too closely confined. Consult your veterinarian for the
proper drug to treat the parasite.
Observation of your herd is important. Warning signs are the same as for
any domestic herd animal:
- Animal off by itself
- Head down, ears back, watery eyes, limping
- Off feed, swollen body parts, abscesses, lumps
- Loss of hair or condition
- If you do suspect a problem, call a vet, an experienced elk rancher,
or the NAEBA office for assistance.
Handling Facilities, Fencing & Transportation
- Plan before you start. Check with NAEBA and with as many elk
breeders as possible.
- Elk, like any animal, must be taught respect for the handler.
- Walls of the handling facility should be a minimum of eight feet
- Solid walls, under a roof, are recommended.
- Use gates and alleyways to move animals.
- A fence should be a minimum of seven feet high and constructed of
high-tensile wire; however, check state laws for minimum height
- Treated wood or steel posts should be 10-12 feet long and a maximum
of 24 feet apart.
- Elk can be easily moved in enclosed livestock trailers.
- They need room and cannot be crowded during transport.
- Plan before you begin.
- Contact your local Department of Agriculture or Department of
Natural Resources for regulations that may affect your elk ranch.
- Contact local elk farmers and NAEBA for additional information on
costs of animals, fencing, feed, etc.
- Purchase your stock and fencing equipment from reputable farmers and
dealers. One source for stock breeders is the NAEBA Breeders and
- Set up a recordkeeping system to account for expenses and animal
- Try to keep the true capital cost of the fence to 10% of your total
investment in your elk venture.
- Elk are a very attractive investment if you have land, can put up
the fence, and have animal experience.
- There are any number of options to explore:
- Private ownership
- "Share farming" arrangements between investors and landowners
- Corporate structure
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