Often it is the novelty that first attracts people to the idea of raising elk. But those who do their research have the potential to cash in on a profitable enterprise.
While starting an elk ranch will require attention to legalities, fencing, safe handling facilities, and the like, one of the first questions begged is—what do you do with an elk?
Elk have several uses:
- Velvet. Elk velvet comes from the soft inner core of the growing antler, typically of the bull elk. Because elk grow new antlers every year, elk velvet can be harvested annually, and should not cause injury to the elk if done properly. The velvet is then marketed as a dietary supplement. It is believed to have immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties. Note, however, that the velvet market, while often lucrative, can be rather volatile.
- Antlers. The hard, calcified antlers can be used to make innumerable items. Options range from jewelry to chandeliers to knife handles. Are you the handyman sort? Add value to your elk antlers by making art, novelties, and home furnishings, then direct marketing the finished products. Another option is to sell antlers as all-natural dog chews, a popular product in these chemical-conscious days.
- Ivories. Ivories are the canine teeth of the elk. Elk ivories can be made into Western-themed jewelry. Bull ivories are particularly favored.
- Hides. Elk hides can be quite useful since an elk hide is about twice the size of a deer hide. However, its size and thickness may make it harder to work with. Elk hides can be used for products ranging from rugs to clothing.
- Meat. While elk meat is a specialty item, it is a favorite lean treat with some who would otherwise avoid red meat for health reasons. Farm-raised elk can have an advantage over wild-caught elk due to its milder flavor. Prime cuts are typically sold at either farmers markets or fancy restaurants. Less valuable cuts can be processed into value-added products such as jerky.
- Breeding stock. High-quality breeding elk can be very profitable. Elk are typically sold by private treaty (from one breeder directly to another) or at a handful of auctions. There is also a demand for semen from registered bull elk with desirable traits, such as a calm disposition, high weight gains, and impressive antlers.
- Agritourism. Farm guests often enjoy taking tours of elk herds. Of course, care must be taken to protect the guests from injury, as even farm-raised elk are still wild animals at heart.
- Game preserves. Game preserves can be extremely profitable because they capitalize on extensive tracts of low-maintenance natural landscapes. Game preserves are sought out by hunters because they have high success rates, healthy elk, and quality trophies. In areas where wild elk are rare, a preserve is likely to receive plenty of business from hunters seeking thrilling experiences close to home.
Getting into the elk business can be expensive due to the cost of both the animals and the facilities needed to handle them. However, several lucrative markets exist that can easily justify the cost. The possibility of filling several niches with one elk herd can make this unique business an attractive one to enterprising farmers and ranchers.