NEW CASTLE, Pa. – When cattle groups plan summer field days, it’s usually to see a beef farm. After all, most producers are curious to see how other farmers manage their operations and they want to check out the herd.
But the Northwest Pa. Cattlemen’s Association took another route July 21, visiting Bugle Ridge Farm, home to approximately 350 elk and 55 red deer.
The farm, located just outside of New Castle, is owned by area businessman Robert Bruce and managed by Bob Burry.
With more than 250 acres, including 175 acres in fenced paddocks, Bugle Ridge is the second largest elk farm in Pa.
Last year, the farm further diversified by adding an Angus herd.
Multiple products. The farm’s initial plan marketed velveted antler, which is used to make a dietary supplement and health food extract. Male elk grow a new set of antlers every year, starting in March. In 60 to 70 days, the elk bulls will have 20 to 30 pounds of antlers on their head, Burry said.
At the farm, May and June are consumed with cutting the new growth, or “velvet” stage antlers from the elks. That velvet antler is graded, then either shipped to Korea or China, or processed for use here in the U.S.
Several years ago, velvet antler was selling for $100 a pound, Burry said. But then Korea, the main buyer, banned U.S. and Canadian velvet antler because of chronic wasting disease, a fatal brain and nervous systems disease that affects elk and deer. The market crashed, and two years ago green velvet antler was selling for just $7 a pound.
The market is slowly climbing back, Burry said, and it looks like prices this year will be in the upper $20s, but the farm didn’t like being in the precarious position of a single market for its products, so it has quickly developed alternatives.
Bugle Ridge sells a few hard antlers and elk meat from its culls, but its newer focus is the hunting preserve market.
Pay to play. Most of the mature male elk, and now red deer, at the Lawrence County farm head to closed hunting preserves in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Missouri. After raising the animals for the antlers for the first four or five years, the bulls are then marketed to hunting ranches.
It’s a lucrative market. Burry said a bull elk can sell for $2,500 and a good red deer male can bring between $9,000 and $10,000.
Like cattle. Other than navigating the eight miles of 8- and 10-foot high tensile steel fences – “We’re in a perpetual fence-building mode,” Burry says – the farm manages the elk and red deer much like its Angus cattle.
There are feeders in each of the 23 pens, along with heated, automatic waterers because the herds stay outside year-round. The animals graze, but also get grain pellets, hay and corn silage, along with a special vitamin and mineral mix.
The elk and deer are tested and vaccinated annually. The farm is tuberculosis and brucellosis certified free, and is an accredited chronic wasting disease-free farm. A brain stem sample from each elk or deer that dies or is culled and harvested must be collected and sampled to maintain the farm’s accredited status.
The Angus herd must also be TB and brucellosis certified for the cattle to be on the same farm as the elk.
The elk farm follows regulations dictated by the Pa. Department of Agriculture, including tracing and identifying each animal.
All the elk and deer are bred by artificial insemination. Burry said the farm uses a controlled internal drug release, or CIDR, insert to synchronize estrus, and has a conception rate of about 50 percent. A handling facility is at the barn and Burry said they can run 60 to 70 head of elk through in a day for breeding
This year, the farm had 100 live calves between the elk and red deer herds. The males are used for the antler and hunting markets; the females are used for breeding and for meat.
The farm works with Whiting’s Meats to process the elk meat under USDA inspection. The meat is sold through onfarm sales and through the farm’s Web site. And at least three area restaurants have added elk meat to their menus and are a growing market.
Good fences. Burry said the 10-foot exterior fences and 8-foot interior fences have kept elk and red deer in, and predators and white-tailed deer out.
That’s good news for them, and good news for their neighbors, who are a little more wary during early fall when the rut starts. The elk will bugle loudly and the red deer make a cry like a bark or growl, Burry said, and every year someone calls because they’re sure the sound is coming from right outside their window, and not from within the fence.
So they check all the fences and call the neighbor back with an “all’s well.”
But even Burry admits, it can be an eerie sound.
“It’s a little like Jurassic Park here in September.”
(Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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