BUTLER, Ohio – It’s been a long time since elk roamed this part of Ohio – if ever – but occasionally during the mating season you can hear a bull elk bugling in the hills near Butler, Ohio.
No echo from the past, the bull elk belongs to the Mike Lyon family at Bugle Elk Farm.
When Lyon started looking around for some sort of livestock to consume the hay on his farm, he realized he could easily acquire a second job that he really didn’t need.
As a mason, he gets plenty of exercise and the hours can often be long and irregular. He simply wanted a low-maintenance livestock operation that didn’t require milking, shearing or pulling calves at all hours of the night.
His brother suggested looking into some of the niche markets, and since he and his family enjoyed the outdoors and wildlife, raising elk intrigued him.
Finding the right type. Lyon located a reputable elk breeder in Michigan, and drove up to learn more about elk breeding.
There are at least three subspecies of elk that can be distinguished by slight size and color differences and habitat preference: the Rocky Mountain, the Roosevelt and the Manitoba.
The Rocky Mountain species is the most common in the U.S.; the Roosevelt elk was named after Teddy Roosevelt who worked for conservation in the U.S., especially in the Rocky Mountain region; and the largest elk is the Manitoba with a more northerly range into Canada.
Names. The Plains Indians called them wapiti because of their white rumps.
Since they resembled the European red deer and caribou that the Europeans call elk, elk became the popular name for them in North America outside the Indian Nations.
Intrigued. The majestic Rocky Mountain bull elk in Michigan captured Lyon’s imagination at first sight, and now, 10 years later, he is no less intrigued with the sight of the elk on his own farm.
Elk are extremely hardy.
On the Western ranges, three elk will survive where only one beef cow will eke out a living.
Both a grazer and a browser, they will eat a lot of forage cattle will pass up, and are not finicky about the hay they are fed.
Coarse feed generates heat during digestion and is the big factor in how elk survive cold weather. Lyon feeds good hay year round and extra, course roughage in cold weather.
Since Ohio soils are low in selenium, he adds that mineral, but feeds very little grain.
Elk, like cattle, are subject to brucellosis and tuberculosis and are regularly screened for those diseases. They have good parasite resistance, but some occasionally have to be dewormed.
Elk markets. The four leading elk markets are: antlers, hunting, breeding stock and meat.
In 1990, elk antlers were selling for $92 a pound in Korea, where they are used as an aphrodisiac. The price is less than half of that since the Russians and Chinese came into the market. Others blame the price fall on Viagra.
For the Korean market, antlers are cut off about 2 inches from the scalp 70 days after they start growing in the spring.
A mature elk can grow 25-pound antlers.
Lyon’s bull keeps his antlers until they are shed in late winter and are sold for decorations.
Selling prices. The big market is selling live animals to game farms, animal parks and for breeding stock.
Weaned, 6- or 7-month-old bull calves bring $1,400-$1,500 each. Heifer calves will bring $3,500-$4,500. Young proven brood cows will bring about $7,000-$8,000.
Common five- or six-point bulls will bring $1,000 a point and outstanding trophy bulls sell for $10,000 and up depending upon bloodlines.
Those with outstanding bulls from good bloodlines can often sell semen.
As you might guess, only poor animals find their way into the freezer.
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