|By ANDREA McCANN
OWENSBURG, Ind. — Duane and Becky Long of Greene County have raised elk since 1998, after Duane saw some at the Indiana State Fair in the mid-1990s.
They raise them primarily for the meat, which is processed at a licensed plant and USDA inspected for retail sale. They sell the vacuum-packed meat from their farm and at Back In Time Natural Foods in Avon. Also, Nick’s in Bloomington sells elk burgers made from their meat, and Oliver Winery sells their summer sausage.
“We’ve done specials at Truffles in Bloomington,” Long added.
He said elk is a gourmet red meat that is lower in fat and cholesterol than chicken or turkey, with little to no marbling. There’s hardly any fat to drain off, he said.
Based on a 3.5-ounce serving, elk has 124 calories, compared with 289 for ground beef, 205 for dark chicken, and 170 for turkey. The same piece of meat has 1.6 grams of fat compared to 20.7 for the ground beef and 5.0 for the turkey.
“It has a rich beef taste,” Long said. “A lot of people think it’s the finest steak you can have. And it’s healthy.”
Nutritionally, it has more protein and nutrients than many other types of meat. A 3.5-ounce serving has 30.2 grams of protein.
The Longs sell ground elk meat for $5 per pound. A filet will run $22 per pound, a sirloin costs $12.50 per pound, and Italian elk sausage is $6.50 per pound. They sell several cuts of meat, as well as snack sticks and jerky.
Besides the meat, the Longs also sell other parts of the elk. Long said the antlers, hooves and hide of the animal have a variety of uses.
“On elk, not much goes to waste,” he said. “There’s a good market. Basically, you have to make your own market.”
Long said after the bulls drop their antlers, an annual occurrence that provides a steady, renewable supply, they’re sold to make items such as tables and lamps, knife handles and buttons. He said this older, calcified growth is like wood or bone. Antlers sell for $150-$250 a set, he said.
“There’s a whole variety of uses for the antlers,” Long said.
When antlers are about 66 days into the growth stage and still covered in a velvety hair, they’re sometimes removed to make “velvet antler.”
This new growth, which goes up to about the fourth tine of the antler, is ground and put into capsules that reportedly have a variety of health benefits.
Chief among them are rapid healing in tissues and bones, and pain reduction associated with disease or injury to muscles and joints. A 60-capsule bottle of velvet antler costs about $30.
“The antler is the fastest growing tissue known to man,” Long said, which may explain its potential for healing bones and joints. “It grows an inch a day.”
Each elk also has two ivory teeth, which Long said are pulled at slaughter and sold for about $30 per pair. They’re often used in jewelry, he said. Hides are sold to make items like seat covers and gloves. Long said one pair of elk-hide gloves will outlast 10-12 pairs of cowhide gloves.
“We basically sell about every hide we get,” he said.
Elk farming is currently a part-time vocation for the Longs. Both Duane and Becky have full-time jobs off the farm. He works for the Indiana Department of Transportation as an aerial photographer, and she is an occupational therapist.
They’re among about 30 elk breeders in the state, according to Long. Their herd hovers in the 20s, with about half bulls and half cows.
“We started in Johnson County with three bred cows,” Long said. “About three years ago we moved here. It used to be a beef farm. I’ve been taking down the short fence and putting up tall fence and trying to build a herd. I’d like to get up to around 150.
“They’re extremely easy to take care of once you get the fence and handling facility.”
A handling facility is important because of the animals’ size. A calf weighs around 35 pounds at birth, and a cow grows to an average of 550-600 pounds. A bull can weigh 900-1,100 pounds.
“It’s important to have alleyways and gates,” Long said. “You can’t move them like cattle.”
He explained that elk need to be moved into one enclosed area, then the next, and so on. That also makes it fairly easy to get an individual animal into a barn stall for care if necessary, such as in the case of a cow that needs to have a calf pulled.
“We don’t have many vet calls,” Long said. “Elk are very disease resistant.”
They graze and eat alfalfa hay and a special grain mixture. The Longs keep the feed troughs along the fence so the elk can be fed without anyone going into their pasture. That’s especially convenient at rutting and calving times, Long said, when the animals can be dangerous.
“They’re extremely docile the rest of the year,” he said, explaining that the bulls don’t want to damage their antlers when they’re growing. Still, Long said he and Becky have taught their young sons, Wyatt and Jarett, to stay back away from the fences. He said the elk see short things as prey and could attack them as they would a coyote, for example.
The Longs’ fence is 7 feet, 10 inches tall and high tensile. Posts are 12 feet tall and buried 4 feet in the ground.
“I’ve never had them challenge it,” he said. “All of their parents’, parents’, parents’, parents have been domesticated for many years. They’re basically livestock.”
Because of that, elk herds are regulated by the Indiana Board of Animal Health (BOAH). The Longs’ herd is certified and accredited. It’s tested for tuberculosis and brucellosis every other year, and the BOAH does an annual inventory.
The family hosts farm tours twice a year. Long Elk Farm is located on State Road 58, 1 mile west of the intersection of State Roads 45 and 58. It borders Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division. For details, visit their website at www.indianaelkmeat.com
This farm news was published in the February 22, 2006 issue of Farm World.