The Plateau Valley Elk Ranch provides a taste of the wild | TheFencePost.com

The Plateau Valley Elk Ranch provides a taste of the wild

Carolyn White, Olathe, Colo.

Photo courtesy Donna AzcarragaMark Azcarraga grain feeding the elk cows.

For Martin and Donna Azcarraga along with their sons Andrew, Mark and Steven, elk breeding has been a full-time operation since 1990. “It’s a higher income (than cattle), plus they’re much hardier and easier to maintain,” says Donna, who is also a volunteer administrator for the Colorado Elk Breeders Association in Grand Junction, Colo. “It is rewarding to raise such a majestic animal.”

For consumers who prefer fewer calories, fat and cholesterol at their tables – but don’t like to hunt – being able to simply buy venison is a wonderful alternative. “Elk meat is high in protein. There’s lots of iron and phosphorous in it (only buffalo has more) which accounts for the darker color.”

The 500 acre Plateau Valley Ranch, located in Collbran, Colo., is home to 450 domestic elk that live enclosed within an 8-foot fence. The elk are “raised virtually stress-free with an abundance of feed, getting moved from pasture to pasture which results in tender and flavorful meat.”

During winter, the cows are supplemented with grain consisting of oats, a little corn, and minerals. Although these large game animals aren’t susceptible to many diseases, Donna continues, “The entire herd is vaccinated and dewormed.” In addition, “all are tuberculosis and CWD-free, following USDA standards.” Calves, which arrive in May or June after a 246 day gestation period, are vaccinated at birth to prevent scours. “The cows (which can weigh up to 550 pounds) are very good mothers, and protective,” she added.

Most cows are naturally bred; however, artificial insemination is also used. Breeding bulls, which can weigh up to 1,100 pounds, are chosen for their gentle temperament, body conformation and antler mass. During the rut, or mating season, “They can lose up to 30 percent of their body weight.” After being removed from their herd of cows, “those bulls are given a higher protein diet so that they may regain both weight and strength.”

To prevent the bulls from goring each other, the antlers are harvested. “There’s no pain,” she pointed out, “because they’ve completely calcified.” Antlers that are harvested in the velvet stage are taken using safe and humane procedures. “They are freeze-dried and pulverized into powder, which is then used as a dietary supplement for a variety of ailments including joint and arthritis pain. It’s also used as an immune stimulant. This product is sold mainly to the Orient, but U.S. markets are rapidly being developed. The hard antler, meantime, is sold to craftsmen who make earrings, home furnishings, knife handles and chandeliers.”

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Culled animals are usually sold to the public and other wholesale suppliers. “Carcasses are USDA inspected at the local processing plant and can be purchased by whole or halves. Individually packaged meat is also available with prices ranging from $6.00/pound for ground and up to $40/pound for tenderloin. Buyers can either cut and wrap it themselves or hire a processor.” No matter which way you choose, it seems a whole lot easier, less-expensive, and time-consuming than buying a tag, travelling to a designated hunting area, and traipsing around in the cold and fog (just ask my husband).

As for the thrill of being in the forest and hearing the bulls bugle each fall? At the time of our phone interview in late September, Donna said that “It’s pretty noisy around here right now. The air is filled with the bugling from the bulls that can be heard for miles. The cows are barking and squealing, too.” For this family, sounds like raising elk means that they’re getting the best of both worlds.

For more information, please call the Azcarraga family at (970) 263-4155.

For Martin and Donna Azcarraga along with their sons Andrew, Mark and Steven, elk breeding has been a full-time operation since 1990. “It’s a higher income (than cattle), plus they’re much hardier and easier to maintain,” says Donna, who is also a volunteer administrator for the Colorado Elk Breeders Association in Grand Junction, Colo. “It is rewarding to raise such a majestic animal.”

For consumers who prefer fewer calories, fat and cholesterol at their tables – but don’t like to hunt – being able to simply buy venison is a wonderful alternative. “Elk meat is high in protein. There’s lots of iron and phosphorous in it (only buffalo has more) which accounts for the darker color.”

The 500 acre Plateau Valley Ranch, located in Collbran, Colo., is home to 450 domestic elk that live enclosed within an 8-foot fence. The elk are “raised virtually stress-free with an abundance of feed, getting moved from pasture to pasture which results in tender and flavorful meat.”

During winter, the cows are supplemented with grain consisting of oats, a little corn, and minerals. Although these large game animals aren’t susceptible to many diseases, Donna continues, “The entire herd is vaccinated and dewormed.” In addition, “all are tuberculosis and CWD-free, following USDA standards.” Calves, which arrive in May or June after a 246 day gestation period, are vaccinated at birth to prevent scours. “The cows (which can weigh up to 550 pounds) are very good mothers, and protective,” she added.

Most cows are naturally bred; however, artificial insemination is also used. Breeding bulls, which can weigh up to 1,100 pounds, are chosen for their gentle temperament, body conformation and antler mass. During the rut, or mating season, “They can lose up to 30 percent of their body weight.” After being removed from their herd of cows, “those bulls are given a higher protein diet so that they may regain both weight and strength.”

To prevent the bulls from goring each other, the antlers are harvested. “There’s no pain,” she pointed out, “because they’ve completely calcified.” Antlers that are harvested in the velvet stage are taken using safe and humane procedures. “They are freeze-dried and pulverized into powder, which is then used as a dietary supplement for a variety of ailments including joint and arthritis pain. It’s also used as an immune stimulant. This product is sold mainly to the Orient, but U.S. markets are rapidly being developed. The hard antler, meantime, is sold to craftsmen who make earrings, home furnishings, knife handles and chandeliers.”

Culled animals are usually sold to the public and other wholesale suppliers. “Carcasses are USDA inspected at the local processing plant and can be purchased by whole or halves. Individually packaged meat is also available with prices ranging from $6.00/pound for ground and up to $40/pound for tenderloin. Buyers can either cut and wrap it themselves or hire a processor.” No matter which way you choose, it seems a whole lot easier, less-expensive, and time-consuming than buying a tag, travelling to a designated hunting area, and traipsing around in the cold and fog (just ask my husband).

As for the thrill of being in the forest and hearing the bulls bugle each fall? At the time of our phone interview in late September, Donna said that “It’s pretty noisy around here right now. The air is filled with the bugling from the bulls that can be heard for miles. The cows are barking and squealing, too.” For this family, sounds like raising elk means that they’re getting the best of both worlds.

For more information, please call the Azcarraga family at (970) 263-4155.