The Elk Breeders Homepage

Elk VS Cattle

by Sue Whittlesey
reprinted with permission

Cattle vs Elk with an initial investment of $50,000 assuming land is owned

Assume: 90% weaned calves, keep 20% heifers, sell 10% cull cows

Price Comparison with the same Investment

Initial Investment:

2001 Cattle

2001 Elk

Chute and Corrals $2,000 $6,000
Fences $15,840 - 3 mile @ $1/ft $3,320 - 1/4mile @ $2/ft
Stock-bulls $2,000 - 2 bulls $7,000 - 1 bull
Stock-cows $28,000 - 40 bred cows @ $700 $31,500 - 9 bred cows @ $3500
Misc Equipment $2,160 - Scales, etc $2,180 - Scales,etc





2001 Cattle

2001 Elk

Calf Sales $11,650 18 B @ $0.75 500#
                14 H @$.70 500#
$9,200 4-h 1500,4-b 800
Cull sales $1,200    4-1200# @ $.25 $825 1 cow-meat @ $2.50/#
Other sales


$700 20# velvet @ $35

GROSS INCOME $12,850 $10,725

Direct Expenses:

2001 Cattle

2001 Elk

Grain and mineral $1,848 - $44 for 42 hd $712 - $195/ton 2#/hd/day
Purchased hay $5,460 - 2 ton/hd @ $65/ton $563 - 3/4 ton/hd @ $75/ton
Vet $630 - $15/hd 240 $400 - $40/hd (includes TB)
Shipping $180 - 5/hd (36) $105 - 10/hd+15
Misc (lic) $210 - 5/hd $400 - 10/hd+300
Total expenses $8,328 $2,180

GROSS MARGIN $4,522 $8,545

Return on Investment 9.04% 17.09%

Note that these figures are just for the first this rate you could earn back your entire $50,000 investment in approximately six years with elk. Another important point is that the elk ranch requires only one-third as much land per head as the cattle ranch!!

Of course, each individual situation is different. Perhaps you want to start much bigger, or to focus on raising bulls for antler. Maybe you want to keep your calves the first year or two in order to build your herd and increase your future return.

Breeding stock prices are now about $3,500 for average quality bred 2-5 year old cows. First calf bred heifers are about $4,000. Older cows, 6-8 years old, about $2,500. A 4 year old bull cutting 16 lbs. of velvet is about $7,000. A 3 year old bull cutting 18 lbs. would run about $20,000. Prices vary, of course, with quality, primarily measured by antler production genetics.

Velvet antler prices have varied from $25 to $100 a pound over the past 10 years. In the past our primary market was export of the green (prior to drying) antler to Korea. Several companies in North America are now making nutritional supplements containing velvet antler. One fo them has successfully gotten the finished product on the shelves of GNC stores throughout the nation. Now that the finished product is available in many stores we should see a stabilization of the price of green antler most likely between $35 and $50 depending on the grade. The Elk Research Council is funding a number of studies looking into the health benefits of velvet antler. So the future of the elk antler market looks very good.

Velvet Antler Weights Compared
Age Average Bull SW Regional 2000
Competition Winners
International Velvet 2000
Competition Winners
2 yrs. 8 lbs 12 lbs 20 lbs
3 yrs. 12 lbs 21 lbs 33 lbs
4 yrs. 16 lbs 25 lbs 35 lbs
5 yrs. 20 lbs 32 lbs 40 lbs
6 yrs. 24 lbs 39 lbs 46 lbs
Mature 28 lbs 38 lbs 46 lbs

Typical Hard Antler Scores
2 yrs. 250 mSCI 305 mSCI 326 mSCI
3 yrs. 275 mSCI 333 mSCI 356 mSci
4 yrs. 300 mSCI no entry 382 mSCI
5 yrs. 325 mSCI 351 mSCI 398 mSCI
6 yrs. 350 mSCI 398 mSCI 418 mSCI
Mature 375 mSCI 408 mSCI 463 mSCI

Very few bulls reach the level of the International Competition. In fact, only about 2 dozen bulls have ever produced over 40 lbs. of velvet. But this gives you an idea of the room there is for genetic improvement in antler production. So most breeders are selectively breeding for antler production first, then body size, conformation, and temperament. During the last few years artificial insemination (AI) has become very important in this process because so few bulls cut at the very top level. Straws of semen from top bulls sell for $500 to $1000 a straw, although some are syndicated and therefore hard to obtain and may cost more when available. However, the results of AI are just starting to become available and in the future more offspring of the top bulls will  become available. With proper management artificial insemination in elk should be about 70% successful, typically costing $50 to $100 per cow for veterinary costs in addition to the cost of the semen.

There are about 10 hunting ranches in Colorado that have paid around $2500 for bulls that score 300-320 Boone & Crockett. These are usually a 5 year old bulls. Higher scoring bulls sell for more, younger bulls for less.

The elk meat market is in its infancy because very few elk have been slaughtered due to high velvet prices in the past and the low number of the domestic elk population (under 150,000 head). The bison industry did not have very much of their meat available to market until their domestic herd number reached 200,000. Once they reached that level of production they were able to begin to meet the steady supply needs of meat to the growing retail market. Elk meat is worth about $2.50/lb. carcass weight (approximately 56% to 60% of live weight), which makes a 15 month old bull (average live weight of 450#) worth about $675. This is a good price, but yields a lesser return than the other markets for elk breeding stock and antler. There is a demand for elk meat, quite a few high end restaurants have elk on the menu. But it is usually Red Deer from New Zealand, due to the lack of supply of elk in this country. A number of producers are just now starting to set up the meat supply infrastructure. We see the end meat market devoloping mostly for high end steaks and specialty meats like salami and jerky.

Now is definately the time to invest in the elk market. With the domestic antler and meat markets just beginning to develope there will be a steady growth market for the next decade to come.



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