U.S. producers hope to promote elk meat market

by Max Rust

Practitioners of a popular ranching trend packed up their small city of information booths Sunday and departed Minneapolis, wiser to the rapidly expanding elk-breeding industry.
From breeders to pill distributors to those who sell elk semen, aficionados of the deer-like animal attending the North American Elk Breeders Association Exposition last week in Minneapolis had their hopes fixed on a common vision: the potential U.S. market for pills made from the animal’s antlers.
Used for 2,000 years in Asia as medicine, ground elk antlers are finding a niche in the U.S. as food supplements and pain relievers.
When taken, certain components found in elk antlers heal tissue, promote healthy skin and act as anti-inflammatory agents, say promoters and researchers of velvet antler. “Velvet” antlers are so named because breeders cut them off the elk’s head toward the end of the antlers’ annual life cycle when they are large and appear to have a velvet coating. At this stage, the antlers are said to be most potent.
Like everyone at the expo, Peg and Gary Otte would like to expand the U.S. niche market for elk-antler products.
The Ottes are Minnesota-based distributors of AnVel, a brand of velvet antler pills. Minnesota is one of the largest elk-producing states.
On Saturday, the Ottes shot an infomercial that will air first in Minnesota and Florida, then nationally.
Peg said they picked Florida as a preview audience since many of its residents have arthritis, an ailment promoters say is a prime target for the sulfate-rich velvet antler.
However, a growing number of youth are becoming interested in the pills, too, Peg said.
“Sometimes, the younger people might not notice the difference quite so quickly as an older person because it’s such a gradual thing that occurs,” Otte said. “But when they notice it is when they quit taking the product. Then they realize that they felt better while they were on it.”
In recent years, elk antlers have increased in value, selling for $45 a pound on average. A normal bull can produce 16 pounds of antler in one year and might live into its late teens.
Elk are raised in some industry hotbeds, such as New Zealand, for their lean meat in addition to their antlers. U.S. producers are hoping to similarly promote elk meat.
“I’d like to say we have a meat market, but it’s pretty much non-existent at this time,” said Jim Kotschevar, an elk breeder from Paynesville, Minn. “But it’s important for us to establish that market because these animals don’t live forever.”
For now, Kotschevar hopes the demand for elk antlers explodes in the 10-year-old North American industry.
“The Chinese have used the velvet antler for over 2,000 years for medicinal purposes,” he said. “We have come to understand and realize that we have such a large potential here in the United States.”

Max Rust covers community and agriculture and welcomes comments at [email protected].