Producing the Finest Farm Raised Elk Meat
European markets for venison and other cervid meats have traditionally been strong and sophisticated. Germany alone annually consumes hundreds of thousands of tonnes of meat from various breeds of deer. New Zealand has created a very efficient system combining wild harvest, farm production, processing, and transport to serve those European markets as well as developing markets in Asia and North America. In fact, the USA is now the largest single market for elk and venison in the world. Hunters have provided limited opportunities to sample wild-harvested elk meat, but these have not always provided the best quality product. This background has provided the challenge for elk farmers to learn how to raise and market the finest farm-raised elk meat.
Through experience and much transfer of knowledge from New Zealand and elsewhere elk producers are developing the required expertise, genetics, processing and marketing systems. Elk is a medium textured, rich tasting and tender meat that has very little intramuscular fat (marbling). In elk, fat is deposited outside of and around the muscle tissue allowing easy trimming and removal. Here’s some of what those producers have learned:
It is better, if the elk is somewhat down in condition at the start of the feeding period, to maximize the deposition of new tissue during the weight gain period. This type of management can make elk cows tender and tasty at any time of year, although they are naturally more likely to put on weight from June through to December. Top-quality meat can be produced from cows up to about eight years of age; much older than for most other types of livestock. Bulls naturally put on weight from late winter until the rut starts in September. After that date, they become very focused on concerns other than food and begin rapidly losing weight. Consequently, the best time period for processing bulls is in late spring and summer, a more narrow time period than for females. The optimum age for processing bulls is also more restricted. Generally, they must be two to six years of age to yield prime meat.
The best method of stunning has proven to be a captive bolt gun on the end of a handle (like an axe handle) about 3 feet long with a trigger at the handle end. These render the elk unconscious with a minimum of fuss and distress.