Elk Meat Production and Consumption on the Rise

In the Midwest it’s not uncommon to see farms filled with cows, pigs, or even sheep, but it’s a little foreign to come across hills covered in elk.

Elk are slowly making appearances at restaurants and farmer’s markets around the state of Iowa.

I took a visit to one of the few elk farms in the state, then a local restaurant that prepares elk, to ask what prompted that decision. I also spoke with an expert about the health benefits of eating elk.

The Antler Ridge Elk Farm

It was 2001 when Antler Ridge started to raise elk on their ranch, but it wasn’t an easy decision. Owners Bob and Karen Thuerauf took a long time thinking about different forms of agriculture for their 40 acres of land.

They wanted something that would make money, and elk have numerous avenues of opportunites. Karen listed things such as selling them as breeding stock, selling the meat at the meat market, saving the hides and making leather, selling the two ivory teeth each elk have, making tables or lamps out of hard antler, using the hard antlers as dog bones or knife handles, using the velvet antler in pills for arthritis pain, using their hallow hair to put on bobbers for fishermen, and making belt buckles or clocks out of the buttons, which are the ends of the antlers that fall off every year.

The Thuerauf’s main income from these animals comes from their involvement in the farmer’s markets in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.

These are the prices for the meat sold at Antler Ridge.

These are the prices for the meat sold at Antler Ridge.

They load up one of their deep freezers, which is packed full of different sections of the animal, into the back of their truck. Then, they take a trip to the farmer’s market, and plug the freezer into a generator.

Karen said there are no other elk farmers in Iowa who sell elk like they do at the farmer’s markets. They even have customers coming with coolers to be filled, or who want to make shipments of meat across the country.

“It’s exciting to see it grow, and have the same people coming back,” said Karen. “Some of them start to come with their cooler on wheels, and you think, ‘All right!’, it’s really great. We even have one lady who sends a big box to her parents every Christmas in Washington DC.”

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Selling to Restuarants

When it comes to selling their meat to local restaurant owners, Karen says it’s not something that they do a lot of because they want to sell directly to the people. They do, however, sell their meat to the Sanctuary Pub in Iowa City whose specialty is the elk meatloaf.

Another restaurant in the area that uses elk is Vesta in Coralville. Their meat comes from another elk producer out of West Burlington, Iowa.

The owner, Seth Hershey, said that he wanted to go outside of the box with his menu items, and there is a gentleman he knows who raised elk, and so the decision was to have it on the menu.

One item you can find is the Elk Rueben.

The reasoning was, “[The gentleman] was doing a product he wasn’t selling a lot of, that was the pastrami,” said Hershey. “He was trying to do cold cuts, and I wanted to do something else with it, so, I like ruebens, and Elk Rueben it was then!”

The Nutrition Value of Elk Meat

One thing that Karen and Hershey both agreed on is that elk meat tastes a lot like beef, but is actually healthier and leaner.

Dr. Kathy Mellen, a Registered Dietitian and lecturer in the Department of Human Physiology at the University of Iowa said that elk is indeed a healthier option than most other types of meat.

This data is according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It refers to how a 3-ounce cooked portion of elk meat compares with other lean meats in the nutrition department.

This data is according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It refers to how a 3-ounce cooked portion of elk meat compares with other lean meats in the nutrition department.

“Elk is typically considered a game, or wild meat,” said Mellen.”And, the more an animal moves, and the leaner that animal, the leaner the meat. Meaning, less fat, and in particular with meat it’s the saturated fat that we are concerned about.”

The meat is lower in fat and cholesterol, and higher in protein and iron. The fat doesn’t marble through it like in beef.

Karen said that she uses elk meat in all of her recipes that ask for beef because of the similar taste.

The taste of the elk meat has a lot to do with how the meat is prepared as well. Because it is so tender and moist, Karen suggested to cook the meat at a low temperature to avoid a leathery product.

The Future of the Elk Industry

Elk meat is still a foreign thought to many consumers around the area, but because of the health benefits and increasing availability, it is something that could be making a known presence on menus and in farmer’s markets.

The Antler Ridge Elk farm owners said they love what they do, and have every intention to grow their business even more.

“It’s really a lot of fun, and it’s something different all the time,” said Karen. “It’s kind of funny when I walk though the stores, because you hear ‘Hey mom, it’s the elk lady!’ and all you do is laugh.”

 

Contact Information:

Bob & Karen Thuerauf

194 Rogers Grove Rd. Ely, IA 52227

319.848.7653 or 319.360.3701

thueraufelk@southslope.net

 

Seth Hershey

849 Quarry Road Suite 100, Coralville, IA 52241

319.33.VESTA or 319.338.3782

www.vestaiowa.com

 

Kathy Mellen, Ph.D., R.D.

Department of Health and Human Physiology

E128 Field House Iowa City, Iowa 52242

319.384.4568

www.uiowa.edu/~hhp

An Interview on Meat with Midori Gingerich- HyVee Dietitian

Brianna Sudrla:

In recent years there has been a sparked debate about the industrialized meat market and whether or not the new methods are causing negative affects on the health of it’s consumers.

Today I am speaking with Midori Gingerich about this issue.  Midori is a registered dietitian at the Coralville, Iowa, Hy-Vee.

Well thank you for talking with me today about this Midori.

Midori Gingerich:

Sure!

Brianna:

Just to jump right into it, my first question was do you believe that food additives affect our hormones and our health?

Midori:

A long time ago we didn’t even have to worry about that because people grew their own food and made their own product, and we weren’t as concerned with the hormones and additives and things that were added into food. And, as we become more industrialized in this country, that has become more of an issue. It may affect our health. There definitely needs to be more research done on the topic.

Brianna:

Does meat like chicken’s with added steroids to make them grow faster and larger have an affect on our bodies?

Midori:

They have done some studies where they kind of linked that the steroids in the chickens is leading to early puberty in girls, but there’s been semi links. It has not been concrete I guess I would say. So, they definitely need more research in that area is what I was picking up on. And also, what else is different in their environment than say 10 20 50 years ago as well? So is it just the hormones or is it other things we’re doing in our environment as well? But, “A” more studies need to be done, and “B” finding out what are the other causes or other things that may be causing that as well too.

You know being aware of those kinds of things, and trying to choose the lean cuts of beef as far as for our health more whole foods, staying away from the fattier cuts of beef as well.

Brianna:

Do you think there are certain types of meats we should sort of steer clear from?

Midori:

As far as health, we want to be choosing the leaner cuts of beef like a loin or a round cut is going to be our more lean cuts. It’s not that I can’t have that porterhouse steak, but definitely monitoring how often I’m having it and what’s my serving size. But, just making sure we’re getting a variety too. I mean you can eat lean beef everyday and that’s great lean beef can actually be very good for the heart, but also making sure we’re getting in the omega-3’s from the salmon, and getting some variety in with the pork, the chicken, and the turkey as well.

Brianna:

Okay, would you say meat is still essential to our diet though?

Midori:

Um, yeah! Meat is definitely still essential as a part of a well-balanced plate and a well-balanced meal. I mean obviously meat fits in as part of the protein portion of our diet. And, there’s other things besides meat that we can use for well-balanced protein source, but meat does offer a lot of vitamins and minerals. I mean there are people who are vegans and vegetarians for different personal reasons and that’s not a bad thing. It’s definitely about them getting a balance in their diet. But, if someone was going strictly vegan or vegetarian strictly because they think it’s healthier, you can still have a very healthy diet incorporating meat. Beef for instance, since I’m talking about that one, has a lot of iron, has B vitamins, B6 and B12, it has phosphorus, and zinc. It has a lot of essential nutrients that we wouldn’t find in our beans and starchy vegetables and things like that.

Brianna:

When purchasing meat is there things we should look out for?

Midori:

We used to think that it was the big thing was looking at the cholesterol in the meat and food in particular for it’s effects on our heart health. We’re finding more and more cholesterol, it is important we want to monitor how much cholesterol we are taking in through dietary means, but one thing that is even more of a factor is saturated fat. So checking out for the saturated fat content in the different cuts of meat, looking for more of those lean cuts, watching for the portion sizes, or remembering the size of the palm of my hand, or the size of a deck of cards that’s one portion size. Typically your fresh meat coming out of the case, it’s again less processed than the frozen or the canned ones.

Brianna:

So which meat do you buy and eat?

Midori:

All of the above to be honest. I’ll do the lean beef, but I do chicken, turkey, salmon and fish, here in the Midwest we don’t eat enough of that. Just trying to get the lean cuts of beef, get the plain cuts, and then I season it up when I go home too. I can marinate it myself at home, and then I know exactly what’s going on my food too.

Brianna:

What lunchmeat would you recommend to college students who makes sandwiches three times a week?

Midori:

Yeah, yeah! And lunchmeat is a great source of protein. It tends to be, well depends what kind you buy, but there’s like the roast beef, there’s the chicken and turkey, they’re leaner cuts of meat, which is great. So I would say sticking to more of the sliced lunchmeats.

Brianna:

Well thank you for taking time out of your day to talk to me, I really appreciate it.

Midori:

Yeah I’m glad it worked out!

**For more information on Midori Gingerich, please visit her profile on the HyVee webpage**

**Below you can find the full unedited interview**