Amber Elk Ranch is largest elk ranch in Michigan

June 23, 2014

amber_elk_1By Kate Krieger. Senior Correspondent.

AMBER TWP – Boasting over 200 elk, the Amber Elk Ranch, located at 2688 W. Conrad Road is the largest elk ranch in the state of Michigan. With 5.5 miles of fencing surrounding the 130 acres, the ranch is home to many cows, bulls and calves. Owner Bob Northrup is proud to be able to keep the ranch open and striving when so many other ranches have had to close their doors throughout the last 20 years.

“There are not too many places in the world where you get to see the animals we have here,” Northrup said. “We have some of the biggest in the world.”

Northrup started the ranch in 1998 with partner Al Hardman and they got their first elk in 1999. In 2006, Northrup bought Hardman out becoming the sole owner of the ranch.

Northrup has always been an avid hunter and decided to get involved with the ranch after many trips out west to do different big game hunting.

“I just think elk are really cool,” he said. “I went out west and I was around them a lot more.”

The elk continue to be a major attraction in the area and recently some new additions have been added to the ranch. About 40 calves have been born over the last month or so and can be seen with the female cows on the property.

“One male bull is placed with 20-25 cows each year to mate on the ranch,” Northrup said. “The bulls start breeding at a year and a half. Most cows get pregnant yearly and they can become pregnant for 14 years consistently.”

The calves weigh about 35 pounds when they are born and each cow will only give birth to one calf. Northrup stated that the birth of natural twins is only about three percent of the time. The calves are tagged after one day and Northrup said they need to get to them quickly after they are born because after about three days they can be very hard to catch and there is a better chance for the mother cow to try and stomp on the person doing the tagging.

amber_elk_2The most number of bulls ever bred during one year at the ranch has been five and only three were bred this last season. Besides natural mating, some of the elk are also artificially inseminated to improve genetics among the stock. The ranch buys and sells semen, which is frozen in straw-like containers and each straw can sell anywhere from $100 to $300. Northrup also added that most cows are sold around age 8 or 9 with hope that the younger stock is better quality.

Another unique draw to the ranch are the elk antlers. Bull antlers hit their peak growth around 6 or 7 years old and they are becoming very in demand around the world. The antlers boast many uses including medical, decorative and pet-friendly. All bulls shed their antlers each year and the new set end up pushing the old set off, starting the growth process all over again in the early spring. In the spring and early summer, the antlers are coated with a velvet-type material and when the antlers are at this stage, they are very sought after for different medical purposes, especially in the different countries of Asia.

Over the last 2,000 years, different countries in Asia have used the antlers because of their enzyme and vitamin contents and the antlers can be pulverized and made into different types of capsules that are consumed by humans, Northrup said. The antlers are also becoming more popular in the United States, especially for pets.

Northrup said that dogs really enjoy chewing on the antlers and they are very good for their teeth. The nutrients they possess are also good for them. Antlers can be purchased at the ranch’s gift shop and Northrup has started an additional company called Black Diamond, which makes products for dog consumption using pulverized antlers in freeze dried venison meat cubes.

Along with the antlers, the elk meat is becoming more and more popular due to its low fat content and high amounts of nutrients.

“The fat content is about equivalent to that of a skinless chicken breast,” Northrup said.

The ranch is represented at the National Elk Breeder’s Association each year and Northrup stated that they will take different antlers to saw off at the show, which attract many people to the ranch and to purchase elk or elk products. Different styles of antlers are represented at the show including style, size and none-typical antlers.

“People come from other states to visit the ranch,” Northrup said. “The furthest we have sold an elk to is to Texas. About 95 percent of actual elk sales is bulls.”

Northrup is very hopeful by the increase of interest for elk and elk products he has seen in the last few years and he continues to enjoy educating people about elk.

“The elk market is the best I’ve seen it in the last 15 years,” he said. “The demand for meat, antlers and velvet and hunting is growing and the breed stock numbers should follow.”

He said the biggest value in the ranch is that it is something for the entire family to enjoy.

“It’s real and natural,” he said. “You’re in the outdoors with no electronics.”

The ranch is currently open seven days a week with hours 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. In the fall, the ranch will be open weekends through October 19 with hours 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

Ranch tours cost $10 for adults and $7 for children, ages 4 to 12. Seniors get a $2 discount on admission. The ranch also holds an elk BBQ from 5 to 7 p.m. on Saturday nights, which costs $4.99 with a paid ranch tour.

They can also be found online at www.amberelkranch.com or by calling 231-843-5355.

“When you see a big bull elk for the first time, it’s something you never forget,” Northrup said.

 

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