A Wild Elk Farm: Raising Elk for Profit

A Colorado ranching family has demonstrated for nearly two decades that raising elk on their wild elk farm for the commercial market is more profitable than traditional livestock farming.

| March/April 1986

For nearly two decades now, an enterprising Colorado ranching family has been demonstrating that raising wild elk on their elk farm for the commercial market is more fun than herding cattle or sheep, and can also be an extremely profitable venture. 

At the age of 52, Lou Wyman is everything a half-century of cowboy movies has conditioned us to expect a lifelong western rancher to be-strong, independent, even ruggedly handsome in a Clark Gable sort of way.

Wyman's Wild Elk Farm

And the Wyman ranch — 10,000 acres of lightly timbered Rocky Mountain foothill country perched at 7,000 feet in northwestern Colorado — would also satisfy popular notions as to what such an operation should look like . . . with a cattle-guarded entrance gate located several miles from the nearest paved road; a traditional single-story ranch house furnished with age-darkened antiques; a huge barn with hayloft, its roof sagging with the memory of decades of heavy snows; a log bunkhouse, its interior decorated with hunting trophies and warmed by a cavernous stone fireplace; sprawling pastures watered by a meandering fork of the nearby Yampa River; and a generous assortment of corrals, narrowing chutes, loading ramps, squeezes, and sundry outbuildings — all Wyman-built from locally harvested logs and home-milled lumber.

In fact, about the only thing missing from this otherwise classic Western American Gothic is a lazing herd of lowing cattle. But that's OK, because Lou and Paula Wyman ranch critters that are a heck of a lot more interesting and aesthetic than a bunch of gutbulged cows; the Wyman ranch supports, depending on the season, from 200 to 300 head of wapiti . . . the regal Rocky Mountain elk.

Elk Ranching at a Glance

With the help of a single hired hand, Wyman maintains his elk in three separate herds on their elk farm. The first group consists of 60 or so head pastured near ranch headquarters. These animals are about as close to being domesticated as elk are ever likely to come: When Wyman steers his dilapidated flatbed truck into the big, white pasture early each winter morning to distribute the daily supplemental feeding of alfalfa or grass hay, the pampered wapiti fall in behind the motorized feed wagon as obediently as a platoon of army recruits forming up in front of a chow hall.

The second herd — pastured in a more remote area — is wilder, has the run of a good deal more country, and will line out for yon side of the nearest hill at the slightest provocation. The third and largest herd — over 100 adult animals plus their offspring — has close to 1,000 rolling, aspen-timbered acres upon which to roam and graze, and is, in a practical sense, wild.

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