As part of the vet program we are required to complete 12 weeks of placements at different animal facilities before the end of our 2nd year. The placements can be at intensive or extensive farms, boarding facilities, zoos, wildlife centers, etc. I was lucky enough to get a plane ticket back home to Canada for my winter break in July. I decided to do some outside farm work while I was home because Albertan summer is so beautiful!!
I spent about two weeks working on an elk ranch with about 210 adults (expecting 75 calves at the end of the season). Starting out, I thought I had a decent knowledge about elk from just generally growing up in Canada and spending tons of time in the mountains growing up. Ranching and farming elk is totally different and so interesting! I learned so much from this placement.
Elk is commonly used for meat and EVA (elk velvet antler). The ranch I was on was raising elk for EVA which has been used for thousands of years as a part of traditional Chinese medicine.
A lot of people don’t actually know what velveting is… put simply: Velveting is cutting off the antlers at the velvet stage (when they are fuzzy and before they calcify and become hard antlers) and then freezing them in order to retain the blood and useful components before processing. The antlers are then made into pills/capsules or slices which can then be taken or used in teas. EVA is used to treat arthritis pain, enhance immune system, etc. etc. Farms that raise elk for EVA often send the animals for meat as well. During my placement I learned that Canadian produced EVA is in high demand in the international market as well and we are trying to increase our product in both China and Korea.
There has been research conducted on EVA that shows both positive and negative results of the effects. Here is one article which shows that EVA has antioxidative effects and presumed health benefits:
Kim, E., Lee, W., Moon, S., Jeon, Y., Ahn, C., Kim, B., . . . Jeon, B. (2009). FREE RADICAL SCAVENGING ACTIVITY BY ESR SPECTROSCOPY AND NEUROPROTECTIVE EFFECT ON H2O2-INDUCED DAMAGE IN PC-12 CELLS OF ENZYMATIC EXTRACTS FROM KOREAN ELK VELVET ANTLER. Journal of Food Biochemistry., 33(6), 895-912. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezp.lib.unimelb.edu.au/docview/46467863?accountid=12372
And here is another article that shows that EVA had no beneficial effect on muscle growth and sports performance:
Syrotuik, D. G., MacFadyen, K. L., Harber, V. J., & Bell, G. J. (2005). Effect of elk velvet antler supplementation on the hormonal response to acute and chronic exercise in male and female rowers. International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism., 15(4), 366-385. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezp.lib.unimelb.edu.au/docview/47718499?accountid=12372
I actually really enjoyed my time working on the elk farm and learning about another agriculture industry in Alberta; I hope to work with elk again one day and if I do I’ll be spending more time thumbing through research articles.
During placement I also helped with the moving of elk between fields, rounding up for velveting, and feeding (all on the quad). I was continually surprised how much calmer than cattle the elk appeared to be. I especially noticed this while we were running them through the chute and into the squeeze. An elk squeeze is designed different from a cattle squeeze because elk hold their heads up rather than down (like cows) and so the squeeze must be accommodating to both this and the large antlers they have.
Towards the end of my time back in Canada I attended part of the 2015 Alberta Elk Expo. The most interesting part for me was helping to score the hard antlers. We measured the length of each tine, the circumference of the beam, assessed the symmetry, identified non-typical tines, and the overall quality of the hard antlers.
So 2 weeks of placement down and it was great! I’m thinking dairy or pigs next 🙂
P.S.: To my dear Australian friends who I love very much…