Elk Rancher Makes Natural Supplements
Elk Rancher Makes Natural Supplements

Elk Rancher Makes Natural Supplements

Story and photos by Barbara Minton of Cataldo, Idaho
First published in The Capital Press, July 16, 2004

Drivers pull over and stop, hardly believing they just saw a bull elk with massive antlers 4 feet tall and 5 feet wide grazing peacefully along State Highway 3, just a mile south of Interstate 90.

Elk are indeed majestic, but there is so much more to these wonderful animals says Gary Queen, manager of the Rose Lake Elk Ranch.

June is velvet season on elk ranches across the United States and Canada. Queen watches antler growth carefully on his ranch of about 50 bulls, waiting for the best time to harvest.

“These antlers have healing powers to cure what ails us,” Queen said.

He is now making his own line of nutritional supplements from the antlers of registered Rocky Mountain elk.

Elk Rancher Makes Natural Supplements
Gary stripping velvet

“Quality and cost,” Queen said, is why he started making his own natural supplement on the ranch. He purchased a freeze-dryer a year ago and likes the results. “I now have a better markup cost where other people can sell my line of natural supplements, and they and I can both make money.”

Before the early 1990’s, most elk ranchers sold their velvet to the Asian market for $70 to $100 or more a pound. An elk produces 20 to 40 pounds of antler every year.

Then the Asian market crashed, and it has been tough since. “My stand on it: If the velvet does not bring a profit to the producer or the person selling it, then what’s the point?”

Queen, who has been making his own line of supplements for five years, likes the quality and cost control of having his own freeze-dryer. He now freeze-dries other elk ranchers’ antlers and is selling the product under his label, Rose Lake Elk Velvet Antler. “I am not compromising quality but increasing quantity.”

“The antler is a growing organism when harvested,” Queen said. “That is what makes it so accessible to the body.”

With a tradition that goes back 2,000 years, the Asian market has touted the benefits of velvet for many different types of treatments, including healing and relieving ailments like arthritis, plus what it’s famous for to many in the United States – an aphrodisiac.

After being harvested, the antler is immediately flash-frozen, like a meat or a fish product – at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Then it is put in the freeze-dryer for four to five weeks.

The velvet skin is stripped off the antler, which is kind of a cross between a cartilage and bone marrow, and then it’s pulverized.

Queen is making the velvet into pet chews for dogs or cats.

Elk Rancher Makes Natural Supplements
Freeze dryer

After the antler is pulverized, it is ground into a fine powder. From there, Queen sends a sample off for testing at a laboratory to check for bacteria and mold spores or anything else that would be a detriment to humans. After passing the test, the product is sent off to be capsulated.

Only once did the test come back unusable. Queen said this is normally caused when the product wasn’t frozen right away or the freezer failed.

By producing his own supplements, Queen has been able to increase distributors across the United States. Queen’s distributors include chiropractors and veterinarians.

Although it’s velvet season at the ranch, Queen also manages the 144-elk ranch for the animal’s other benefits, including low-cholesterol and lowfat meat, breeding stock, trophy harvest and the hard antler that artists use.