By JAKE LAXEN
St. Cloud Times
BOWLUS, Minn. (AP) _ The meat Mark and Lisa Luedtke raise on their farm is considered venison.
But it’s probably not the type of venison you think, the St. Cloud Times (http://on.sctimes.com/1GMpzqA ) reported.
“Everyone in this area only thinks of white-tailed deer as venison,” Mark said.
The type of wild game meat the Luedtke’s raise is elk. They call the operation Luckyland Elk Farm and raise them naturally on an old 120-acre dairy farm.
“We use it instead of beef in everything,” Lisa said. “Burgers, tacos, spaghetti _ you name it.”
According to a Department of Agriculture study, elk is leaner, has fewer calories, less cholesterol and more protein than beef, pork and skinless chicken. Luckyland sells elk in quarters, halves and full portions at about $4 per pound at hanging weight.
Locally, the Good Earth Food Co-Op at 2010 Veterans Drive N offers cuts of elk meat from Doraisamy Elk Farms of Garfield. Luckyland also has been featured previously at Good Earth.
“People who fry up a pound of (ground elk burger) for the first time are surprised that they don’t have to drain the grease,” Mark said. “It’s just that lean. And it’s not gamey at all.”
Mark, a registered architect who last worked at Nor-Son Inc. of Brainerd, turned in his slanted desk to spend more time with his two daughters and run the farm full time at the end of 2013.
The Apollo High School graduate first got into raising elk in 2004 after moving back to Central Minnesota from Montana and buying the farm with Lisa, an Upsala High School and St. Cloud State University graduate.
“I had really enjoyed hunting for elk while living in Bozeman, Montana _ but actually at the time I had no idea people raised elk,” Mark said. “When we got this land I started researching it and just got intrigued.”
A 2014 USDA census reported that Minnesota led U.S. elk production and was home to 141 elk farms that combined raised more than 4,200 elk.
“Our climate and pastures really cater to elk,” Mark said. “Our winters don’t bother them at all. In fact, they like the cold a lot more than they like summer.”
He said elk can thrive on marginal land. The average space needed to raise one cow can raise three elk.
Mark, who also breeds elk on his farm to sell around the country, said there’s recently been a “peak in the marketplace.” Bulls typically grow to over 1,000 pounds and cows to about 600 pounds.
The Luedtkes also harvest the elk antlers and won nine awards last summer at the North American Elk Breeders Association and International Antler competition. Antlers can also be turned into medicine _ Mark takes daily doses of the ancient remedy popular in Asia to combat arthritis.
“We’ve just fallen in love with the animal,” Mark said.