Fresh from the Farm
Tracing the roots of our food
photography: Glen Allison
(page 3 of 3)
CA Bull Elk Ranch
Most days, 51-year-old Gail Ansley, co-owner of CA Bull Elk Ranch in Hazelton, Idaho, straps her four-year-old granddaughter Miah sidesaddle onto her tractor, and herds elk. Talk about a woman who does it all.
The first thing that strikes the eye upon arriving at the ranch is a huge herd of majestic elk grazing peacefully right next to Gail and Calvin Ansley’s home. Inside, the theme remains elk—with a rack of antlers framing an elk portrait, an antler lamp, a hide draped over the sofa, and a small hide and antler rocker handmade for little Miah. This is definitely elk territory.
If you’ve never heard of elk farming, you’re not alone, but it’s actually an ancient occupation. Deer have been farmed for thousands of years and, according to Gail, the most recent resurgence was caused “back in the ’30s, when Yellowstone became overpopulated with elk and they gave them to independent citizens to relieve the park of too many elk,” instead of culling them. Gail’s elk are the descendants of those elk.
Gail Ansley of CA Bull Elk Ranch.
Like cows, elk are raised for their meat, which many say is a healthier, leaner alternative to beef and without the hormones. Gail is determined to be sustainable, so she uses every part of the elk—nothing is wasted. “That’s one of the things we like about elk. You’re not just talking about one kind of commodity.” Her husband, Calvin, who travels working construction to support the ranch, is an artist who transforms antlers and hides into chairs, chandeliers, knives, belt buckles, lamps, bolo ties, pens, salt and pepper shakers—you name it. Calvin uses ivory (actual ivory from the bugling teeth) to make jewelry.
The antler, while it is in velvet, can be ground and used as a food supplement—it is said to help build the immune system and strengthen joints. Bull elk can also be sold to hunting preserves as huntable game.
Gail Ansley more or less runs the everyday farm on her own. She boards her tractor each day to do the feeding, watering and fencing. The feed is all natural, including the hay that she bulldozes into the feeders. Just to break even economically, she also raises pheasants, selling the meat and running a pheasant-hunting ranch on the property.
Some elk meat is sold to restaurants, but there’s a problem of remaining sustainable. Restaurants only want the top cuts—then what to do with the rest?
Ansley is working on the problem by making jerky and summer sausage. She also sells elk burger.
“I think the public in general is becoming more and more aware of their food and wanting to know where it comes from. I know because I’m a consumer as well as a producer. When you go to the grocery store, it’s overwhelmingly obvious that we have become an extremely international market. One example is that it’s almost impossible to buy lamb that’s produced in the U.S.
“I think it’s sad that this is our country and you can’t even sell the product you’re growing. That discourages me because we as agriculture have tried our best to become more affordable over the years. People who have never been to a farm or ranch can’t possibly comprehend what it takes to get that piece of meat to the table. Many don’t understand where it comes from, so there’s a big gap between them and us. And it shouldn’t be them and us. It should be all of us understanding what one another does.”
Looking for Local Recipes? click here to read For the Love of Local: Eat Fresh. Who better to showcase their products than the farmers themselves? From their fields to their kitchens to yours.
Crystal Lee Thurston is a local freelance writer who enjoys local fresh foods, especially those hand delivered by her hunter husband, Ted Dale.