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Groen's hobby becomes full time elk farm

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 02/05/2013 4:21 PM

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BLOMKEST, Minn. —Scott Groen describes his elk operation as a hobby that became a full-time venture.

It's not as if he didn't have enough to do when he purchased his first elk in the mid 1990s. The Blomkest farmer had a 225 sow farrow-to-finish operation and a quarter section of farmland to keep him busy.

But he needed a change.

Groen had developed allergies. He would begin itching once he went in the hog barns, he said. Between his allergies and asthma, it was difficult to attempt even fun things with his son.

When doctors tested him for 72 allergies, he failed 30. Hog dander was among the allergens causing his troubles.

His parents, Bud and Joan, moved to the farm when Groen was just three months old and set up a beef operation. Groen showed the family's Charolais in 4-H.

After high school graduation, Groen took over the farm and built his hog herd. He also handled crops while his father continued to raise cattle. In 1988, Bud and Joan moved off the farm to manage Kandiyohi Lake Park 1. Groen married his wife, Sue, and continued to raise livestock and crops.

Eventually the cattle were sold. Less than a decade later, after Groen's allergies were diagnosed, the farm needed a new focus.

Groen was drawn to elk, he said.

"It was something different to have," he said. "And they take care of themselves."

He purchased his first animal in 1995 and sold the hogs as he built the elk operation. By 1998, the pigs were gone, Groen said.

The hogs once made up 90 percent of the farm's income. But Groen found equally profitable markets for the elk. Sales from breeding stock, antlers and to hunting preserves now makes up 75 percent to 90 percent of the farm's profits.

"Farmers around here laugh about it, but it's true," he said.

There are two markets for antlers — velvet and hard. Groen cuts the antlers off at the velvet stage. This is the pre-rut stage and the antlers appear slightly furry. Buyers like velvet antlers, he said.

Velvet antlers, once cut, are held upside down and frozen to preserve them. Groen collects antlers from other elk farmers and sells them to Chinese buyers. Some elk, like his two breeding bulls, naturally shed their antlers. The bulls rub the velvet, which will be sold as "hard" antlers.

In the early years, the Groens traveled to many elk shows to enter antlers in competition. They received numerous awards especially for the antlers from one of their first bulls named King. His antlers scored 500 inches, a measurement that combines the circumference, spread and other factors. Undeniable was another bull who recorded high scores. Those bloodlines remain within the herd.

The herd is raised on pasture, which is divided into paddocks surrounded by eight-foot high fencing. The animals receive a grain ration that changes depending on the animal's age. The ration is mostly oats or soybean hull pellets, corn, distillers grain and an elk mineral. Pastures make up 60 acres of his land, he said. The rest is planted in corn and soybeans with about 13 acres chopped for silage.

Bulls are kept until they reach about six years of age when they are sold for breeding or to hunting preserves, he said.

He has 130 total head in his yard, he said. That's down from his early years and he doesn't anticipate increasing numbers due to heavy regulation within the cervidae industry.

Any elk that dies must be tested for Chronic Wasting Disease, he said. If they aren't, the farmer could receive a $250 fine. The same testing must occur for elk at hunting preserves. CWD tests aren't required for beef or wild animals.

In his roughly 18 years raising elk, the herd has never tested positive for CWD.

"All I'm asking for is fairness in testing," he said.

The Groen's son, Cody, is a junior at St. John's University and is considering returning to the farm. Daughter Shelby is a freshman at St. Benedicts and daughter Libby is a freshman at Renville County West in Renville.