Increasing the herd
Elk farm starts as friend’s suggestion

By GAY GRIESBACH - For the Daily News

Nov. 4, 2014

Described as domesticated wild animals, a bull at Bugling Pines Elk Farm keeps
a wary eye on strangers Saturday.
Gay Griesbach/For the Daily News

TOWN of ASHIPPUN — At Bugling Pines Elk Farm, thick-necked bulls are coming off the rut season.

They raise their heads, topped with towering antlers and beat a hasty retreat to the far end of the paddock, bugling and chirping a wary welcome to visitors. “Elk are a domesticated wild animal. If you feed them every day, they get used to you, but they’re not like llama, where can go up and pet them,” Brian Wolf said.

When it comes to raising elk, Wolf, a part-time pharmacist and his wife Vicky, an instructor at Waukesha County Technical College, found the best advice is handed down from one rancher to another.

The couple had no plans for the land when they bought a 21-acre farm in the town of Ashippun.

“My wife wanted an old farmhouse and I wanted view of Holy Hill,” Brian said.

Then a friend, Glenn Stumpf who owns Stumpf’s Trees in Cedarburg, suggested a use.

“He said, ‘Brian, why don’t go into raising elk?’ I thought, you’ve got to be crazy — what do I know about elk” Wolf said.

Coincidentally, a month or so later, he saw advertising for a tour of an elk farm.

“It was $8 per person and I thought, ‘why not take the tour?’” Brian said.

Impressed with the herd, Brian struck up a conversation with the owner.

“It wasn’t like dairy or raising crops. This seemed a lot simpler,” Wolf said.

He met John Gooch and joined the Wisconsin Commercial Deer and Elk Farmers Association.

A former board member of the organization, Gooch invited him out to his Sullivan elk farm.

“John was very helpful. Unless you know what you’re doing, you need to rely on people in the business,” Wolf said. Wolf started the herd in 2002 with 10 females.

“I thought they were all pregnant — they weren’t,” Wolf said.

The second year he bought a bull and his herd increased by 10 calves. Since then he’s used artificial insemination to upgrade the genetics of the herd but finds the birth rate is higher using bulls.

Brian Wolf walks between double fencing Saturday at his town of Ashippun elk farm.
Gay Griesbach/For the Daily News

The animals needed hay, which Wolf had learned to make growing up on a hobby farm. He bought barley and oats and put out salt and mineral blocks.

He takes water to the animals using a tank and gator-type vehicle.

“Trenching out pipes would have been smart thing to do. I’ve probably spent triple on gas in 13 years,” Wolf said.

He may have economized on his watering system, but not on fencing.

As members of the deer family, elk are susceptible to chronic wasting disease and all domestic herds are monitored.

Wolf’s elk are surrounded by an 8-foot high tensile wire fence and there is a second fence 16 feet away from the first.

“White-tail deer with CWD can’t get close to my animals,” Wolf said.

As his herd increased, he began to look into farmers markets, where he sells elk snack sticks, steaks, roasts, burgers, jerky, Velvet Antler capsules, hard antler and tanned elk hides at the Brookfield farmers’ market and the winter Oconomowoc farmers’ market.

V. Wolf  
Gay Griesbach/For the Daily News

He also harvests pre-calcified velvet antler, an ingredient used in traditional Chinese medicine, for Korean and other markets.

Just as Wolf learned from other ranchers, he passed his knowledge along to Paul Jaffke, town of Grafton.

Jaffke took over the herd from Tim Kaul about three years ago.

Kaul, who had been battling cancer, asked Jaffke if he would be interested in taking over the herd.

“Two months later, he was gone. It was a fast transition, to jump in and take over a herd,” Jaffke said.

He heard about Wolf and went out to look at his operation and keeps in contact, trading techniques comparing philosophies and talking prices.

“He’s been in the industry longer than I have — Brian is definitely a mentor,” Jaffke said.