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Professor Griswold, Elk Farmer

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
December 8, 2010

A 900-pound bull, one of two on the Velvet Pastures Elk Ranch in Lee.

A looking-for-more-in-life moment is how Lou Ann Griswold became an elk farmer. She wasn’t doing the looking, her husband was, but his new dream became hers. And all because of a story on National Public Radio.

Griswold, an associate professor of occupational therapy at UNH, knew her husband, Jim, wanted something that would help get him out from behind the desk. The price for doing well in his career as a hydro-geologist ended up putting him there and he wanted to get back in the field. That NPR program he listened to one morning did the trick: the guest on the radio show was an elk farmer.

“He listened to it and said, ‘that’s it; that’s what I want to do,” Griswold says.

At the time, around 1999, elk were valuable because of the velvet antler market, used in Asian cultures for its natural source of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate.

After doing the research, the Griswolds bought a 56-acre farm in Lee and, in 2000, six pregnant elk from a farmer in Cornish. For four years, they were in the velvet antler business, harvesting the antlers annually, freeze-drying the powdery substance and shipping it to Korea. Then, an outbreak of chronic wasting disease led Korea to shut its international shipping market. So, the Griswolds turned to raising grass-fed elk for their meat.

Today they have a herd of about 40. The females are kept for breeding; the males go off to slaughter. The bulls are between 850 to 1,000 pounds. Full-grown cows are smaller, about 450 to 650 pounds. Newly born calves weigh about 30 pounds.

The meat is sold at the Durham Market Place and at farmers’ markets, and at the Griswold’s farm, Velvet Pastures Elk Ranch, on Wednesday Hill Road.

The elk’s food comes exclusively from the farm’s pastures. No growth hormones or antibiotics are used and they live in a natural, range-free environment. The acreage is protected by a conservation easement, allowing the Griswolds to retain open space and promote sustainable agriculture in their community.

Elk meat is lean, with just 0.7 to 1.0 grams of fat, high in protein and low in cholesterol. Medallions run about $12 a pound (prices vary), round roasts, $11 a pound and chops, $18 and tenderloin, $22 a pound.

“The elk are the perfect animal for farmers with full-time jobs,” she says. “You don’t have to bring them in at night. When Jim said he wanted to buy a farm, I said ‘fine but no cows, no chickens, no pigs—nothing that requires care three times a day.’”

The couple’s daughters, 19 and 22, have benefited from living on an elk farm, she adds.

“I think it has made them aware what it takes to raise the food we eat,” Griswold says. “They’re very picky eaters; they eat healthy, locally-grown food.”

At the same time, the family has benefited from the elks’ social interactions.

“During the calving season, one elk will stay with the nursery while the others graze, and then one will come back. They take turns taking care of the young,” Griswold says. “And
elk are very playful. The little ones will literally play tag. They chase each other. All those reindeer games—it’s true.”

For more information and directions to the farm visit http://www.velvetpastures.com/home.html

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