Schuster raises elk for burgers
There is an item on the menu at Schooter’s Bar and Grill in Winnebago which patrons won’t find in other area restaurants.
What is even more unusual is that Schooter’s owner David Schuster raises the elk himself on a farm just east of Delavan.
“It (Schooter’s Bar and Grill) gives me an outlet for selling my elk meat,” Schuster says. “Besides cooking the burgers, we also sell frozen elk steak, roasts, and burgers.”
Schuster started raising elk long before he became the owner of Schooter’s Bar five years ago.
“I started in 1993,” he recalls. “Steve Smith, of Blue Earth, and I went into it. Steve had heard the elk meat market was expanding.”
It wasn’t cheap to get into when they first started.
“I had to put up eight-foot-tall fences, around my 50 acres,” he says. “Then there were the feeders, a forklift, and other equipment.
Not to mention the cost of the elk.
“My first two cow elk were $7,000 each,” he says. “The first bull elk was $2,500. Of course, that was when elk was at its peak.“
Schuster recalls the hey days of the mid-1990s. He sold some of his cows (female elk) for up to $8,500 each. One of his bull elk went for $15,000.
“I went to an auction up north one time and saw a bull go for $59,000,” he says. Then there is the famous story of a trophy bull elk being sold for $1 million, with his semen sales so valuable he was worth that much at the time.
The elk meat market didn’t grow as expected, and prices dropped.
But, then came the antler market.
“The Koreans started buying elk antlers at outrageous prices,” he remembers. “The price shot up to $115 per pound for the antlers. Now, though, it is about $5 per pound. Quite a drop.“
That is why Schuster no longer keeps many bull elk at his place. At one time, he had well over 200 elk, including many bulls.
Now, he has 45 cows, and one bull. And, the bull, Buster, is more of a pet than anything else.
“I raised him, bottle-fed him, and I guess I will keep him here until he dies from old age,” Schuster says. That could be another 10 years for Buster.
One of the females is also a pet, and Schuster has named her Joy. She follows him around the yard, and steals the mittens out of his coat pockets when he isn’t looking.
“I think she thinks its funny,” he says. “They are a lot like children.“
Schuster says the antler market got to be so good at one time that there were over 250 elk farms in Minnesota alone, and almost every state had at least one.
Harvesting the antlers was tricky. It had to be done at a certain time, when the antler was still covered in velvet, and full of blood.
The antlers were cut off and immediately stored in freezers.
To read more of this story, see this week’s Register.