By JOAN COLBERT
Meat is easy to find in southern Indiana. We have the animals you might expect: cattle, hogs, sheep, turkeys, and chickens. We have the wilder fare: deer, pheasants, grouse, and small game. And then we have elk. “Wait. Elk?” you ask. Well, yes. If you haven’t tried elk, it may be time to treat your palate to a new taste of Daviess County.
Joe and Lois Knepp own a farm in Barr township with sheep, baby calves, Rhode Island Red chickens, sheep, Percheron and Belgian draft horses to help perform heavy farm tasks, and standard bred horses to pull their buggies. And let’s not forget Rupert, a shaggy, diffident St. Bernard, a dog who calmly goes about his business.
In a large pen not far from the house you’ll find something unexpected. A small herd of elk came to live on the Knepp farm eight years ago. LaWayne Knepp, Joe and Lois’s youngest son, likes the elk the best of all the animals because they are unusual to find on local farms. It doesn’t hurt that they only need to be fed once a day.
Lois and I met at her spotless kitchen table in her well-kept home. She not only farms with Joe, but also serves delicious Amish meals to groups and has written regularly for a number of publications over the years. Today though, Lois was sitting on the other side of the table and being interviewed.
Elk were not part of the original plan. Initially, the Knepps built pens for deer, but a neighbor suggested that elk might be easier to handle than deer. So the Knepps enlarged the pens with a rebounding fence some 6 to 8 feet high to contain the larger animals. Elk is one of the leanest and highest protein meats available. According to Lois, elk meat is sought by people who have heart issues, want to lose weight, or have allergies. It’s potentially even healthier for you because Joe and Lois do not treat their elk with hormones.
The elk herd rotates among five pens. It has grown from one bull and three calves just two years ago to a bull and six cows today. Each June, the Knepps look forward to two to three new calves.
The elk are not wild. They are hand fed. Each animal receives half a gallon of grain once a day. It’s a tasty mix of molasses, corn, and beans. They also have access to grass year-round, supplemented with hay in the winter “It’s not good to overfeed the cows (female elks over 2 years of age),” Lois said, “because if they are overweight, it’s harder for them to give birth.”
As you might expect, hand-raising animals comes with its own set of chores. Most of them can be performed without entering the enclosures. There is the daily feeding, as we mentioned. The feed troughs are close to the fence, which helps minimize the feeding time. In the winter, Joe and LaWayne break up ice in the troughs to make sure the elk have available water. Also, the farm has an optional shelter for the elk to use. When calves are born, they are ear tagged within the first 24 hours. Otherwise, the herd does not require much interaction.
One of the harder parts of hand-raising stock is to part with animals you have come to know so well. But it must be done. When they are 3-4 years old, the elk are taken to a USDA-monitored processing plant in Celestine, Indiana.
If you’re looking for lean meat raised by good people and you’re up for trying something out of the ordinary, you may want to visit the Knepps and choose some of their hand-raised elk cuts. Their operation is another of many surprises pleasant to find so near home.
For best results, call to visit the farm:
2555 N 1050 E, Loogootee, IN 47553
Open Monday through Saturday