It’s been a long winter in Alberta and hopefully we have seen the last of the cold. Just last week it was -25 in the morning outside of Millet. Wow, central Albertans haven’t had this much snow and cold in late March in over a decade. However, apparently spring “is here” and the temperature warmed up this week. Birds are coming around that we haven’t seen since last fall. The sun is higher in the sky and we are ready for the cycle of life that begins every spring. Farmers are particularily ready after slowing down their operations over the cold season.
In the world of elk farming husband and wife team Lijkele and Nynke Miedema need no introduction, especially in Alberta. The Miedemas are based just west of Millet and their operation stretches across a number of farms all the way across QE 2 highway. At any given time they carry approximately 300 elk and 60 bison. Originally from Holland they “came to Canada as a young married couple in 1983 with a dream to farm and raise a family. They are happy to say that Canada has made their dreams come true, and they feel blessed to call Canada their homeland”.
Lijkeke was born into farming as his Dad was a farmer in Holland. For the first few years after arriving in Canada the Miedemas worked for somebody else in the farming business. In 1990 they took a chance and got their own beef operation going in the Pipestone area. Five years later in 1995 they decided to try elk after learning some elk farming tips from people they had worked for. They started off small with 15 bulls and 17 heifers. Part of their reasoning for trying elk was “they are easy to farm and they are native to North America. They do not need shelter or straw pack, and as long as they have some bush they are happy.
“There is a strong market for elk and bison which is as close to organic as you can get”. The Miedemas raise elk for the velvet first and the meat second. “The velvet is harvested in June and July and gets exported to Asia via Hong Kong China where it has been used for centuries. The meat is popular in North America but also in Germany and Dubai. It is very lean meat so it is geared.
for today’s lifestyles where people are concerned about healthy choices”.
Lijkele and Nynke do not need to advertise. At this point they have a lot of contacts and a solid reputation. Elk and bison demand outweighs supply in today’s marketplace which is a good thing for elk and bison farmers. However if you would like to try some of their product you can go to Huckleberry’s in Wetaskiwin, or go to Normand’s Restaurant on Jasper Ave in Edmonton.
Winter has been kind of slow and involves mainly feeding. This time of year the bull elk are dropping their buttons and new antlers are starting to grow. “We harvest the antler after roughly 65-70 days of growth”. A bull can grow up to 60lbs of velvet. The elk are seasonal breeders with the rut happening in September and October. This writer and his family can attest to that, as they have listened to the Miedema’s elk bugling day and night outside their windows as was the case last year. Never mind watching the occasional standoff between dominant bulls. When you see firsthand how athletic these animals are it makes you wonder that the Miedemas better know what they are doing when they handle these animals or risk serious injury or worse, and they do. The elk calf out at the end of May or middle of June. The Miedemas “also artificial inseminate to get the best genetics for our herd and when we handle the elk we provide safety for our animals and us. We use a padded squeeze and elk are raised behind an 8 foot high pagewire fence”.
Lijkele, Nynke and their family enjoy farm life. They like the “freedom and being outside with nature, and the farm is run as a family affair and keeps us close”. Lijkele joked that “he wasn’t any good at school”. Lijkele is a very smart man and you realize that when you talk to him. Lijkele and Nynke are very friendly down to earth easygoing people. It is not often in this stressed out guarded world that we live in, that you meet such people as the Miedemas. They see a “good future in this 100% agricultural industry and hope to pass on elk and bison ranching to our children and grandchildren. It’s a source of income and we love the lifestyle” Now if Lijkele can just stop “hauling his wife out of the house in the middle of the night to harvest velvet”.
Good luck to Lijkele and Nynke Miedema as they start off the 2013 season of elk and bison ranching.