HOLLISTER — Behind 8-foot fences, hungry eyes watched Phillip Rosen in anticipation of the next meal.
As Rosen drove a tractor load of hay into the enclosure Aug. 10, cow elk and their calves approached. Most hung back until a bale was unloaded into a rubber trough. But one cow with curious eyes went straight for the hay on the moving tractor.
“An elk cannot live off just pasture grass,” Rosen said. So he also dumped supplemental pellets into long feeders.
Nearby, the bull elk were also contentedly chewing. Soon, they would shed their velvet and begin their annual bugling for mating season, just feet from Rosen’s house.
“I never thought I would be attached to ‘em,” the longtime hunter said. But there’s nothing quite like that sound.
He had the property outside Hollister, and he had the connections. When Rosen’s best friend asked him to board his elk five years ago, Rosen agreed to do it. He keeps telling his wife he will get out of it, but so far, it hasn’t happened.
And it probably won’t.
“I love ‘em,” he said.
Rosen continues to hunt elk every year because he can’t bear eating his own herd. But many of his customers are also hunters — ready to secure their winter freezer supply so they can afford to be pickier when on the hunt.
All the elk on P-T Elk Farm have been born and raised on farms. Rosen had 42 elk in early August.
Several of the largest 4-year-old bulls were ready for transport to a hunting ranch in Riggins, to eventually become someone’s trophies.
“It sounds odd to me to even pay for such a thing,” Rosen said. “Some boys back East have never seen an elk.”
The smaller bulls are kept at the farm until they grow larger. But the cows are either kept for breeding or sold as meat.
Rosen said he sells only about four to six cows a year for butcher. He encourages interested customers to reach out to Don Scarrow at butcher shop Scarrow Meats in Jerome, who usually has a full elk carcass for sale. They can also call Rosen at 208-404-1555.
The packaged meat typically sells for $6 a pound.
The farm-raised elk, he is told, is more tender than elk that are hunted in the wild — probably because “they have no mountains to climb.”
P-T Elk Farm also sells goat and rabbit meat.
Rosen has no immediate plans to change his operations, and he typically has no shortage of interested customers.
“It just kind of happened,” he said. “It wasn’t a thought-out thing to do it.”
Sort of like a plan to let free-range rabbits graze his property resulted in more than 200 of them? Not quite. He doesn’t expect his elk farm to get much larger. (Separate pens help.)
For now, he’ll continue getting the regular fence inspections required by Idaho Department of Fish and Game, to ensure the animals don’t mix with wild herds. And his wife can have her goats.
FILER — Counting sheep might not be easy at Life Spring Farms south of Filer.
Beyond a large house under construction, you’ll find fields of grasses and purple flowers. The short, woolly animals grazing there are a bit trickier to see; nearly camouflaged in shades of cream and brown, the sheep pick around the summer pasture, walking alongside a small herd of friendly, curious cattle.
The hearty, long-haired Icelandic sheep was farmer Lynn Schaal’s breed of choice based on a combination of wool, meat and milk.
Schaal’s lamb is certified organic, which requires him to follow federal guidelines and have his farm inspected every two years. The sheep must not be exposed to genetically modified crops or chemicals.
“For the most part,” he said, “it’s not a huge problem.”
What’s perhaps more challenging is keeping up with demand. The sheep come into heat only once a year. It can range from the end of September to the first part of February. Schaal spreads out his breeding program as long as he can so restaurants can extend the season.
Schaal got into sheep as kind of an experiment. About nine years ago, Schaal’s church was doing a project in Bulgaria involving sheep. So he decided to test the Icelandic sheep breed to see how difficult it was to raise.
After starting with only six sheep, he has built a flock of around 120.
“Iceland is a pretty harsh environment,” Schaal said. “So they’re tough.”
Schaal sells organic Icelandic sheep and beef, on the hoof or transported to your local butcher of choice. The Icelandic lamb is considered something of a delicacy in Europe because of the flavor of the meat, Schaal said.
“The meat is very mild because there is little lanolin in the wool,” he said.
That makes it ideal for people who don’t enjoy the taste of lamb.
It’s been tough gaining support from restaurants, but several in the Magic and Wood River valleys have been convinced — now equating to about 70 percent of his business. Many offer the lamb only on special. Twin Falls Sandwich Co. has purchased the “lamburger” — lamb hamburger — in years past, Schaal said.
Nourishme in Ketchum also carries cuts of his lamb, and Schaal sells some ground beef on his own.
The ewes he keeps have a high percentage of birthing twins. Schaal raises them until they are 8 to 12 months old. By then, they’ve grown to an average of 90 pounds. He typically charges $180 for a live lamb, with a $10 charge to drop it off at your butcher of choice. The butcher’s fees are usually around $100 per animal, he said.
To order, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit lifespringfarms.com.
Life Spring Farms has sold organic beef, but that’s about to change. From an equipment perspective, it made more sense for Schaal to continue with only sheep instead of making some hefty repairs. So he decided to sell off the remaining cattle and expand his flock.
“We’re going to build to about 400 ewes,” he said.