I will never forget that magical August day at Stonewood Elk Ranch, located just outside Winnipeg. [caption id="attachment_2258" align="aligncenter" width="415" caption="This curious group greeted us on our arrival. "] [/caption] Travel Manitoba and Heartland Tours took me on this terrific tour as part of a culinary exploration of Manitoba. Here are some amazing facts about elk that I learned that day from Lou Farmer, rancher: 1. Elk antlers are the 2nd fasted growing thing on the world, next to mushrooms. 2. Elk are native to Manitoba. 3. Elk will cross with Ontario red deer, so elk meat from Manitoba is rigorously tested to ensure it is 100% elk. 4. Elk are fully grown at 6 years old. [caption id="attachment_2260" align="aligncenter" width="337" caption="Meet Nibbles. She is tame because she has a bad leg and they adopted her. "] [/caption] 5. Because they're native to Manitoba, ranched elk don't get sick easily. They are free-range and not treated with hormones or chemicals. 6. When it's windy, they like to lay down. 7. If they get too stressed, elk will drop dead! In the photo below is a male Lou & husband Mervin couldn't catch after mating season was over, so instead of stressing him out they let him hang out with the ladies. Smart buck. [caption id="attachment_2261" align="aligncenter" width="415" caption="He's on the far left, you can see his antlers. Watching his ladies, in the wind..."] [/caption] 8. A bull will lose about 300 pounds mating with 40 to 50 females. 9. Mamas will wait for a sunny day to give birth. 10. The fences around the ranch are not only to keep predators out, but to keep predators from getting killed. Elk will stomp to death any wolf, coyote or person who dares enter their territory in the middle of the night. 11. Elk bugle like mystical fantasy creatures. 12. While elk antlers are growing, they are velvety, seen below. The velvet stops growing at the end of August, and that's when the meat is at its best. [caption id="attachment_2263" align="aligncenter" width="415" caption="You can see thick, velvety antlers on these young guys."] [/caption] 13. When you cut the antlers, testosterone stops flowing. (but as per #1, they grow back) 14. Elk antler pills are high in "good" HDL cholesterol, and also help with arthritis. 15. Elk meat has very little fat and is higher in iron than beef. Many farmer's markets carry elk across Canada. It is extremely delicious, but don't overcook. The lack of fat means it needs less time on lower heat. 16. Stonewood Elk Ranch is a massive, free-range wonderland of elk on 400 acres and they love to give tours and talk about raising elk. 17. Sometimes, elk are our friends. [caption id="attachment_2264" align="aligncenter" width="415" caption="Nibbles and I had a moment. "] [/caption] Have you ever eaten elk?