Roger and Barb Rogotzke's children have moved on to college and to careers away from home. But you really can't call them empty nesters.
They've got lots of nature around them - elk, deer, chickens, just to mention some of natural inhabitants of the Minnesota River valley.
Their herd of 26 elk are usually quiet. Occasionally, communicate with each other with a series of high-pitched chirps, mews, neighs or nasal whines that signal a calf to come out of hiding and suckle.
Roger Rogotzke feeds his elk pitchforks of hay and nutrition pellets.
Rogotzke hand-feeds hay and pellets to a pair of elk cows.
“Rolo”, a bull elk, weights about 1100 pounds and is Rogotzke’s highest-ranking elk, (475 Boone & Crocket score), that Rogotzke has ever raised in 15 years.
But this time of year, early and late in the day, you can hear a squeaky series of sounds known an elk bugling, which can be heard for miles. Elk bugling is among nature's most distinctive sounds, somewhat similar to the howl of a gray wolf.
Mature bulls compete for the attention of the cow (female) elk and will defend females in their harem. Rival bulls challenge opponents by bellowing and pacing back and forth-allowing challengers to assess the other's antlers, body size and fighting ability.
Bulls that don't back down will likely wrestle antlers, which may cause serious injuries to the others. They may dig holes in the ground, roll around, and urinate on themselves, creating a smell that attracts cows.
One elk bull stands out among the rest of Rogotzke's herd of 26-Rolo. He'll like stand in a pasture alone, marking his territory. Rogotzke said Rolo weighed about 1,100 pounds before rut began in early September. Since then, he's lost about 50 pounds and could lose up to 200 pounds due to expending more energy during rut.
Rolo was rated 475 Boone and Crocket. The Boone and Crocket Club was founded in 1887 by Theodore Roosevelt and some of his friends to address the decline in wildlife populations on a national scale. It is now a non-profit organization dedicated to hunter and conservation ethics, education and demonstration.
"He's a monster, coming from my small elk herd," Rogotzke said. "If I don't sell him, I'll enjoy keeping him for breeding."
Elk antlers can weigh up to 40 pounds and grow up to four feet in length before they are shed in late winter and grow back in the spring. Elk antlers can grow up to an inch a day, making them the fastest-growing bone of any mammal.
"They all have their own personalities," Rogotzke said about his elk.
They have extreme wide-angle vision, able to see both sides and straight ahead simultaneously. Elk have an exceptional sense of direction, with an unusually strong ability to stay on migration course even in a driving blizzard, according to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
Like cattle, elk are primarily grazers but also browse, eating about 20 pounds of vegetation daily, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Rogotzke feeds his elk hay and pellets. He harvests elk velvet antler that is popular for its medicinal value in China, Russia, Korea, Manchuria and Mongolia.
In the United States, elk velvet antler is becoming more and more popular for its naturally-occurring amino and fatty acids, minerals including magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron and phosphorus.
Other elk velvet antler ingredients are structural lipids or fats, collagen (a protein fiber substance of the body's connective tissue), glucosamine sulfate, anti-inflammatory agents and proteoglycans, considered important for joint cartilage and elasticity.
More human medicinal benefits of elk velvet antler, according to U.S. producers include fortifying the immune system, fighting liver disease, blood enrichment, increased energy levels and aiding mood disorders.
Elk and other game meat meat is considered to have a less calories, less saturated fat and a significantly higher percentage of cholesterol-reducing polyunsaturated fat than domestic meat. Game meat is believed to reduce the risk of developing arteriosclerosis, one of the major causes of heart attack and stroke, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In addition, North Dakota State University surveys show that carcasses of domesticated animals have 25 to 30 percent fat while the average fat content of wild game is 4.3 percent.
Story, photos by Fritz Busch