Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By C.M. Swanson
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Father, son team mark success in elk business


Klint Wylie

These bull elk roam the land at Wolf Creek Elk Ranch in Sturgeon Lake. The ranch has developed a line of supplements made with dried velvet antler.

It was the majesty of the bull elk that caused Craig and Klint Wylie to create Wolf Creek Elk Ranch in Sturgeon Lake, and the opportunity of a growing business that kept them there.

"The way we got started was, I came home from high school one day and my dad said, 'What do you think about an elk ranch?'" said Klint.

Father and son began to think about the idea in earnest. After researching buffalo, deer and elk, the Wylies decided to build the elk business.

"I wanted to raise something native, not imported. Buffalo are hard on people. During the time I was looking into which kind of business I wanted, two people were killed by buffalo, one in South Dakota and one in Minnesota," said Craig.

Research also revealed that elk had four markets: breeding, meat, ranched (selling animals to game preserves) and velvet antler. When the Wylies started the business in 2000, there were about 280 elk ranches in Minnesota hosting over 12,000 elk. Minnesota had more elk behind fence than any other state in the United States.

Taking on the new business involved a huge career change for Craig.

"I spent about 40 years in the trucking business, and I had my own logistics company," said Craig, "but this is a lot more fun!"

Once the decision had been made, Craig acted immediately ... almost too quickly considering he bought the first of the herd before he had land to raise them on.

"I had already bought 29 bred cows," said Craig. "I had no place to ship them so I was kind of panicked. Kathy, my wife, and I came up to look at this place on a Thursday and bought it on Saturday.

"We knew nothing about fencing but were blessed with great neighbors. The Larsons, our neighbors across the street, helped us take down all the barbed wire that was here. I contracted with a guy to put fencing on 15 acres. Then I took delivery of the 29 cows."

Craig and Klint adapted a "learn-and-adapt-as-you-grow" attitude that has been the foundation for the success of Wolf Creek Elk Ranch. Of the four markets in elk, the Wylies focused on velvet antler and its many and varied uses in health care. A line of supplements was developed for pets. Antlers calcify in the fall to grow hard and shed and are manufactured into unique dog chews.

Subsequently, Wapiti Labs, Inc., a company based in North Branch was created. The focus of Wapiti Labs is sales of pet supplements to distributors, retail pet stores and consumers.

Personal testimonies from grateful customers are a source of encouragement and pride for all Wapiti Labs, Wolf Creek associates and the Wylies. One of the first stories remains a favorite.

"The vet we had gave our supplements to a local lady who had an overweight yellow lab that she brought in to be put down because she couldn't carry it outside," said Craig. "The vet recommended that she try the supplements. It's good for joints and arthritis. The lady called back in three days and said the dog was chasing the mailman again."

Thousands of testimonials continue piling up from across the country.

Wolf Creek continued to develop supplements from dried velvet antler, and eventually, added natural herbs for humans and pets.

"We have researched and asked countless people and found no known side effects with our product," said Craig.

"We just went to the National Animal Supplement Council Convention in Tampa a couple months ago," said Craig. "There I found out we have the only joint compound that has naturally occurring glucosamine (used to ease joint pain caused by arthritis and hip dysplasia) and chondroitin (a popular supplement for osteoarthritis) in it for pain relief."

Two trips to China by father and son provided an additional Eastern education for the uses of natural herbs also used in Wapiti Labs products.

Though pet products have been the mainstay for Wolf Creek, sales of human consumption products are on the rise.

The Internet business continues to grow. While the Wapiti Labs website is a resource for sales, Craig states that online retailer buyers are becoming the largest customers.

Klint Wylie and Lora, his wife, are now the primary residents and daily caretakers of Wolf Creek Elk Ranch. They have provided Craig and Kathy, who moved to McGregor, with grandchildren. Craig remains active in the business.

The Wylies have added an additional 80 acres in recent years and steadily increases the herd, which now numbers 160 elk. All animals are certified disease free by the Minnesota Board of Animal Health and are registered with the North American Elk Breeders Association.

The herd is closed, meaning all animals are born and raised on the ranch with no imports. This reduces the chance of illness and keeps disease to a minimum. The ranch has never had a case of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and continues to maintain a current CWD-free certification, which is one of the most important reasons to keep a closed herd.

C.M. Swanson

Craig Wylie stands behind Lora and Klint Wylie who are seated with Georgianna, their 3-year-old daughter. Oakley, the couple's 18-month-old daughter was not available for the photo.

Natural and artificial insemination methods are used to optimize the genetic pool of the herd. The animals are grass fed from Wolf Creek pastures in the summer and from local hay in the winter.

"What they eat for 98 percent of the year is within 10 miles of where we're sitting," said Craig. "They do fine on grass. They are three times more efficient than cattle. That's why, in 13 years, we never picked up one ounce of manure. What comes out goes right back into the ground. In fact, when we've had the soil tested, they say this land is extremely high in organic matter."

As Wolf Creek Elk Ranch and Wapiti Labs grow (now employing 15 people), so does society's awareness of the benefits of supplements.

"I think people are becoming more aware of the realities of what we eat and the pills we take," said Craig. "These supplements aren't anything I invented. I'm just providing them to people who may have never heard of them before."

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