State's largest elk ranch keeps growing

Friday , July 04, 2014 - 10:15 AM

Standard-Examiner staff

WILLARD — Just head straight north from 2nd Street in Ogden about seven miles on U.S. 89 and, boom, you can’t miss it as the state’s largest elk ranch continues to grow.

Some 800-plus elk ambling about in a field of alfalfa fenced right up to the highway. Spring has sprung, summer surfaced and the “velvet” is showing. Some of the antlers are up to a foot long now, but still with their downy felt skin.

But come fall the noise will wake some of the neighbors as those racks get to be the size of kitchen chairs. But more on that later.

Since it opened in 2010 the White Peaks Ranch here has quickly, and quietly -- they don’t advertise as a roadside attraction -- become by far the state’s largest private elk preserve.

Annual head counts were due at the end of June to the Department of Agriculture from the state’s 35 domestic elk “farms,” as the enabling statute calls them, as well as Utah’s 12 elk-hunting parks.

White Peaks is both. While its address is formally Willard, it covers some 4,000 acres, including tracts in southern Idaho, according to its web site.

The Willard enclosure abutting the east side of U.S. 89 is a square-mile field of alfalfa.

Final numbers haven’t been reviewed, but Cody James, head of livestock inspections for the ag department, which includes the elk farms and parks, said White Peaks now tops 800 head, mostly bulls, at the Willard acres.

Other fenced pastures in a remote area several miles to the west of the Willard site hold several hundred more of the White Peaks elk, he said, mostly cows and calves. Those sites are less visible since they don’t front on any state highways.

Barely a handful of the other elk operations around the state have more than 100 elk, James said, and none come close to White Peaks.

He had high praise for Randy Marriott, a Plain City contractor who owns White Peaks.

“People complain about the noise during the rut, the mating season, in the fall,” James said. “Randy takes care of them.” He’ll move animals around, close off pastures, whatever needs to be done to keep residents happy, he said.

“I don’t know how the Willard noise ordinances are,” James said. “But with that many bull elk the noise can be a problem.

“It’s one thing in the wild, hearing that when you’re camping. But trying to sleep at night is a different matter when it goes on for two or three weeks.”

A big part of “elk farming,” as the 1997 enabling statute labels it, is selling antlers to the Far East, ag officials say. Oriental cultures ascribe to them medicinal purposes, such as aphrodisiacs.

In five to seven years, the racks, which shed and grow back annually, are likely as big as they’ll get. At which point the beast’s value peaks as a trophy animal rather than for antler harvest, officials said, or the slowly growing market for elk meat.

So hunting is also a money maker. White Peaks’ hunts generate fees from $4,000 to $10,000 for guide-led, three-day hunts with a 100-percent success rate, as the ranch websites guarantee.

Contact reporter Tim Gurrister at 801-625-4238, Follow him on Twitter at @tgurrister

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