Local Elk Ranch garners state and international accolades
In a matter of just eight months, local Elk ranchers Leonard and Diane Witscheber and granddaughter Alyssa Shockman, have made their presence well known in the realm of state and international competition. In the wake of garnering every possible award during the Wisconsin Commercial Deer and Elk Farmers Association Convention (WCDEA) in January, the trio proceeded to the Aug. 4 North American Elk Breeders Association Convention (NAEBA) in Fargo, North Dakota.
Each convention hosts elk meat competition in four categories; deli meat, jerky, snack sticks and summer sausage.
The trio not only topped the competition at the Marshfield-based state convention; claiming first place in each category, but also took home Best in Show.
Alyssa, Diane and Leonard have competed in the state convention since 2008. While enjoying an award or two each year; 2018 marked the first year they swept away every award up for grabs.
Spurred by the success at the state level, the trio decided to take a chance at the international level.
“I wasn’t sure what to think when I seen how many competitors were at the convention in Fargo. There were participants from all over the US and Canada!” Diane adds. “I remember telling Leonard how I would be happy to win just one award, if any.”
Leonard, Diane and Alyssa would go on to win three of four possible awards at the international level; placing first in deli meat, jerky and snack sticks. They would also claim the “Best in Show” award at the North American convention.
Leonard and Diane founded River Birch Ranch in 2000, east of Merrill on Balsam Avenue.
“We are both retired, so this all began with bringing in four elk to have on our property for something to look at in the backyard. Then in 2002, we decided to have one of our elk that wasn’t getting along well with others, butchered. We liked how the meat tasted so we decided to start raising them and selling the meat.”
It was then the ranch became a post-retirement endeavor for the Witschebers.
From four elk in 2002, to an average of 30-40 elk to date on their ranch, Leonard, Diane and Alyssa are seemingly humble of their success over the years.
“It feels great to win awards! But we just enjoy raising them,” Leonard explains.
“It’s not something many folks do or even know about,” Diane adds. “I’ve always felt we have great products, but it’s nice to know other people agree!”