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Once Upon A Time We Farmed Moose

Once upon a time, in a land of long winters and little feed, someone wondered “why don’t we domesticate moose?” Santa and many others in the cold north use reindeer. We could use moose instead of horses out here in the Russian wilderness. They would thrive on the twigs we have, since we have no hay. We could ride them through the snow, with their long legs lifting over the deep drifts. We could use them to pull logs out of the forest. They could take the place of cows, and we could eat them for their meat, and we could milk them, too. Yes! Moose could be perfect livestock for farming and riding and draft.

A Russian Cavalry Office on his War Moose circa 1935.

The Swedish army’s moose cavalry disintegrated on the battle lines when the animals ran to hide in the woods whenever shooting started.  Soviet War Moose, were trained in secret not to be gun-shy.  But when war broke out with Finland, they had not finished their training, and so never appeared in battle.

Not ready to admit failure, the Russians decided to turn moose into cross-country animal transportation for geologists and loggers.  They could eat logging leftovers, and then be milked or eaten themselves.  Unfortunately, It turns out that moose don’t have muscles in the right places to pull logs. It’s sort of like putting in Yao Ming (7’6″ tall former Houston Rockets basketball player) to block for your quarterback. He’s strong, but he’s not wide. And, unlike Yao Ming, moose don’t seem to work in teams. One not-super-at-pulling moose is nowhere near as good as two awesome-at-pulling draft horses.

This is 1898 photo was taken at Athabasca Landing in Alberta, Canada in 1898. Courtesy of Jasper Yellowhead Museum and archives

They don’t work as beef, either. They don’t like hanging out with each other in groups, so they don’t perform well in feedlots.  Mob grazing or any kind of controlled grazing, accomplished by hobbling the moose, or putting them in 6 foot fences and herding them with a horse and whip were also failures.  What about using shock collars?  The moose didn’t feel the shock, yet when the collar was tested on a human volunteer, he dropped to his knees.

A dairy worker attaches a radio tracking collar to a milk moose at Kostroma Moose Farm. Photo by Dr. Alexander Minaev

There’s one more possibility:  a Free-Ranging Moose Dairy!  Animals are tame enough to come when called (using a loud speaker system), but free to roam so that they are happy and productive.  It’s an idea that is in play, but unlikely to take the dairy section by storm. Here’s why:

Moose need a lot of room, some of it forested.  In fact, 10 to 15 moose need 7,500 acres for everyday browsing, and as much as 90,000 as their central home range.  Imagine trying to protect that much land too, because if you don’t you have a lot of happy hunters, but no herd. If the moose get out, they are likely to wreck havoc wherever they go. Don’t forget the power and passion of a moose. Since you aren’t going to really contain them, at certain times of the year, rutting season, or when there are calves about, you have some very strong, very aggressive, free ranging animals. Then, to find the moose at milking time, you have to know where they are. So each moose needs a fancy radio transmitter collar. That’s expensive equipment, and the small amount of milk that moose produce isn’t going to really pay for it.

Milking a moose at Kostroma Moose Farm. Photo courtesy of the Kostroma Farm Web Site.

Milking a moose can be time consuming.  Moose at the Kostroma Moose Farm come in to be milked when they feel like it.  Dairywomen wait for them from 6 am to noon and then from 6 pm to midnight.  Most moose are milked by hand because it takes time to get them used to the milking machine, and clean up is easier for hands than the machine. Daily yield is an average of 2.5 liters per moose (a little over 1/2 a gallon).

Moose calves are taken from their mothers at birth and for the first two weeks they drink moose milk, which is gradually thinned and replaced with a special formula. Then the Kostroma Moose Farm provides milk to the Ivan Susanin Sanatorium where it is used to treat peptic ulcers and chronic gastritis, and as a health supplement for patients undergoing radiation and cancer treatments. (For more on the properties of moose milk visit this page.)

Alexander Minaev, who runs the Kostroma Moose Farm’s website, is very open about the issues with trying to domesticate and run an agricultural enterprise with moose.  Frankly, it’s not something he recommends, and all in all, the problems with working with moose paint a good picture of why we have the kinds of domesticated livestock we have.

But if you’re still thinking, “Hmmmm…..maybe I could solve all those problems and run a successful Moose Dairy,” maybe you ought to take a visit to the Kostroma Moose Farms.  It’s about 500 miles northeast of Moscow, Russia and it’s open from 10 to 3 every day of the year.  Minaev suggest printing off this page from the website and keeping it with you so you can find the farm.  Or take a virtual tour here, where you’ll see pictures of visitors to the farm interacting with the resident moose.

Calves at Kostroma Moose Farm
Kostroma Farm visitors with a Milk Moose.



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