About Backyard Bison
Although I am the fourth generation of my family to live on this farm, I am the first to raise Bison (American Plains Buffalo).
It all began at my friend's wedding, which was held on his family's farm where they raise some Bison (as well as other conventional crops and livestock). I knew the Bison were very hearty, their meat was healthy and delicious, and there was little waste (because their hides, fiber, bones, etc. are also marketable), but I hadn't considered raising them on my farm. At the wedding, my twin daughters had just learned to walk well, and they spent most of the day leading me to the Buffalo pasture to watch these magnificent beasts. On the drive home, I realized that they may be on to something. I began to research Buffalo and decided to give it a try.
In 1999, after almost two years of planting grass pasture, building Buffalo fence, visiting other Buffalo ranches and much research, we finally purchased our first six Buffalo (four to raise for breeding and two for meat). By the end of 2000, we had twelve Buffalo here, and in March of 2001, we opened a store on the farm to sell our home-grown meats. Our Buffalo herd now fluctuates from forty to fifty head and we also sell at local farmers markets.
These Buffalo are such amazing creatures, that I would continue to keep some here on the farm even if there was no demand for their meat.
We raise and sell the most tasty, most tender, and most healthy meat that I know of. After visiting over 30 Buffalo ranches in eleven states, and sampling lots of Buffalo meat, we combined the ranching methods from the ranches with the healthiest livestock, and the tastiest, most tender meats, and that's how we raise our Buffalo.
Our Buffalo meat is slightly sweeter than beef, and is not wild or gamy-tasting. It is lean, but not dry (juicy, but not greasy), and it does not shrink like commercial beef. It is so good I typically eat it twice a day...I can't get enough of it.
Our meat is also USDA inspected. Federal law does not require UDSA inspection of Bison meat, but I choose to do this, even-though I need to pay extra for the inspection. Do you know that Beef producers get FREE USDA inspection? Bison are the ONLY cattle native to North America, and we need to pay for our inspection. I'd sure like a member of the U.S. Congress to explain that.
How we raise our Buffalo
Our Buffalo are ranch raised with care. We do not give hormones, steroids, antibiotics or commercial cattle feed to our livestock, and we do not use herbicides or pesticides on our pastures. Our entire farm is fenced into eight pastures, and we make most of our own grass hay on rented local farmland. We also buy some local grass hay from farmers and fields that we know well. The Buffalo eat some hay while grazing, but the hay is most important for winter feeding. Hay is simply grass that has been preserved by drying. The Buffalo in the wild, eat the dried prairie grass in the Winter. We also feed "green-chop" when necessary. This is grass that we harvest with a flail chopper then transport to the Buffalo and feed "fresh". This is very helpful when we do not have enough pasture due to drought, etc.
We use a common-sense approach to raising Buffalo. We have never fed our Buffalo any of the feed ingredients suspected of causing mad cow disease, and we have never fed our buffalo any waste products, animal by-products, urea, Rabon, brewers grains, or distillers grains.
Our breeding program is all natural. We do not use artificial insemination or cloning and we also do not castrate our meat bulls into steers. Our calving is in sync with nature and usually occurs in May. This is when the pasture is at it's best so the mother cow is getting her best nutrition to prepare to get bred again, and also to make good milk for her calf.
Our Buffalo are humanely raised and slaughtered. Because they are wild (not domesticated), any stress will cause meat quality problems. When you enjoy a piece of Buffalo meat that is tender and tasty, you know it was from a healthy and content Bison.
Some people ask if we are an "organic" farm. The law says that things are only organic if they are certified organic. We are not a certified organic farm and we do not want to be certified. There are certified organic farms that feed diatomaceous earth to their livestock and they mix soap in the livestock's drinking water ...I do not understand what is natural about that?
I keep using the word "natural", but this is another "buyer-beware" term. Federal law defines natural meat as "a product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed," so basically, any commercially raised raw-meat in the grocery store, can be labeled as "natural."
Grass-fed is another misleading marketing term. Technically, ALL beef and dairy products are "grass-fed". Even grain-finished cattle in feed-lots, and high production confined dairy cows, are fed some grass in one form or another (typically grass hay). Now there are some farms that say they do not feed any grain to their livestock, but, even pure grass farms, are going to have grass seed heads eaten by their livestock either on pasture or in the hay, and grass seed heads are grain. Another thing to consider is that many "grass-fed" farms use haylage or baleage, which is grass that has been preserved by fermentation in a silo or in airtight plastic. This is a widely accepted practice for livestock feed, but haylage or baleage is not found naturally by animals in the wild, so 100% grass-fed does not mean that livestock necessarily received a natural diet (We do not use haylage or baleage at Backyard Bison). Other non-grass items commonly used on "grass-fed" farms are alfalfa, sugar beets, and turnips. The USDA has recently created some rules for labeling meat as "grass-fed", however, there is some controversy over these rules and The American Grassfed Association is not satisfied with them. At Backyard Bison, we heavily use our grass pastures, and we feed a lot of harvested grass (hay and green-chop), but we are not a pure grass farm. I have read a lot about grass vs. grain, but, if you visit the wild Buffalo in our National Parks, you will see them occasionally nibbling on the seed-heads of the prairie grass. Seed heads are grain, and we do supplement with some grain as necessary. We use lower protein grains, which are more similar to the grass seed heads the Buffalo eat in the wild, and, to ensure the quality of our feed, we grind and mix it ourselves. Our Buffalo are not force-fed anything.
I guess you will not be surprised that I don't like the term "free-range" either. Any animal in a fenced in area is not free-range (in my mind). Realistically, it is the twenty-first century, and we need to have fences to keep people safe from livestock and to keep livestock safe from people. Even Ted Turner, the largest land owner in the U.S., does not have enough land to let his Buffalo roam naturally where ever they want to go.
And last but not least is the term "chemical-free". Even the most pure, naturally raised, organic meats, fruits and vegetables contain the chemical compound Dihydrogen Monoxide. You can read more about this at www.dhmo.org/facts.html . Yes, this may seem silly, but it is true.
Okay, so now you know why I don't like to use trendy buzzwords and vague marketing terms to describe our farm and meat products. I'm happy to tell you in detail how we raise our Buffalo, and you are welcome to visit our farm Store or simply drive by the farm to see for yourself. Our farm is on the corner of two public roads, and our daily farm operation are done in plain sight. And if you still have a question, just ask us.
Backyard Bison - 685 Crowthers Road - Coopersburg PA 18036 - (610) 346-6640
Return to www.backyardbison.com
This web-page was first published on March 31, 2008.
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