About Backyard Bison
History of Backyard Bison
Although five generations of my family have lived on this farm, I am the first to raise Bison (American Plains Buffalo).
My fascination with Bison began at my friend's wedding, which was held on his family's farm where they raise Bison. 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 the kids may be on to something. I began to research Bison and soon realized that I needed to do this.
In 1999, after almost two years of planting grass pasture, building fences, visiting other Bison ranches and much research, we finally purchased our first six Bison (four to raise for breeding and two for meat). By the end of 2000, we had twelve Bison here, and in March of 2001, we opened a store on the farm to sell our home-grown meats. In 2002 I started taking my freezer trailer to local farmers markets. Our Bison herd now averages around fifty head.
Bison are the only "cattle" native to North America, so it is the ultimate "Heritage-meat". But, the primary reason why I think Bison are so special is that they are still wild and have not been domesticated and bred for production (like beef cattle have been for thousands of years). Because Bison have not been "modified" by humans, they still are extremely hardy with their natural immunity and disease resistance (for example Bison do not need to be vaccinated for the respiratory diseases common in beef and dairy cattle). Also, Bison were "built" to be outside in extreme weather conditions and do not need shelters from blizzards or blistering heat (they grow a thick Winter coat then shed it for the Summer). When the Bison cows (breeding females) are raised naturally, their productive life is 3 to 5 times longer than beef and dairy cows (because they are not "pushed" hard for production), and the Bison have their calves naturally without human assistance. The Bison also still have all of their survival instincts that served them well for a few hundred thousand years. What all this means to you, is that, not only are the Bison genetically more natural than any other beef breed, but with Bison there is no long term cumulative problems from anything that farmers may have done over thousands of years. For example; my Bison never get antibiotics, and their ancestors did not get antibiotics, but many beef cattle do get antibiotics when young, and their "beef" ancestors got antibiotics, but their beef can be marketed as no antibiotics because the animal did not have any immediately prior to harvesting it.
These Bison are such amazing creatures, that I would continue to keep some here even if there was no demand for their outstanding meat.
We raise and sell the most tasty, most tender, and most healthy meat that I know of. After visiting over 30 Bison ranches in twelve states, and sampling lots of Bison meat, I learned the secret to raising Bison to produce the tastiest and most tender meats (see below for how we raise our Bison).
Our Bison 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 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. Beef producers get FREE USDA inspection, while Bison are the ONLY cattle native to North America, and still need to pay approx. $50 per hour to have our slaughter, butchering, and processing inspected if wanted.
How we raise our Buffalo
We NEVER use hormones, antibiotics or commercial cattle feed. 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 in the Summer, but the hay is most important for natural 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 have never fed our Bison urea or rabon or any of the feed ingredients suspected of causing mad cow disease. We have never fed our Bison any animal by-products or any waste products, like spent brewers grains, distillers grains, or even produce scraps.
Our Bison are not force-fed anything, and I'm not even sure that it is possible to force a Bison to do anything that it does not want to do.
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 good nutrition to prepare to re-breed, and to make good milk for her calf.
Our Bison are humanely raised and slaughtered. Because Bison are wild (not domesticated like Beef), ANY stress will cause meat quality problems. When you enjoy a piece of Bison meat that is tender and tasty, you know it was from a healthy and content Bison.
My secret to raising Bison, is to let them be Bison. Many beef ranchers feel that Bison are too hard to control, but I ask why do they need to be controlled? I let them be Bison and I learned that the Bison know more about Bison things than any Human (rancher, veterinarian, biologist, doctor, scientist, author, movie maker, whatever). I've read allot about Bison and Cattle, but after years of carefully observing the Bison I realized that the Bison do not care about the scholarly literature or the latest articles, or marketing buzzwords. The Bison still have their wild and natural ability to know what they need to eat, and to avoid what they do not need or what is not good for them. I am very lucky to work these very special animals that still have their natural genetics and instincts.
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? Some livestock farms even claim to be "beyond organic", but do not even meet the minimum requirements to be certified organic. From what I have seen, it is just a vague and misleading way to charge higher meat prices. Every farmer I have ever seen, does things a little differently. It is crazy to me, to expect to adequately describe meat or ranching methods in just a few words and that is why I have gone into so much detail here about how I raise my Bison.
Grass-fed is another misleading marketing term that I don't use. My Bison eat more REAL grass than most of the Beef marketed as 100% grass-fed. Many farms claim to be 100% grass-fed, but they graze many non-grass plants like alfalfa and clover (legumes), turnips and sugar beets (brasicas), and oats, rye, wheat, and barley (small grains). My Bison know that these "other" plants do not count as grass. I have watched grazing Bison pick out and eat individual blades of grass in a clover patch and leave the non-grass plants behind. Many of these "grass-fed" farms also feed non-grass hay (typically alfalfa). Another common practice on "100% grass-fed" farms, is to feed haylage or baleage, which is grass that has been preserved by fermentation in a silo or in airtight plastic. This is a common 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 received a natural diet (We do not use haylage or baleage at Backyard Bison).
Some farms 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, well, grass seed-heads are grain. I have also observed that Bison do not care about claiming to have a grain-free diet. If you visit the wild Bison in our National Parks, you will see them nibbling on the seed-heads (grain) of the prairie grass. My Bison do not eat any soy beans, or any of the gluten grains (wheat, barley, or rye), but they do enjoy some occasional oats and corn. Some people think I should not let the Bison have corn because they have read some articles, or books or whatever, and I've read the same things, but I'm going to trust the Bison on this one, because if it wasn't quite right, the Bison just wouldn't eat it. Afterall, both the Bison and the Maize (corn) were here in North America long before my ancestors got here (and may be here long after the humans are gone).
I do use 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."
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 may want to go.
And last, but not least, is the term "chemical-free". Even the most pure, naturally raised, organic meats, fruits and vegetables, use and 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, but please stay on the road. I have built the fence away from the road for a reason. If you get too close to the fence, you disturb the Bison's peace, and we don't like that. Please realize that this is a working ranch, and not a zoo.
If you still have questions, 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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