Is it Bison or Buffalo?

A popular term used commonly to refer to the North American species “Bison, bison” is the word buffalo.  However, technically speaking, there are no indigenous buffalo in North America.  Africa has the cape buffalo and Asia has the water buffalo.  The word buffalo that has come to describe the largest land mammal living today in North America originated with French explorers in the seventeenth century, who referred to the large animals they encountered as “les boeufs” meaning oxen or beeves.  When the English arrived, they changed the pronunciation to “la buff”.  Gradually, the name morphed into “buffle,” “buffler,” and eventually, “buffalo.”  (from The American Buffalo in Transition, by J. Albert Rorabacher).

What do the bison eat?

Our bison graze on grass most of the year.  When the grass in the pastures is no longer sufficient, we feed haylage and hay from our ranch.  We feed Alfalfa to the calves since this is a key growing time in their lives.  We give them a high protein feed that will assist them in growing well.  The bison also forage for blackberry leaves, thistles, wild plums and many other plants they find palatable.  They also receive special treats of apples from our apple trees in the fall.

How are your bison raised?

Our bison live outside in their natural setting.  They roam our fields and love to run into a new field of green grass.  We have just built a feeding system in our lower hay barn for the cows and calves.  They will have the opportunity to get out of the pouring rain and eat hay and alfalfa in mangers in the barn.  The calves have a separate area to eat which is called a “Creep Feeder.”  We built a special door frame that only allows small animals to get through to the feed.  The result is that the smaller animals don’t have to compete with animals two to three times their size for nutritious feed.  Our bison calves are looking really good this fall!

The bison are raised in a low stress handling environment.  There is a popular saying about managing bison: “You can get bison to do anything they want to do!” So giving them lots of time to move through a gate is essential to maintaining a low stress environment.   We will have a yearly handling time when we will vaccinate and tag the new calves and separate the bulls after the mating season.   This will not be your typical cattle round up with a lot of “whoopin’ and hollerin'”.  Our round-up will consist of a small handful of people opening and closing gates, more quiet than yelling, and no use of cattle prods but gentle encouragement to move them along (possibly using food for motivation).

Are the bison ever given antibiotics or hormones, steroids or growth promoters?

We raise the bison in the most natural and healthy way.  We do not give them any antibiotics or hormones or anything that promotes their growth unnaturally.

How are the bison slaughtered and processed for meat?

In 2020, we started to process our retail meat at Mohawk Valley Meats in Marcola, Oregon (outside of Springfield).  The Oregon Department of Agriculture has decided that all meat sold in the retail or wholesale market in Oregon should be USDA slaughtered and processed.  We are now under compliance with this ruling with our retail meat cuts.  This new rule has created new challenges for us as loading wild animals into a trailer is not an easy thing to do.  Bison are wild and will never be domesticated like cattle, sheep, or pigs.

We continue to mobile slaughter bison here on the ranch for those who order a quarter, half or whole bison.  We schedule a mobile slaughter professional to come to the ranch and humanely slaughter the bison.  The animal is then taken down to a carcass and taken to a State of Oregon inspected meat processing facility.  Currently, we are using The Meating Place in Hillsboro.

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