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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bison videos - bellowing and grunting

Ever wonder what sounds a bison makes? Here is one bellowing.

This one is more of a grunt. Check out the tongue!

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

This and That: Blog Updates and a Break from the Daily Grind

Where is Moldova?

Since this blog’s inception in late September, I’ve been amazed at the amount of traffic it’s received from all over the United States and the world. 

Capriana Monastery in Moldova

Visitors from Texas, New York, Louisiana, and Illinois, as well as Moldova,  Pakistan, Egypt, Scotland, and Canada have somehow found their way to my little blog.   It really is a small world!  So, I added a fun feature over in the left panel:  a map that shows where visitors are from.  I just added it a few days ago, so it only includes recent visits, but over time, it should be interesting to see how small this world really is.

Receive Updates Via Email.  At the very top of this page is new feature that allows you sign up to receive an email whenever the blog is updated.  That way, you don’t have to keep checking back in, only to find that nothing new is here.  Between work, family, and sleeping, I sometimes go a couple a weeks between posts, and I surely don’t want to lose readers because of it!  So, please subscribe!  If you prefer RSS feeds, scroll down to the bottom of the page for several more options.

Blogs I Like. I’ve started a list of farm- and animal-related blogs (see the left panel) that I enjoy reading myself.  Check them out; they’re a fun read.

A Break from the Daily Grind

Life can get hectic for all of us, and sometimes we’re moving so fast we don’t even pause to enjoy the small things that create happiness in our daily lives.  So, today I’m paying tribute to the men in my life and some of the little ways they make my life fun.
Ryangoofy Both of my boys are introverts, but around the house you’d never know it.  They are entertainers extraordinaire.  My son Ryan is an excellent mimic, and his imitations of Gollum from the “Lord of the Rings” movies and Peter from the TV show, “Family Guy,” never fail to entertain.  He picks up on little-known phrases from movies and television, funny tidbits that others might miss, and entertains us with perfect renditions. 

100_0666My son Jeff is an astute observer; he notices the little things about people and places, and he’s not bashful about pointing them out.  This has resulted in some very accurate, and very funny, observations.  Some of them are sweet, like “Mom, you smell as good as a popsicle!”  Others are offbeat, like the one uttered with a smile on a foggy winter day:  “The air smells like white toenails.”  Only he knows what that means, but you have to admit it’s original.   

PagebbqMy sweet man—he loves to cook, and he especially loves to grill outdoors.  He’s funny, wise, and good with people.  Since he joined our home, my boys have gained confidence and maturity.  I’ve been a single parent since they were 6 and 5, and I’ve done a decent job, but Page has brought balance--in the form of a positive male influence--into their lives.  As for me, Page makes me laugh every single day.

Happy Buffalo Ranching

A prominent theory in the field of psychology postulates that humans strive for the highest level of their abilities, using their creativity to reach a pinnacle of consciousness and wisdom.  But, humans cannot achieve this level of “self-actualization” until certain basic needs are met, in ascending order:  physiological needs (food, water); safety needs; needs of love, affection, and belongingness; and needs for esteem, both self-esteem and the esteem earned from others.
bisongrazing2 The happiness Page and I get from each other and the boys allows us to dream and reach for that which fulfills our need for creativity and growth.  The excitement of building a business that requires us to learn new skills and think creatively has energized both of us.  Page and I, and even Ryan and Jeff, are all looking forward to a new experience:   happy buffalo ranching!
We cannot really love anybody without whom we never laugh.
-- Alice Reppler

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Give Me a Home Where the Buffalo Roam

There is a reason that cowboys sing about a home on the range “where the buffalo roam.”  Bison are happiest when they have room to roam.  In the wild, they often travel one or two miles per day, foraging for food and water.  As settlers moved west across North America, they encountered the paths made by bison and deer as they traveled between feeding grounds and during their seasonal migration.  Because bison naturally chose the most convenient paths, avoiding muddy flats and other natural impediments, many of the east-west trails were also used by pioneers to travel across country.

Bison drive in snow at Upper Nez Perce Creek; Mary Meagher; 1966Bison migration in snow at Upper Nez Perce Creek; Mary Meagher; 1966

In the winter, the wild bison herd at Yellowstone National Park migrates to lower elevations outside the park in search of winter forage.  These wild bison are seen as a threat to many cattle ranchers in Montana , who fear that the bison may carry brucellosis, a  bacterial disease that affects livestock and wildlife, sometimes causing cattle to abort their first calf post-infection. However, there has never been a documented case of brucellosis being transmitted to cattle from wild bison.  Even so, the practice of “hazing” the bison back into the park occurs every year.
17735 Bison hazing near Undine Falls - 223 bison; Jim Peaco; February 27, 2003 

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

The American Bison is one of the most difficult livestock to keep contained, and can be one of the most elusive to capture.  A loose bison that has been spooked into leaping a fence or crashing through one can wreak havoc on neighboring property.Bison_Jumping_Fence
Fencing is a greater challenge for bison than for any other livestock because bison are so very powerful.  A runaway herd of bison is a formidable force when directed against a containment fence; an individual bison can leap five to six feet from a standing position and will leap a tall fence when motivated.

Strong, reliable fencing is critical for a bison ranch.  Page and I do not want to be in the position of having to round up a herd of scared bison, so we plan to install very tall, super strong fencing.  Bison can be trained to recognize and respect electric fencing; many ranchers start training the bison as calves.  Page plans to use solar energy as much as possible on the ranch, so it is likely that we will power our fence with a solar electric fence charger.

Wherever the location of our new ranch, Page and I hope to be good neighbors in more than just how we keep our bison safe, but also by welcoming our neighbors to the ranch.  We plan to introduce our bison to our neighbors through public events such as a yearly barbecue, ranch tours, and educational activities for kids.  We are thinking about ways we can reward our loyal blog readers, perhaps with discounts on our products.  We recognize the value of a good neighbor and cultivating those relationships will be a top priority for our new venture.

“A bad neighbor is a misfortune, as much as a good one is a great blessing.”  --  Hesiod

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Health Benefits of Bison (Buffalo) Meat

[Readers, stay tuned for a new feature in this blog:  Cooking with Bison.  Page and I will periodically prepare a new bison dish, either from an online recipe or from our own invention and I will write about it here.  We will include photos as well as what we learned during the cooking process and reactions from everyone in the family.  We will cover every cut of meat:  roasts, steaks, ground bison, ribs, everything.  It should be fun!]

Bison meat, sometimes called the “better red meat” has a rich, beef-like taste, often described as sweeter than beef.   Page and I first tasted bison last summer, when he grilled some ground bison for burgers.  The burgers were tender and moist but without that greasy undertaste that you find with ground beef.  Our two teenage boys, burger aficionados, loved them.

Grass-fed bison is lower in both overall fat and saturated fat, and has the added advantage of providing more omega-3 fats.  These healthy fats are found in flaxseeds, fish, walnuts, soybeans and in meat from animals that have grazed on omega-3 rich grass.  When cattle raised for consumption are taken off grass  and shipped to a feedlot to be fattened on grain, they immediately begin losing the omega-3s they have stored in their tissues. As a result, the meat from feedlot animals typically contains only 15- 50 percent as much omega-3s as that from grass-fed livestock.

Nutritional Information about Bison Meat when compared with Beef, Pork, and Chicken

Per 100 gram serving – cooked meat
Species     Fat
Vitamin B-12
Bison 2.42 143 82 3.42 2.86
Beef (choice): 10.15 219 86 2.99 2.65
Beef (select): 8.09 201 86 2.99 2.64
Pork: 9.66 212 86 1.1 0.75
Chicken (Skinless): 7.41 190 89 1.21 0.33

Source:  USDA

Bison Meat Cooking Tips

Bison meat is similar to beef and is cooked in much the same way.  However, the lower fat content means that bison meat will cook faster.  Because fat acts as an insulator, marbling (fat within the muscle) aids in slowing down the cooking process.  Since bison meat lacks marbling, the meat cooks more rapidly and caution must be taken to ensure that you do not overcook it.  Hence, the widespread use of the phrase “low and slow” when describing how to cook bison.

You may use bison in any recipe that calls for beef -- from burgers on the grill, to marinated steaks, to stir fry and tacos.  Just remember that it takes about one-third less cooking time on lower heat than recipes using beef.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Animals Make Me Happy

Any glimpse into the life of an animal quickens our own and makes it so much the larger and better in every way.   -- John Muir 
100_0721This is our cat, Magic Storm.  She is about 10 months old and has been with us for about eight months.  Magic Storm, who has big, green eyes and is small for her age, doesn’t meow like other cats – she chirps and squeaks to let us know what she wants.

We also call her Laundry Cat because if there’s a pile of clean laundry anywhere to be found, she’s on it.         100_0735

Our other cat, Tabitha has been with us for about four years.  She apparently knows I want to take her picture because she’s 100_0740nowhere to be seen.  Tabitha is a big, beautiful blue-eyed girl who has a tiny voice like a kitten and almost never misbehaves.  However, she’s not crazy about Magic Storm, and she shows her displeasure by peeing in my closet.  [Update:  I finally have a picture of Tabitha.  She doesn’t like the flash so she kept squinting, but you can see see a bit of her blue eyes.]  

This is a baby bison.  When we start our ranch, we anticipate starting our herd with about a dozen female bisonbabybison calves.  These calves will grow up and become the foundation for our larger, growing herd.  Bison are wild animals and cannot be “tamed” in the same way cattle or sheep have become domesticated. 


Some experienced bison ranchers advise handling and hand-feeding the calves that are the first members of the herd to establish trust.  These female calves will grow up to become the leaders of the herd from which the others will take their cue.   If the dominant females trust us, then the rest of the herd will follow suit.

We plan to have six free-ranging chickens on our ranch, just enough to provide eggs for our family.  If you’re city-raised like me and you’ve never touched a chicken, you might bchickensincoope surprised at the silky softness of their feathers.   Raising chickens should be an easy task, but I wonder whether Tabitha and Magic Storm will want to catch and eat them.  Tabitha has brought us many small animals:  mice, snakes, lizards, birds, and even a mole.  Will she also hunt chickens?

I like goats; they’re cute, funny, and full of personality, which is why one of the first things Page said about our new ranch is that we will have a couple of goats. 

Page and I plan to raise our bison with love and respect.  We will name each and every one of them, learn about their personalities,  and provide the best possible environment for their growth and happiness.  Yes, in the end, they will end up as someone’s nourishment, but there are methods for this to happen that are humane and respectful of the bison’s place in the natural world.  Page and I have already discussed this and are learning about stress-free and painless techniques for harvesting bison, which I will eventually describe in this blog.  These techniques, and every other aspect of our business, will be a reflection of our overall vision for our new venture.
The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.   --Mohandas Gandhi

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

15 Facts About Bison

1.  Wallowing is when bison roll on the prairie to give themselves "dust baths."  Wallowing creates a saucer-like depression called a wallow out on the prairie. Wallows were once a common features of the plains; usually these wallows are dust bowls without any vegetation.
2.  Once, 50 million bison roamed the Great Plains of North America, but an 1887 census found that the  plains bison were reduced to 541 individuals by overhunting.  Conservation efforts saved the bison from the brink of extinction, but the fraction that remain are either captive or come from captive stock.
3.  Today, about 200,000 bison live on preserves and ranches where they are raised for their meat.
4.  The bison is the largest land mammal native to the Western Hemisphere, reaching heights of over 6 feet and weighing 750 to 2200 pounds. Its bulk, however, does not slow it down. American bison can reach speeds of up to 37 mph.
5.  Bison graze in large herds consisting of females and their young, and are controlled by a dominant female. Males live apart and only enter the female herds during mating season, when the males fight over access to females.
6.  Both male and female bison have horns.
7.  Bison feed on plains grasses, herbs, shrubs, and twigs. They regurgitate their food and chew it as cud before final digestion.
8.  In winter, Bison use their head and hooves to find food beneath the snow.
9.  Despite its seemingly slow, lethargic movements, the bison can outrun a human and leap over barbed wire fences. In Yellowstone, it has killed or injured four times as many people as bears have.
10.  Bison have shaggy, brownish-black hair on the head, neck, shoulders and forelegs; lighter brown hair on the hindquarters.  Young calves are red in color and darken by the time they are about four months old.
11.  The bison's thick, shaggy coat is so well insulated that snow can settle on its back without melting.
12.  Bison mate from June to September, with a gestation of 270 to 280 days. Calves are nursed for 7 to 8 months and are fully weaned by one year.
13.  Females reach sexual maturity in 2 to 3 years, males in 3 years.
14.  Bison live 15 to 20 years in the wild, although they have been known to live up to 40 years in captivity.
15.  Adult bison have few natural predators. Their horns, strong hooves, large size and speed are effective weapons of self-defense against wolf packs and even bears.
Sources:  National Geographic; Discovery; National Park Service

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The Promise of Minnie Jewel

How many people do you know who are living the life they truly want to live, the one that would most bring them fulfillment as well as peace?  Personally, I know very few, maybe even none.

When I was a kid, my mom told me that if she had been a man she would have learned to fly airplanes.  Now, you have to understand that as a nine-year-old who'd seen her mother constantly set aside her own needs to cater to her family, this was a revelation so stunning as to be practically unbelievable.  My mother, flying an airplane?  She didn't even get her driver's license until she was in her 30s.  Even so, I could see by the way she said it that she meant it, and I never forgot it.

My mom grew up in a time (the 30s) and a place (rural Arkansas) where becoming a pilot was a huge dream for anyone, much less a girl who was one of twelve kids and a farmer's daughter.  But, I know that had she seen it as a real possibility instead of an unattainable fantasy, she could have easily done it because my mom is that smart.

Our moms influence our lives in so many ways, so when Page and I were thinking about a name for our new venture, it was natural that we thought of our moms.  Page's mother was in many ways the polar opposite of mine -- fiery, gregarious, hot-tempered -- a temperament one might expect from a direct descendant of the McCoy side of the famous feuding Hatfields and McCoys.  But, in the same way that my mom's quiet, nurturing nature shaped me, his mom's more demanding love made him strong and resilient.

So, with all that in mind, we chose a name for our new undertaking to honor them and to bless our new venture with their different, but equally influential, spirits.  To our moms, Minnie Henrietta Eudora McCoy and Lola Jewel Cassady, we give you our love and our future:  the Minnie Jewel Buffalo Ranch.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.

Before I started this blog, during my readings about buffalo I came upon a story about Native American hunters and their mythological relationship to bison.  According to this article, some Native Americans believed that bison were spiritually aware of their interconnection with humans and that a bison would "give itself up" to a hunter who honored and respected that connection.  Accordingly, Native Americans were respectful of the bison's gifts:  flesh for nourishment; hair for ropes; skins for blankets, moccasins and clothing; and bones and horns for tools, bowls, and spoons.

Our modern culture does not have that close connection to its animal food sources, and it shows in how we treat them.  As I began reading about the current state of bison ranching, I saw that people who raise bison for food and other products generally fall into two camps:  cattle-rancher types who have taken modern techniques and processes for raising and harvesting cattle and applied them to bison; and naturalist types who strive to provide a natural, stress-free environment for their bison, as free as possible from human interference.

In the cattle-rancher model, the bison are treated solely as commodities and so, like cattle, are grain fed while living in confinement for three months prior to their slaughter, to fatten them up.  In the naturalist model, bison roam freely within the confines of the ranch and feed on a variety of pasture and natural grasses, with quality supplemental food offered only during the winter as needed.

I already knew which type of rancher I wanted to be, but I wasn't so sure about my farm-raised, beef-loving partner, Page.  Since we had never actually discussed it, I started wondering if Page and I would have the same values and philosophy about how we wanted to conduct ourselves as ranchers -- our effect on the environment, the care and respect for the animals, and how to balance that with the need to earn money while doing it.  Page and I often poke fun at each other's political and philosophical leanings:  I'm a bleeding-heart, animal-loving, tree-hugging liberal and he's a selfish, hard-line conservative capitalist.  We joke because we know that neither of these stereotypes suits us, even if there is a small grain of truth to each of them.

So, it was with just a little trepidation that I broached the subject with Page.  I described what I'd learned about various methods and philosophies for raising bison and how those methods affected the quality of the meat and the quality of life for the bison.  I tried not to express an opinion one way or another, although I'm sure Page could guess where my feelings would lie.  I even pointed out that some of the ranchers who favor grain feeding say it makes the buffalo meat tastier and more tender.  I paused and waited for a response, hoping that this would not be something that we would have to hash out.

Page turned to gaze out the window as he considered what I was saying, and without looking at me he said "You know, when they do that [referring to grain feeding], it's to fatten 'em up so they weigh more; it doesn't make 'em taste better."  I was encouraged by this response, but still unsure, so I followed up with "so what do you think about grass feeding only?" This time, Page turned and grinned at me; he knew what was going on and was chuckling at my liberal earnestness; my heart started to sink, as I anticipated some smiling but rather callous response about how we're going to be in business and we can't worry about stuff like that.  Instead, he said "I think that's the way to go.  People care about that nowadays."  Turns out that not only does Businessman Page see grass-fed bison as the wave of the future, but he also cares about the effect of our actions on the environment and the well being of the animals.

Happily, one perceived obstacle, that turned out not to be an obstacle, was out of the way.  At that moment, I knew that our venture was another step closer to becoming real, because my partner and I shared a vision that included care and respect for the natural environment and our place in it.

For more information about the benefits of grass feeding, read Grass-Fed Basics by Jo Robinson.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Buffalo or Bison?

The North American creatures that we commonly refer to as “buffalo” are actually “bison.” True buffalo, such as the water buffalo or cape buffalo, are native only to Africa and Asia. It is possible that early North American explorers, unfamiliar with bison, likened them to the more familiar Asian animals, hence the name “buffalo.” In any case, here they are used interchangeably and both terms refer to this beautiful animal.

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The Squeaky Wheel

We've all heard the saying, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” My first memory of hearing it was from my Mom, when she was trying to explain why my two extroverted, high-strung brothers were let off the hook more often than myself and my quieter brother, G. She knew it wasn't “right” but that sometimes it was just easier to ask more of G than of B, because B howled the loudest and longest. Then she sighed.

Why am I thinking of this? Because I have noticed that in my own life, I had to learn the hard way that sometimes it's necessary and right to be the squeaky wheel, even when, or maybe especially when, it isn't in your nature.

Two nights ago, I had to visit the ER. I won't go into details about why, but let's just say that I had plenty of time to observe my fellow sick people during the long wait in the ER lounge, and by my observations, I was not the sickest one there; I was second in line for that honor. After waiting two hours while in excruciating pain and having to run to the public restroom several times to vomit, I decided to muster up the energy to become the Squeaky Wheel. And, in less than ten minutes I had a bed to lie down on. But, two days later and feeling much better, I began to think about the woman in the ER lounge who appeared to be the sickest one there, and how she and her husband waited patiently while she sobbed quietly in pain. I sit here wishing that her husband had become the Squeaky Wheel for her so that she could have at least gotten a bed to lie down on while she waited for a doctor.

So, how does this relate to bison ranching? I'm not sure exactly, but I think it has something to do with a willingness to push a little harder and not sit back and wait for things to happen. I believe this is a skill that both Page and I will have to use more than once if we want to bring our idea to fruition.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The idea

It all started in a cardiologist’s waiting room. My fiance’, Page, was paying a visit to Karen, the lively physicians assistant who knew just how to talk to a southern-born man. It had already been determined through an angiogram that Page’s arteries were clear, but we were here to find out the results of further testing, to figure out why he sometimes still had trouble breathing.

I picked up a magazine, the name of which I no longer remember, but it was oversized and had lots of beautiful photography. Page was also reading and discovered, to his delight, that his weight gain over the past two years was simply because he was happily living with me -- a recent study had said so. Of course, this is Page’s interpretation, which he was thrilled to share with me.

After a few laughs over that one, I thumbed through the magazine, skimming articles until I came across one written by a man who had converted his cattle ranch to buffalo. The bison are native to North America and he soon discovered that raising them was easier and more natural than raising cattle. They had evolved to live in the Prairie, where his ranch was located, and removing the cattle and adding the buffalo had brought new life to his ranch. The native grasses and flowers were returning, along with wildlife that hadn’t been seen for a long time.

By the time we were called to Karen’s exam room, the few paragraphs I had read had captured my imagination, and were still lingering in my thoughts while I focused on Page’s breathing problems (he had asthma), medications, and Karen’s admonitions about diet and exercise.

On the ride home in the car, I mentioned the article to Page. Page and I had, over the few years we’d been together, casually discussed moving to the country, even having a very small farm, but never in great detail or with any actual plan to do so. Money was tight, since Page was no longer working full time. But something about the idea of owning and raising buffalo had lit a tiny seed of desire within me. I’ve wanted to live in the country for a long time. I was raised in a small town, but I am not a country girl by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve never experienced the hard work needed to keep a farm running, and I know next to nothing about it. But, the idea has always felt right to me. Now, my thoughts kept returning to the buffalo. I knew enough about them to know that their meat is much healthier than beef. And I knew enough about Page to know that he might like the idea of raising buffalo. He grew up on a farm in Florida and knew about animals, farms, and hard work. Page has always been a nonconformist, and I had a hunch that raising buffalo, instead of something more ordinary like cows or pigs, would appeal to his adventurous side. I was right; he kind of liked the idea. But, for now, that’s all it was: a crazy idea.

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