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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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