In the mid eighties a bison rancher from around Chetwynd B.C. forgot to close the gate to his corrals. His two bison bulls took advantage of the situation and with freedom in mind, went through the open gate, left the corrals and headed east on their hundred mile journey into Alberta.
Around the same time I used to drive to Beaverlodge to work every day. One morning I was amazed to find two bison bulls grazing next to our farm! Not only were they still there when I drove home but they continued to stay for several weeks!
Their incredible size, majestic appearance and obvious appreciation of the area kept me thinking. “Perhaps one day I may consider raising a few”. A trip to Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump confirmed that this was a wise thing to do. In 1992 our first six bison heifers arrived. To this date I have never regretted the decision.
Bison are Fed Grass
Bison are naturally meant to eat grass, summer and winter. Grain can speed up the growing process and add additional fat but we choose the slower, more natural method.
What makes organic bison different from “natural”?
The organic rules state that absolutely no pesticides can be used for the production of any organic feed. This means that even the soil cannot contain any residues (three year minimum). We’ve been certified for 24 years. With the recent approval of new varieties of alfalfa, genetically modified feeds are becoming a concern. GMO’s are not allowed in organic production.
Insecticides are commonly applied to bison to reduce the incidence of parasites. I prefer pasture rotation and selective breeding to produce animals that are naturally resistant. That’s how nature works, a good model to follow.
Feedlot confinement has unfortunately become a popular method of increasing growth rates. The first thing a confined animal want to do is escape. Our pastures offer ample space including trees to scratch on and willows to munch. The bison are content. There have been times when a tree fell on the fence and the bison have left. They always come back home.
Are bison “wild”?
Very much so. Not enough time has passed since bison have been removed from the wild. To keep the stress level low I like to spend as much time with them as possible and have the bison associate my presence with something special. It may be a new hay bale, an open gate to a new pasture or a sprinkling of oats. At weaning time the bison calves (about 10 months old) a kept close to the house. Every morning we walk through calling them “Moostoos! Tatonka! Astum!” meaning “Buffalo! Buffalo! Come Here” and give them a bit of oats. Soon they learn to come when they are called. This comes in really handy when they are in the pasture and I want to bring them in. Others use trucks, ATVs, horses or dogs. I just call them.
Our bison is currently available by the cut at both the Grande Prairie Farmers Market (The Butcher Shop) and the Old Strathcona Farmers Market at the First Nature Farms booth in Edmonton. Sides are also available. Contact us for details.