Bison ranchers celebrate their plan for growth, profitability at Jan. conference |

Bison ranchers celebrate their plan for growth, profitability at Jan. conference

An attitude of stability and optimism prevailed among the nearly 400 buffalo ranchers, marketers and enthusiasts gathered in Denver late last week for the National Bison Association’s annual conference and live animal judging event held in conjunction with the National Western Stock Show.

“Producers and marketers at our annual conference last week celebrated that, as more consumers discover the great taste and nutritional attributes of bison meat, our business is experiencing unprecedented strength and stability,” said National Bison Association Executive Director Dave Carter, as the conference came to a close. Carter noted during his annual report at the conference that wholesale prices producers are receiving for animals sold into the retail and foodservice channels have remained at near-record high levels for the past three years.

Many activities at the conference focused on the association’s efforts to build bison herds to meet growing demand.

A special “mentors’ session” conducted during the winter conference connected new and prospective producers with experienced bison ranchers. In addition, members attending the convention were strongly encouraged to adopt local FFA and 4H chapters as a part of the association’s Student Group Membership program. That program supplies instructors and students with on-line curriculum, books and DVDs designed to introduce youth into career opportunities in the bison business. Producers sponsoring a student chapter also agree to serve as an in-classroom resource for agricultural instructors.

Conference attendees also wrestled with the challenges arising from the expansion of wild bison herds, particularly in the state of Montana. One panel discussion entitled “What is a Wild Bison?” included a wide spectrum of perspectives from private producers, as well as from Peter Dratch of the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Wildlife Refuge System.

In an address on Friday, former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar stressed that private ranchers are playing a significant role in restoring bison as an integral part of large landscapes across the United States.

Producers at the conference also focused on opportunities to broaden the sale of bison meat beyond traditional cuts. Chefs from the Colorado Culinary Academy and from the Denver Renaissance Hotel teamed up during one luncheon to showcase a variety of recipes created from underutilized parts of the carcass. Following the luncheon, Chef Jeff Bolton of the Kachina Southwestern Grill and John Roelke of Continental Sausage Co. joined Ty Ward of Rocky Mountain Natural Meats to discuss innovative opportunities to market bison through a variety of methods in retail stores and restaurants.

Several producers departing Denver this weekend hauled home live animals purchased at the association’s annual Gold Trophy Sale at the National Western Stock Show in Denver. Prices paid for the 80 head of bulls, heifers and calves auctioned at the Gold Trophy Sale reflected the stability of today’s bison market.

Heifer and bull calves overall brought slightly higher prices than in 2013. The average price of two-year-old bulls was higher this year, but yearling bulls sold for an average of $14 less than at the 2013 sale. Buyers at Saturday’s Gold Trophy Sale also bid $8,500 for five calves and heifers in which the proceeds were to be dedicated to the Ranchers’ Relief Fund for South Dakota livestock producers suffering devastating losses in the October blizzard.

Carter noted, “Buffalo ranchers wanted to step forward to demonstrate their support for fellow livestock producers hit hard by the disastrous early-fall storm.” F

–National Bison Assoc.