Modern bison production practices showcased at 2012 Gold Trophy bison sale
Traditionally, when people think of the National Western Stock Show, they think of cattle. However, as the years have gone by, the bison show and sale has grown as people become aware of the benefits of bison.
The 32nd National Bison Association Gold Trophy Show and Sale (GTSS) was held on Jan. 20-21 in Denver, CO. There were 126 live animals and 27 carcasses that competed in the market class competition.
“Our market is growing because our customers appreciate the fact that bison ranchers refuse to compromise on the integrity of their animals,” said Dave Carter, National Bison Association (NBA) Executive Director.
Producers from 12 states including: Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Kansas, Utah, Oklahoma, Texas, Indiana, Michigan, as well as producers from Canada, participated in the GTSS.
The high seller in the sale was a 1,785-pound two-year-old bull bought by the Wolverine Bison Company, Humboldt, SK, Canada. The bull was owned by Mark Silzer and sold for $23,000.
The Grand Champion bull was exhibited by Bison Spirit Ranch, Oak Lake, Manitoba. The 1,158-pound bull owned by Tevor and Jodie Gompf sold for $11,000 during the sale. This ranch was also awarded the Rookie of the Year award. They also had the Reserve Grand Champion bull who sold for $11,500.
The Grand Champion female was exhibited by High Country Bison, Austin, TX. The 1,071-pound female owned by John Russel, brought $6,000. The Reserve Grand Champion female was exhibited by Wichita Buffalo Co., LLC, Hinton, OK. The female, owned by James Steep, sold for $3,500.
Keeping bison happy is key
The Cold Creek Buffalo Co. of Colorado offered several animals in the sale. Boyd Miller, who manages the ranch with his wife Allison, pastures the bison at the Terry Bison Ranch in Cheyenne, WY. Here they can roam on more than 27,000 acres. Miller uses a rotational grazing system with the bison so the land is not overgrazed.
They have also learned that to move bison, patience and a smart plan needs to be in place. Miller uses a truck loaded with a protein supplement called “cake” to lead the buffalo where he wants them to go.
“When moving buffalo, it’s just about being patient. You are not going to force them to do anything they do not want to. As long as you are patient, you’re fine. If they run towards something they will hit it as hard as they can, so we try to prevent that. You can’t treat or handle them like cattle or it blows up in your face. It took a good four or five years for me to get past some of the cattle handling I knew,” Miller said.
Miller has been in the business for more than 10 years and has built the herd up to 800 cows. There are 3,700 total bison, including, cows, bulls and feeder animals.
He takes pride in raising buffalo, and has a lot of respect for their power. “I enjoy the animal. They are very self sufficient and majestic. It’s amazing to me the mother nature side of things that they have figured out so well,” Miller said.
“Bison are easier to care for than cattle in terms of daily management, because they do not require assistance,” Miller explained. “When they are having babies, they stay away from you. There is no assisting them. They are calving on their own, which is a big plus.”
Fences can be a problem with buffalo, as they can charge through just about anything. However, Miller has found a pretty simple solution to this challenge. “Just keep them happy to keep them in. If they want out of anything, they will get out. I’ve seen them jump 6-foot fences flat footed. As long as you don’t pressure them, and they are happy with feed, they are less likely to eat across the fence. If they decide they want out, you can’t stop them,” Miller said.
Miller has his buffalo processed at Double J Meats in Pierce, CO. The whole carcasses are then transported to Rocky Mountain Natural Meats in Denver, CO, where they are fabricated. “They are the largest processor of bison in the country,” said Miller.
His product goes out to stores such as Whole Foods, King Soopers and Safeway, just to name a few. He finishes 2,500-3,000 head per year, which includes animals he buys and finishes.
Marketing bison products
Another producer who brought bison to the sale belonged to NebraskaBison.com, which operates out of Adams, NE. The ranch runs 500 cows, where they finish calves and sell meat to Rocky Mountain chefs, retail stores and online buyers.
The ranch was started in 1995, when owner Randy Miller bought 20 heifer calves from Custer State Park in South Dakota. He had them shipped to his ranch, and the herd grew from there.
At first, Randy Miller was in the bison business as a hobby. However, as word spread, he began to find there was a growing demand for all-natural bison.
The mission of the company reflects their personal attitude towards producing a quality program.
At NebraskaBison.com, their mission is to provide customers with the highest quality bison meat available. They believe in order to create this high quality product, there bison need to be raised and processed under a strict principle.
This principle is three-fold.
• Bison will always be grass fed and natural grain finished without the use of fillers, hormones, antibiotics or artificial ingredients.
• Bison will always be humanely treated and processed with the utmost respect.
• Bison meat is always dry aged, a process that is rarely used today. The dry aging process is what gives the bison meat the tender, juicy and exceptional flavor that customers expect from NebraskaBison.com.
Those in the bison industry are excited for the future of the industry. It has grown substantially the last few years, and continues to grow.
“The future if definitely bright. Bison meat prices have climbed to historic high levels, and those dollars are flowing directly back to producers. New markets are emerging every day as more people incorporate bison as a regular part of their diet,” according to Carter.