Where the buffalo roam | TSLN.com

Where the buffalo roam

Loretta Sorensen

Photo by Loretta SorensenBuffalo calves weigh between 40 and 50 pounds when they're born. Their small size makes the calving process easy, but require 18 to 26 months before they're ready for market.

Like great chocolate drops sprinkled across grassy rolling hills, a herd of 45 buffalo cows, their calves and a couple of bulls roam the pasture just east of the Kralicek farm a few miles north of Yankton. Several hundred more bulls and heifers occupy the farm’s feed yards until they’re ready to be shipped to market.

Frank Kralicek Sr. says the animals his father Don brought to the farm in 1983 have not only proven to be a healthy food source but have provided the family with a stable income for the past 26 years.

“Dad always loved seeing the buffalo in the Black Hills,” Frank Sr. says. “When he started having heart problems his doctor told him buffalo meat was what he should be eating. So in 1983 he brought home two heifers and a bull calf and it just grew from there.”

When his father passed away six years ago, Frank Sr. and his son Frank Jr. decided to expand their herd. They added about 30 cows and began purchasing calves from smaller producers so they could feed them out and send them to market.

“Buffalo markets are a lot more stable than cattle markets,” Frank Sr. says. “The demand for the meat has remained real consistent over the years. We had one cycle in 1996 or ’97 when the market really dropped. It was too high at the time, so it’s not surprising the prices dipped so drastically. If we could find more buffalo calves to feed out we would.”

Buffalo herds once numbering nearly 60 million roamed the open plains and were a cornerstone of the Native American diet. In the 18th century white settlers hunted the buffalo to near extinction. As the railroad progressed toward the west, railroad workers relied on the massive animals for food. In 1905 the American Bison Society was formed and the handful of animals left have been protected since that time. An estimated 400,000 are in existence today.

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The Dakota Territory Buffalo Association (DTBA) was organized in 1996 by buffalo producers from a 12-state area and two Canadian provinces. Its purpose has been to promote buffalo and educate the public about the growing buffalo industry. The organization’s slogan, “The Producer’s Association,” reflects the fact that the association belongs to and works for producers who make up its membership. DTBA President and CEO of Rapid City’s Western Buffalo Company, Bruce Anderson, says raising buffalo isn’t for everyone.

“Beef is a wonderful product and it’s going to forever feed the masses in the U.S. and around the world,” Anderson says. “Buffalo is also a wonderful product and will find its way into the marketplace. It’s more expensive than corresponding beef cuts, but there are a lot of health benefits and other reasons to purchase buffalo.”

Anderson says one thing that sets buffalo producers apart from their beef counterparts is the relationship producers have with the packers who process buffalo.

“In the beef industry, if Joe goes broke and someone else takes over his operation, they’re going to raise beef just like Joe did and the beef packers will continue to have a steady supply of animals,” Anderson says. “In the buffalo industry, if a producer goes out of business for some reason, it’s likely that a beef producer will take over their operation. For that reason, my producers are very special to me. I want to make sure they’re taken care and that the industry is strong. Raising buffalo isn’t for everyone but if you want to do something that’s outside the mainstream it might be right for you.”

Buffalo meat is prized for its flavor and leanness. Approximately 35,000 buffalo were commercially processed for meat in 2005. A typical broiled top sirloin from buffalo contains slightly less cholesterol and up to 1/3 less calories from fat per 100g of cooked lean meat. While buffalo is lower in fat grams, calories and cholesterol, it’s higher in iron and Vitamin B12 than beef, pork and chicken. Range fed beef compares more favorably with the health benefits of bison.

The Kraliceks make use of the hay and corn they grow to feed and fatten their buffalo. Frank Jr. developed a feed ration that combines hay, corn and some vitamin and mineral supplements that have proven to develop the calves in a timely fashion.

“Their rate of gain is a little slower than beef breeds,” Frank Jr. says. “You feed them out for 18 to 26 months before they’re ready to go to market, but they don’t eat as much. Feed efficiency is better. We usually ship some to a packer every month. We provide buffalo for four regional packers that are located in Colorado, South Dakota, Minnesota and North Dakota. We’ve bought out some small herds over the last couple of years. Those smaller herds are getting harder to find all the time.”

Frank Sr. says his dad was pleasantly surprised when he learned that buffalo aren’t as difficult to corral and care for as the public perceives. Although the animals can outrun a horse and have more wild instincts than domesticated beef breeds, the Kraliceks have found them to be more docile than some would think.

“I’ve picked up calves at places where all they had was an electric fence to keep them in,” Frank Jr. says. “I don’t know how that works on a long term basis, but that’s what I’ve seen. We have high fences and make sure they’re adequate, but you don’t have that much more trouble with the buffalo than you would with cattle. One of the biggest differences you’ll see is that when buffalo get in small areas they get excited. That’s their nature.”

By nature, buffalo cows have small calves so birthing difficulties are rare and the calves are up and ready to travel within minutes after birth. Because they’re native to the plains, buffalo don’t require annual vaccinations.

“We worm them twice a year but they’re pretty healthy,” Frank Jr. says. “We don’t use any antibiotics or hormones so the meat is all natural.”

Since those first buffalo came to the Kralicek farm, the family’s freezer has been filled with buffalo meat. They all appreciate the health benefits of the meat and do sell some of their animals locally.

“We’ve sold wholes, halves and quarters,” Frank Sr. says. “We know there are a lot of health reasons to eat buffalo meat. If somebody’s thinking about raising buffalo it’s not that hard to get started. There is a market for them.”

Like great chocolate drops sprinkled across grassy rolling hills, a herd of 45 buffalo cows, their calves and a couple of bulls roam the pasture just east of the Kralicek farm a few miles north of Yankton. Several hundred more bulls and heifers occupy the farm’s feed yards until they’re ready to be shipped to market.

Frank Kralicek Sr. says the animals his father Don brought to the farm in 1983 have not only proven to be a healthy food source but have provided the family with a stable income for the past 26 years.

“Dad always loved seeing the buffalo in the Black Hills,” Frank Sr. says. “When he started having heart problems his doctor told him buffalo meat was what he should be eating. So in 1983 he brought home two heifers and a bull calf and it just grew from there.”

When his father passed away six years ago, Frank Sr. and his son Frank Jr. decided to expand their herd. They added about 30 cows and began purchasing calves from smaller producers so they could feed them out and send them to market.

“Buffalo markets are a lot more stable than cattle markets,” Frank Sr. says. “The demand for the meat has remained real consistent over the years. We had one cycle in 1996 or ’97 when the market really dropped. It was too high at the time, so it’s not surprising the prices dipped so drastically. If we could find more buffalo calves to feed out we would.”

Buffalo herds once numbering nearly 60 million roamed the open plains and were a cornerstone of the Native American diet. In the 18th century white settlers hunted the buffalo to near extinction. As the railroad progressed toward the west, railroad workers relied on the massive animals for food. In 1905 the American Bison Society was formed and the handful of animals left have been protected since that time. An estimated 400,000 are in existence today.

The Dakota Territory Buffalo Association (DTBA) was organized in 1996 by buffalo producers from a 12-state area and two Canadian provinces. Its purpose has been to promote buffalo and educate the public about the growing buffalo industry. The organization’s slogan, “The Producer’s Association,” reflects the fact that the association belongs to and works for producers who make up its membership. DTBA President and CEO of Rapid City’s Western Buffalo Company, Bruce Anderson, says raising buffalo isn’t for everyone.

“Beef is a wonderful product and it’s going to forever feed the masses in the U.S. and around the world,” Anderson says. “Buffalo is also a wonderful product and will find its way into the marketplace. It’s more expensive than corresponding beef cuts, but there are a lot of health benefits and other reasons to purchase buffalo.”

Anderson says one thing that sets buffalo producers apart from their beef counterparts is the relationship producers have with the packers who process buffalo.

“In the beef industry, if Joe goes broke and someone else takes over his operation, they’re going to raise beef just like Joe did and the beef packers will continue to have a steady supply of animals,” Anderson says. “In the buffalo industry, if a producer goes out of business for some reason, it’s likely that a beef producer will take over their operation. For that reason, my producers are very special to me. I want to make sure they’re taken care and that the industry is strong. Raising buffalo isn’t for everyone but if you want to do something that’s outside the mainstream it might be right for you.”

Buffalo meat is prized for its flavor and leanness. Approximately 35,000 buffalo were commercially processed for meat in 2005. A typical broiled top sirloin from buffalo contains slightly less cholesterol and up to 1/3 less calories from fat per 100g of cooked lean meat. While buffalo is lower in fat grams, calories and cholesterol, it’s higher in iron and Vitamin B12 than beef, pork and chicken. Range fed beef compares more favorably with the health benefits of bison.

The Kraliceks make use of the hay and corn they grow to feed and fatten their buffalo. Frank Jr. developed a feed ration that combines hay, corn and some vitamin and mineral supplements that have proven to develop the calves in a timely fashion.

“Their rate of gain is a little slower than beef breeds,” Frank Jr. says. “You feed them out for 18 to 26 months before they’re ready to go to market, but they don’t eat as much. Feed efficiency is better. We usually ship some to a packer every month. We provide buffalo for four regional packers that are located in Colorado, South Dakota, Minnesota and North Dakota. We’ve bought out some small herds over the last couple of years. Those smaller herds are getting harder to find all the time.”

Frank Sr. says his dad was pleasantly surprised when he learned that buffalo aren’t as difficult to corral and care for as the public perceives. Although the animals can outrun a horse and have more wild instincts than domesticated beef breeds, the Kraliceks have found them to be more docile than some would think.

“I’ve picked up calves at places where all they had was an electric fence to keep them in,” Frank Jr. says. “I don’t know how that works on a long term basis, but that’s what I’ve seen. We have high fences and make sure they’re adequate, but you don’t have that much more trouble with the buffalo than you would with cattle. One of the biggest differences you’ll see is that when buffalo get in small areas they get excited. That’s their nature.”

By nature, buffalo cows have small calves so birthing difficulties are rare and the calves are up and ready to travel within minutes after birth. Because they’re native to the plains, buffalo don’t require annual vaccinations.

“We worm them twice a year but they’re pretty healthy,” Frank Jr. says. “We don’t use any antibiotics or hormones so the meat is all natural.”

Since those first buffalo came to the Kralicek farm, the family’s freezer has been filled with buffalo meat. They all appreciate the health benefits of the meat and do sell some of their animals locally.

“We’ve sold wholes, halves and quarters,” Frank Sr. says. “We know there are a lot of health reasons to eat buffalo meat. If somebody’s thinking about raising buffalo it’s not that hard to get started. There is a market for them.”

Like great chocolate drops sprinkled across grassy rolling hills, a herd of 45 buffalo cows, their calves and a couple of bulls roam the pasture just east of the Kralicek farm a few miles north of Yankton. Several hundred more bulls and heifers occupy the farm’s feed yards until they’re ready to be shipped to market.

Frank Kralicek Sr. says the animals his father Don brought to the farm in 1983 have not only proven to be a healthy food source but have provided the family with a stable income for the past 26 years.

“Dad always loved seeing the buffalo in the Black Hills,” Frank Sr. says. “When he started having heart problems his doctor told him buffalo meat was what he should be eating. So in 1983 he brought home two heifers and a bull calf and it just grew from there.”

When his father passed away six years ago, Frank Sr. and his son Frank Jr. decided to expand their herd. They added about 30 cows and began purchasing calves from smaller producers so they could feed them out and send them to market.

“Buffalo markets are a lot more stable than cattle markets,” Frank Sr. says. “The demand for the meat has remained real consistent over the years. We had one cycle in 1996 or ’97 when the market really dropped. It was too high at the time, so it’s not surprising the prices dipped so drastically. If we could find more buffalo calves to feed out we would.”

Buffalo herds once numbering nearly 60 million roamed the open plains and were a cornerstone of the Native American diet. In the 18th century white settlers hunted the buffalo to near extinction. As the railroad progressed toward the west, railroad workers relied on the massive animals for food. In 1905 the American Bison Society was formed and the handful of animals left have been protected since that time. An estimated 400,000 are in existence today.

The Dakota Territory Buffalo Association (DTBA) was organized in 1996 by buffalo producers from a 12-state area and two Canadian provinces. Its purpose has been to promote buffalo and educate the public about the growing buffalo industry. The organization’s slogan, “The Producer’s Association,” reflects the fact that the association belongs to and works for producers who make up its membership. DTBA President and CEO of Rapid City’s Western Buffalo Company, Bruce Anderson, says raising buffalo isn’t for everyone.

“Beef is a wonderful product and it’s going to forever feed the masses in the U.S. and around the world,” Anderson says. “Buffalo is also a wonderful product and will find its way into the marketplace. It’s more expensive than corresponding beef cuts, but there are a lot of health benefits and other reasons to purchase buffalo.”

Anderson says one thing that sets buffalo producers apart from their beef counterparts is the relationship producers have with the packers who process buffalo.

“In the beef industry, if Joe goes broke and someone else takes over his operation, they’re going to raise beef just like Joe did and the beef packers will continue to have a steady supply of animals,” Anderson says. “In the buffalo industry, if a producer goes out of business for some reason, it’s likely that a beef producer will take over their operation. For that reason, my producers are very special to me. I want to make sure they’re taken care and that the industry is strong. Raising buffalo isn’t for everyone but if you want to do something that’s outside the mainstream it might be right for you.”

Buffalo meat is prized for its flavor and leanness. Approximately 35,000 buffalo were commercially processed for meat in 2005. A typical broiled top sirloin from buffalo contains slightly less cholesterol and up to 1/3 less calories from fat per 100g of cooked lean meat. While buffalo is lower in fat grams, calories and cholesterol, it’s higher in iron and Vitamin B12 than beef, pork and chicken. Range fed beef compares more favorably with the health benefits of bison.

The Kraliceks make use of the hay and corn they grow to feed and fatten their buffalo. Frank Jr. developed a feed ration that combines hay, corn and some vitamin and mineral supplements that have proven to develop the calves in a timely fashion.

“Their rate of gain is a little slower than beef breeds,” Frank Jr. says. “You feed them out for 18 to 26 months before they’re ready to go to market, but they don’t eat as much. Feed efficiency is better. We usually ship some to a packer every month. We provide buffalo for four regional packers that are located in Colorado, South Dakota, Minnesota and North Dakota. We’ve bought out some small herds over the last couple of years. Those smaller herds are getting harder to find all the time.”

Frank Sr. says his dad was pleasantly surprised when he learned that buffalo aren’t as difficult to corral and care for as the public perceives. Although the animals can outrun a horse and have more wild instincts than domesticated beef breeds, the Kraliceks have found them to be more docile than some would think.

“I’ve picked up calves at places where all they had was an electric fence to keep them in,” Frank Jr. says. “I don’t know how that works on a long term basis, but that’s what I’ve seen. We have high fences and make sure they’re adequate, but you don’t have that much more trouble with the buffalo than you would with cattle. One of the biggest differences you’ll see is that when buffalo get in small areas they get excited. That’s their nature.”

By nature, buffalo cows have small calves so birthing difficulties are rare and the calves are up and ready to travel within minutes after birth. Because they’re native to the plains, buffalo don’t require annual vaccinations.

“We worm them twice a year but they’re pretty healthy,” Frank Jr. says. “We don’t use any antibiotics or hormones so the meat is all natural.”

Since those first buffalo came to the Kralicek farm, the family’s freezer has been filled with buffalo meat. They all appreciate the health benefits of the meat and do sell some of their animals locally.

“We’ve sold wholes, halves and quarters,” Frank Sr. says. “We know there are a lot of health reasons to eat buffalo meat. If somebody’s thinking about raising buffalo it’s not that hard to get started. There is a market for them.”