Diane Becker, "Country Life"

I was interested in reading about Ted Turner’s plan to turn over 80,000 acres of Nebraska grass land he owns into an “ecoagriculture” non-profit group that will “develop strategies to conserve ecosystems while raising bison.”

I love that raising bison are part of that. A few weeks ago, Tom and I went with our son and two grandchildren to a ranch and lodge in Sargent where they have bison and elk roaming the range. We rode in a large ATV through canyons and pastures to see up close the buffalo with their spring-borne calves.

There were even a few white buffalo in the herd. Their remarkably large heavy heads and deep lowing sounds hardly compare to the domesticated cattle we’re used to seeing. It was nice (and safer) to be able to closely inspect a mounted buffalo head in the lodge. There’s something majestic about this animal. I’ve always wanted a couple buffalo in our pens just to look at.

Ted Turner must feel the same way with one of his ranches now devoted to building up a substantial buffalo herd from the 45,000 head that he currently owns. Just so he can keep them all within the confines of his ranch.

Lewis and Clark wrote that they saw a herd of buffalo during their 1806 exploration that looked like they “darkened the whole plains.” In the 16th century it was estimated there were between 30 and 50 million buffalo wandering around. After the buffalo hunts in the 1800’s, there were estimated to be literally about 300 bison left.

Fortunately, private groups and government efforts have since made efforts to grow that number and it’s estimated that there are now about 200,000 bison around the country. I read that it takes about 2-3 acres of grass per year to feed a full-grown bison so Turner’s ranch could support another 30,000-40,000 buffalo which is probably all we will really need.

At the rate the herds are growing, there may be more buffalo meat available. It is still considered quite an exotic meat costing about three times what beef does. Buffalo is supposed to be leaner than beef with about 25% less calories and a lower fat content. Even so I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of availability of buffalo meat in the near future even with all the increased efforts to promote the growth of the herds. Can you imagine loading and then hauling a truckload of bison to a processing plant? With those large heads and horns, they really aren’t made for easy handling. What they are good for is to be looked at and be awed by.

We may need our own couple of ecoagricultural buffalo on our farm yet.

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