From the Farmer's Tractor
June 26, 2011
How did you get into buffalo/bison farming?
Back in the mid 1960s, my grandfather and my father (who were in the meat business in California) thought there might be a future in raising bison for the meat – which led to their purchase of the Durham Ranch. I was raised in California and started working at the ranch during the summers from about age 12 on. I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture from Cal Poly State University in 1980 and moved to the ranch full time at that point.
How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?
We have been practicing Holistic Management since about 1985. Seewww.holisticmanagement.org. That started major changes in how we operated. Holistic Management International is a non-profit that is dedicated to restoring grasslands to health by partnering with agriculture and managing resources in a sustainable manner. The program has been going for over 25 years and is in use on more than 30 million acres on more than four continents.
How will bison farming evolve in the next five years?
Because of the popularity of bison meat, there is currently a lack of product available for the marketplace. For this reason, there is a serious move in the National Bison Association (see www.bisoncentral.com) to educate farmers and ranchers across the U.S. and Canada as to the opportunities and advantages of raising bison as compared to, or in a mix with, traditional livestock. So what I see happening in the next few years is farmers and ranchers gearing up their breed herd numbers in order to help satisfy the bison-hungry market.
What is your greatest challenge as a bison farmer?
Currently the greatest challenge seems to be in raising enough animals. Beyond that, one of our challenges is to continue to learn how to handle the animals more proficiently when we have to work them. Also, as any rancher can relate, being subject to market forces when having to buy feed for our animals can expose us to higher levels of risk for our profitability. Another ongoing factor that we all have to deal with as well is learning to deal with whatever Mother Nature throws at us.
How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?
I think if we follow trends in consumerism, we can help predict what the retailers will be looking for in the future.
What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?
We take our stewardship responsibility very seriously. As mentioned above, we have been practicing Holistic Management since 1985. It is part of a process where we continue to learn better techniques in our quest to be better stewards. We also believe in keeping our land resource in grazing and agriculture for future generations.
Do you sell any of your products locally, and if so, what is the process?
We do sell products locally both retail and wholesale. We deliver meat from the ranch to several local restaurants as well as sell meat animals (for freezer meat) and cuts, by appointment, to the local communities around us.
What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?
Most customers we deal with on a one on one basis are very happy to come to the ranch to pick up the product (even if it means making a 35 mile, or more, drive). I believe there is a certain satisfaction in knowing exactly where your meat is coming from and, putting a face to the farm is certainly a bonus for them.