Monday, March 11, 2019

Bison - the Heart of the American West

by Laura Drake

I wrote last month about a research trip I took to learn about bull riding and bull fighting (if you missed it, you can read it here.)

Since then, I've taken another research trip - for the next series I'm proposing to by editor - to a Bison Ranch!

I just Googled the closest Bison Ranch to me (how did we live before the internet?) and it turned out, it's outside Bryan, Texas, about 400 miles from me. ROAD TRIP!  I got in touch with Beverly Brown, the amazing woman behind the Lucky B Bison Ranch, and she was amazingly helpful. She invited me down to tour the ranch, and agreed to answer my questions.

We were lucky enough to get there just before they were going out to supplement feed the herd, and we rode in the bed of the pickup. Here's a short (1 min) film clip of the amazing experience:

 They came over the hill, and you could literally hear the thunder of their hooves. I thought westerns made that up with sound effects, but it's true!  I was thinking how darned cute they were - until I looked into their eyes. Instant respect - there is no doubt that these are wild animals.

Background I learned from Beverly:

  • We use the terms 'buffalo' and 'bison' interchangeably, but actually, bison reside in North and South America - buffalo are in Africa and Asia. We have the American or Plains Bison - Alaska has the Wood Bison, which are larger. 
  • Bison are the largest land mammal in the Americas, and has received the designation as the National Mammal of the U.S.
  • There were once millions here. They were hunted almost to extinction to starve out the Native tribes, and for sport. At the end of the 1800's, it's estimated there were only 1,000 left.
  • Many of the bison today have bovine DNA thanks to breeding to increase the genetic pool - the herd in Yellowstone is pure.
  • Ted Turner has the largest herd, scattered over several of his ranches - he's a huge proponent of conserving the species. Today there are 1/2 million bison in the U.S. and Canada
  • Their low heads and large necks are  powerful so they can sweep snow away to get to grasses in the winter
  • They can run 30 mph, turn on a dime, and jump 6 feet from a standstill
Beverly has a friendly bison, Reaganne. When its mother died, the vet took the calf by C-section. Beverly bottle-fed it four times a day for months. Reaganne imprinted on her, and to this day, Beverly can walk into the pen and scratch her. She suggested I stay a bit farther away for this photo.

Why does Beverly do this? Aside from falling in love with bison because she's a huge fan of underdogs, the ranch keeps bison for:
  • Breeding 
  • Selling meat to grocery stores and restaurants
  • Ecotourism - she has a sweet cabin you can rent, right on her ranch!
  • Education - she has children and adult groups out for lectures
  • Fundraising - she has funded a legacy scholarship for Native youth
And look how much healthier Bison meat is! I know my local HEB carries it. I'm going to get some and check out recipes!

For more info on the bison industry, check out  

Tell Beverly I sent you!

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