Farm Horizons, December 2013

Raising bison is a growing trend in Minnesota

By Starrla Cray

They’re not exactly snuggly, but bison are becoming an increasingly popular livestock choice for area farmers.

“They’re kind of unique. I just wanted something a little bit different,” said Bob Elliott of Triple J Farm southwest of Hutchinson, who started his herd about five years ago.

Bison (often called buffalo) are extremely hardy – they don’t require a barn, and they can thrive in most landscapes.

According to the Minnesota Buffalo Association, many farmers manage their herds while working off the farm or engaging in other agricultural pursuits.

“The actual time involved in daily care is very minimal. They take care of themselves,” said Elliott, owner of Town and Country Auto and Tire Repair in Hutchinson.

Before purchasing his initial herd (one bull and four cows), Elliott visited several bison farms throughout the state.

He quickly learned that good fencing is one of the most important aspects of caring for these powerful animals. His fence features high electric current strong enough to “knock you to your knees” if touched.

A well-constructed enclosure isn’t everything, however.

“My biggest fear was that the bull would get out – and that happened this summer,” Elliott said.

On that day, Elliott had driven his skid loader into the pen, and didn’t close the automatic gate quickly enough.

The bull slipped through, and ventured into a bean field across the road.

When Elliott grabbed his four wheeler, the bull challenged him, lowering its head to the ground and slinging dirt into the air.

“We went up and down the road, and I got him pretty worn out,” Elliott recalled.

After about 45 minutes, the bull had enough, and went back into its pen.

“That’s the only time he’s been out of my little perimeter,” Elliott said.

Most of the time, Elliott says buffalo are easy to have around. He feeds them in the mornings before heading to work, and checks on them again at night.

For water, Elliott installed an underground system that automatically re-fills when it gets low.

“They drink a tremendous amount of water,” Elliott said.

Five calves were born on his farm this year, bringing the herd size up to 18.

Elliott butchers a few each year, and sells the meat at his auto repair shop (100 Washington Ave. E, Hutchinson).

“The meat is very healthy, and it doesn’t taste gamey at all,” he said. Cuts of meat are similar to beef (steak, roast, ground, etc.), and Elliott describes the flavor as “a little sweeter.”

Compared to beef, pork, and chicken, a serving of buffalo meat has more iron and vitamin B-12, and fewer calories. Due to the lack of fat, cooking time is about a third less than beef.

Bison meat is usually harvested when the animal is about 2 years old.

According to the National Buffalo Association, a buffalo is weaned when it’s about 6 months old. The average lifespan is 20 to 25 years.

For Elliott, who grew up on a dairy farm in southwest Minnesota, raising buffalo is a satisfying hobby.

“I like to have animals,” he said. “When you go out there in the morning, they’re always glad to see you. They never yell at you, and they never complain.”

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