April 29, 2007
If you are heading east out of Ladysmith on Route 8 toward Tony in Rusk County, and you are paying attention, you will see a bunch of bison grazing off on the right. It turns out that Wisconsin ranks 10th largest in the nation as a bison producing state and number three in the total number of bison producers. That said, the industry is small and done as an "extra duty." But it can be profitable.
Your editor was born and raised in Buffalo, so of course, he had to stop.
It turns out that Wisconsin ranks 10th largest in the nation as a bison producing state and number three in the total number of bison producers. While that sounds like a "land-office" industry, there are only 236 producers in the state and about 8,300 animals. So the industry is small. In the year 2002, which is the latest US Department of Agriculture census, ninety-five farms in Wisconsin sold 1,272 animals. Barron County was in the lead with the most animals, 788.
The operation we saw near Ladysmith looked like a small outfit, which is the norm. Most people who raise them either do other farming or have an off-farm job. The most challenging aspect to bison farming is selling them. There are very few cooperatives, no auctions to speak of, and no contracts with large meat packers. The result is the farmer has to find ways to sell his bison on his own. Some use the internet, some have a farm store that buys it, and some sell at farmers' markets. If you're near a big city, restaurants, specialty food stores, and sporting goods stores are options. There are buyers, the prices are usually higher than beef, and good profits can be realized, but it is time consuming finding the buyers and getting to them.
Bison like grasses and even some legumes. The Wisconsin Bison Producers Association says they are easier than other livestock to raise:
"Less illness, veterinary expense and death loss due to superior Bison hardiness along with efficient feed utilization and long reproductive life."
The association also says that they provide very good levels of protein and nutrients and low levels of fat and calories. They also have good concentrations of iron and some essential fatty acids. If you are interested in the business, we commend the association to your attention.
By the way, is it bison or buffalo? It's bison. The American Buffalo is named Bison. It belongs to the Bovidae family of mammals, as do domestic cattle. The "American Buffalo" is not a true buffalo. But if you wish, go ahead and use buffalo; most Americans do, except for the Buffalo Bisons AAA baseball team; it uses them both!
The sun was not cooperating with us the day we passed by this farm, so our photos are not as good as we'd like. There were no farm names attached to the pasture area. But here are a few shots for those of you who just like looking at them. It's fun.
There is a fairly large shed on the property that houses hay. You can see some bison chowing down off to the right.
This is a Mapquest shot of the farm area. If you turn off Route 8 onto C St. you will come upon a cemetery off to the right, enclosed by Pete, F and Willow Streets. We did not wish to trespass on the farm's property so we took most of our photos from Pete Street. The area in which the bison were grouped was on the grazing land in the lower left quadrant of the photo. It was winter; some were trying to find grasses, but most others were happy to eat the hay put out for them.