Canku Ota Logo

Canku Ota

Canku Ota Logo

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 9 , 2002 - Issue 56


pictograph divider


Bison Making Comeback as Healthier, Tasty Meat

by Nicholas Pilugin, Rueters Press
Grazing BuffaloNORTHFIELD, MN (Reuters) - Huddling for warmth during a Minnesota snowstorm, the three black woolly bulls bolted from their enclosure when a rancher and a visitor approached and galloped away over a hill, recalling a long-lost era.

The bulls are American buffalo, or bison, a species that once grazed across much of North America before being driven to the brink of extinction by 19th-century settlers. The slaughter of the continent's estimated 70 million bison dropped their number to only 250 animals by the early 1900s.

For the last seven years, Larry Newland has been one of 2,000 ranchers in the United States and Canada raising the profile of bison, this time as a low-fat alternative to beef cattle.

The North American population has multiplied to 350,000 animals from 30,000 in 1985, while Newland's bison herd numbers 44 head.

"I grew up out West and there were always some bison herds out there in the parks," the rancher said, explaining his initial interest. "And then I found out how good it tastes."

While bison have a reputation for being more ornery than cattle, Newland said they become angry only when they feel threatened.

Bison meat, once a novelty on a few U.S. restaurant menus, has gained popularity over the last decade as a high-protein meat free of growth hormones and other additives that some consumers complain taint beef cattle. The bison industry is worth about $100 million a year.

While bison meat first gained a foothold in upscale restaurants, it is now available in a growing number of supermarkets and appears on the menus of more casual restaurants and even truck stops, said David Carter, head of the Denver-based National Bison Association, a non-profit association which promotes the preservation, production and marketing of bison.

Part of the meat's appeal is that 3.5 ounces of cooked bison contains only 0.08 ounce of fat and 143 calories. A similar cut of beef contains 0.3 ounce of fat and 211 calories.

Last year the American Heart Association added bison to its list of "heart healthy" foods, but bison advocates say it's the meat's flavor that lies behind the trend.

"Generally, when people taste it, they lock into it because of the taste -- and it's much healthier. We actually serve more bison than we do beef," said Ralph Rosenberg, manager of the Red Sage, a trendy eatery in Washington, D.C.

Among the converts to the Red Sage's bison dishes are Washington Mayor Anthony Williams, who recently asked Rosenberg where he could buy the meat to prepare in his own kitchen.

Perhaps the leading bison fancier is Cable News Network founder and rancher Ted Turner, who attended last month's opening of the first of several planned Ted's Montana Grill restaurants in Columbus, Ohio. The eatery features bison burgers and bison chili.

Turner owns the largest private bison herd in the United States, with 27,000 head grazing on his 1.9 million acres of western ranchland, which he has tried to restore to pre-European settlement condition.

"What we're doing, we feel, is going to significantly help introduce bison products to the American public," said George McKerrow, Jr., Turner's partner in the restaurant venture and founder of the Long Horn Steakhouse chain.

Among the suppliers of bison meat are the Hunkpapa Sioux Indian tribe in Grand Ronde, Oregon, who claim to adhere to Native American tradition that has long revered the buffalo. According to lore, hunters would set up altars of buffalo bones and offer this prayer: "Let us honor the bones of those who gave their flesh to keep us alive."

The tribe's Native Pride Buffalo Co. sells smoked buffalo meats as well as an array of hides, soap, lip balm, and even paints made from different parts of the animal.

"Our objective is not just to kill more buffalo," said Wakinyan, the company's general manager. "Our objective is to utilize every bit of that animal."

The popularity of bison reaches beyond America's shores.

"Europeans are probably a little more adventuresome in what they eat. They eat more game and specialty meat," said Dennis Sexhus, head of the North American Bison Cooperative in New Rockford, North Dakota.

The cooperative is the country's largest processor of bison meat, and will slaughter 12,000 of the estimated 35,000 animals to be harvested in North America this year. By contrast, beef cattle are slaughtered at a rate of 90,000 head a day.

Roughly 20 percent of the cooperative's sales are flown fresh to European cities.

Even as more restaurants and supermarkets carry bison meat, ranchers like Newland continue to sell the meat privately to individuals or groups of people in the Minneapolis area. Private sales account for nearly half the bison market.

Newland, who ships his bison to a local slaughterhouse, has many regular customers who buy a quarter or a half of a bison to divide among friends -- a half bison costs them $1,200. Newland butchers the rest into steaks or hamburger to sell from his well-stocked freezer.

Wakinyan, of the Oregon tribe, eschews cattle slaughter methods, killing the timid animals individually to avoid the panic that releases enzymes that can change the meat's taste.

Bison is also sold over the Internet, where many sites offer frozen steaks, roasts, hamburger and jerky.

Two major barriers to wider consumption of bison meat are its higher price compared to beef and its exotic image.

Bison fatten only half as fast as feedlot cattle, making them more expensive to raise. The result is that the meat can cost two to three times as much as a comparable cut of beef.

But Sexhus said the price comparison may be misleading.

"If you price bison after you cook it, you'd find there isn't that much of a difference because you don't have the fat and the shrinkage of other meats," he said. "What you start with is pretty much what you finish with."

pictograph divider

Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us

Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us


pictograph divider

  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


Canku Ota Logo


Canku Ota Logo

The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 of Paul C. Barry.

All Rights Reserved.

Thank You