- Associated Press - Monday, November 9, 2015

SOLSBERRY, Ind. (AP) - Bison are instinctual. Being a bison rancher is not.

Looking back, Zach Martin sees as a waste the time he spent coming up with excuses not to work on Mike Surak’s Fortville bison farm. When the stream of small jobs Martin had been performing for developers started to dry up, he took up Surak’s offer to work on his bison ranch, which set into motion the series of events that have led to him owning around 60 bison, 225 acres of Greene County land and a Bloomington storefront under the name Red Frazier Bison.

“There’s no real ‘How to raise a bison’ online, no YouTube videos on what type of de-wormer needs to be mixed in or what’s the best fencing strategy; there’s not a whole bunch of information on it, so you have to rely on other ranchers to acquire that information. Having a mentor like Mike was why we were able to jump into this feet first,” said Martin.

In 2014, Martin and his longtime girlfriend, Danielle Schafer, bought a former cattle ranch to form Red Frazier Bison, named in honor of Martin’s grandfather. Supported by the crew at his other business - Panama’s Property Service - Martin’s family partnered with Schafer, Marc Huffman, Colby and Jenna Miller and Jennifer Karnes to naturally raise stress-free bison without the use of antibiotics, growth hormones or artificial reproduction practices. It’s a vision they hope to grow to 100 plus breeding cows.

“A huge part of the market is fed up with the commercialized beef industry. It’s sort of a moral and ethical guideline within the bison industry that there aren’t any growth hormones like in the commercialized beef industry. You can buy bison and feel confident that those things aren’t used,” Martin said. “It is a highly valued code of ethics in the community.”

The differences between bison and cattle are more than just meets the eye. According to partner Jennifer Karnes, cattle require daily maintenance, whereas bison care is about a larger responsibility to the facility’s seven-foot fences, constructed out of re-purposed steel and utility poles.

Bison, unlike cattle, aren’t domesticated and remain a wild animal. If they’re not content with their food, environment or breeding opportunities, these nearly 1,400 pound animals can jump up to six feet and run up to 30 miles per hour to see if the grass really is greener on the other side.

“You can’t cut any corners on this stuff, or you’re Greene County national headlines and the sheriff is coming to town,” said Martin as he pointed out each part of the carefully constructed corral he uses to manipulate the bison’s instincts rather than forcing them to do as he wants.

“There’s a saying we’ve heard that we now understand very well that says you can make a bison go anywhere it wants to go,” said partner Jennifer Karnes.

Personalities aside, the bison’s meat yield and nutrition differs from beef as well. When Red Frazier uses Memphis Meat Processing in Memphis, Indiana, they see a 42 percent return in pounds of meat from live to processed. That’s over 10 percent more than a typical beef cattle’s meat yield. Despite the higher yield, bison meats tends to be a little pricier than beef, since beef cattle can be sent to processing as early as 14 months, and bison take two to three years to mature.

The reason why there’s so much return is also part of the reason why bison meat is growing in popularity. Bison meat is higher in iron and protein than beef and lower in fat and cholesterol than both skinless chicken and salmon, according to Karnes.

“We’re getting people that had a steak out in Montana or somewhere when they were on vacation, and they come in excited to find bison,” said Karnes. “Or, they had a bison burger at Upland and want to make one on their own grill. We’ve actually had a few people on a diet of some kind, where bison is the only red meat they can have because it is so lean. They’ll come in and say, ‘I’m so sick of chicken and fish. I’m so excited to get bison.’”

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Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times: http://bit.ly/1HhTk96

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Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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