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July 21, 2016

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Humane Field Harvest - How & Why

Note to readers: As we seek to know more about where our food comes from and how it is raised, it is perhaps equally important to know how it dies. It may even be our responsibility. If you'd rather not see, and are okay with just the knowing, you may want to stop reading here. Although the photos are not graphic they offer transparency to the process of Wild Idea’s humane field harvest. Jill O'Brien

It’s early. The sun has just started to show light in the sky when I force myself out of bed, gather my camera gear, and head out the door. The harvest crew has planned to arrive at the ranch around sunrise for an early start to meet the harvest goal of twelve animals for the day. If all goes well, it should be doable.

Buffalo Harvest Trailer
Once the moveable harvester arrives on the prairie the crew quickly gets into motion getting the truck set-up for the "pre-op" inspection, which is conducted by the state meat inspector. Our sharp shooter, Jerry Blanks checks the sights on his rifle one last time to assure accuracy.

Jerry BlanksThe crew is ready to go and the inspector has given the green light to start the harvest. Without words the crew gathers. Jerry offers a few thoughts on what to expect for the day ending with, “Remember, safety first.” They then place their hands and the riffle in a circle. Someone lights a match and the aroma of sage fills the air. Each crew member rolls their hands through the smoke and Jerry waves the smoke over the riffle. This practice is called smudging, a tradition that the Native Americans use to remove negative energy and to purify. Because we work with and employ many Native Americans we honor their traditions.

SmudgingJerry and the inspector head out through the thousand acre pasture to find the herd in the shooter truck, which is a flat bed truck equipped with a winch for lifting the downed buffalo and transporting it to the harvest truck. An antemortem (before death) inspection is done by the inspector to insure the herd is in good health. A buffalo is then chosen for harvest, selected by age, size, and weight. Jerry is looking for a two to three-year-old animal, around 900 to 1,000 pounds.

Wild idea Bison Herd
The day has been going well, with the timing averaging about 45 minutes per animal. I jump in the truck with Jerry and the inspector around mid-day and head out to get animal number eight. 

Jerry moves around the outskirts slowly assessing his best shot at a couple of animals that meet the age/weight criteria. The wind has picked up and the buffalo are feeling a little frisky. He slows even more, moving the vehicle only when a possible opportunity presents itself for a successful shot. Time starts to drag and our small talk starts to bore us all. Silence settles in and we turn our attention to bird songs and the soft grunts of the buffalo that are grazing 30 yards away from us. We wait patiently. 

An hour and a half later Jerry has a clear shot, he raises his riffle and even though I am prepared for the bang, my body jerks at the sound.
Buffalo Field harvest

Buffalo Harvest

Humane buffalo Field HarvestThe animal drops instantly to the ground where it was grazing. Jerry moves the truck forward to the dead animal as the other buffalo slowly move away. The inspector inspects the animal and Jerry makes a slit near the heart to start the bleeding process.

Humane Field HarvestThe buffalo is then lifted and taken to the harvest truck, where it is skinned and eviscerated. The inspector tests the organs for any abnormalities. 

Sidebar: When I first took over the selling of the buffalo meat years ago we had a lot of buffalo liver in inventory. At that time we were outsourcing our meat cutting to another plant, which processed about 60 head of bison a day. On one of my visits I asked their plant manager what they did with all of their buffalo livers, to which he replied, “What liver? We don’t end up with a lot of liver because not many of them pass inspection.” Oh, right, I replied, remembering the ill effects that grain and corn feeding do to the  livers of animals finished in feed-lots. Since then, with a little recipe development and the growing awareness of the health benefits, bison liver has become a very popular item for Wild Idea.

Buffalo Humane Field Harvest
The carcass is then halved and moved into the refrigerated cooler on the harvest truck. The truck then goes back to our Wild Idea plant in Rapid City where the carcasses are unloaded. The following week the carcasses are cut into fine steaks, roasts, ground, sausages, charcuterie items, and buffalo jerky by Wild Idea's artisan butchers and assistants.

Wild Idea ButchersOn the day I was photographing we did not meet our harvesting goal of 12 animals, but that’s okay. Taking our time, respecting the animal, and keeping the herd content is more important to us than meeting production goals. It is important for the animal and for the food quality too. Humane field harvest eliminates high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone in the animal, which greatly affects the flavor and tenderness of the meat.

At Wild Idea Buffalo Company we believe that there is no need for stress, no need for additional feeds, no need for corralling, and no need for transporting animals to chaotic slaughter facilities. Does it take longer? Yes. Does it cost more? Yes. But, allowing an animal to die with dignity is the right thing to do for their spirit, and for ours.

Lone Buffalo


Comments

Anne Clare

July 22, 2016

That was beautiful!! I especially like the last paragraph. . .

Laurie Hamilton

July 22, 2016

The right way to do things. Thanks.

Jill

July 22, 2016

I am impressed, and it makes me feel good to know the “how” of the meat in my freezer. Thank you for your compassionate relationship with these wonderful animals!

Burk Daggett

July 22, 2016

Dan, such a great article thanks. If we are to eat meat this is the only truly humane way to take the animal. No concrete walls, blood soaked floors, screams of pain, no fear or adrenaline released. Just amazing and so honorable of you all to show this part of how it is done. Thank the guys and gals for the great work. Burk

Dawn Hayman

July 22, 2016

Thank you for posting this. This is exactly the reason we started buying our meat from Wild Idea in the first place. It is immensely important how the animals live and die. To die with honor, dignity, and respect should matter to all of us. It matters to the animals physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Thank you for not only being aware of that but honoring that as well. And thank you for honoring the gift of ceremony as well. This should be the way everything we eat should be considered – plants included! Thank you!

Judie Maxfield

July 22, 2016

Each time I read your wonderful descriptive words, I have a contented feeling that all is really right with the world. I pray that more committed people come forward to work with what we eat. I think, though, that you are very unique. We love the food you provide. Thanks again. May God continue to bless you and yours. Judie

Hymer

July 22, 2016

Well written Jill. My animals are taken peasefully also. But when one of mine go down the herd goes over to it and try’s to get it to get up. It was a pleasure to talk with you on my visit to Wild Idea. Is Dan planning any more hikes? Hope his feet feel better. Hymer. RWA Manager

Gary Rogers

July 22, 2016

Bison meat is great, had a chance to hunt these majestic animals. Best eating meat around. I know culling is necessary, but I hate it when it comes to part of American history. Keep up with your good work……

Virginia McConnell

July 22, 2016

An insightful and moving article — thank you! I am so impressed with your operation.

Elaine

July 22, 2016

I agree with your methods, and when the day comes that I can afford to buy buffalo, it will be without a doubt from your company

Adria Hagg

July 22, 2016

Again, a wonderful and compassionate article. Selfishly, it makes my day knowing that I am supporting this process by buying the product. These animals deserve to die with dignity and the meat is truly the best out there. Thank you.

Cathy kuellmer

July 22, 2016

That is how it should be done! Compassion for the animals. Humane life and death of the animals that give us so much! The factory farms should be shut down until they humanely treat the animal correctly. Thank you.

EDWARD

July 22, 2016

I Was Raised By A Catholic Charities Family In Upstate NY In The 1950’S thru the 1960’S. We Were Raised By A Czechoslovakia Family On A farm. I remember doing this to a black Angus Steer. I could not Kill My Buddy That We Raised But The Meat Was So Healthy.

Kathy Treanor

July 22, 2016

Thanks, Dan! A good story, well told, in words and well positioned photos. I grew up on a farm in Maryland many years ago, and when I was a child we harvested (called slaughtering in the 1940s) on the farm with respect for the animals and without their becoming afraid. Your thoughtful caring for the animal is certainly reflected in the superior quality of meat I always receive from Wild Idea. And you have certainly made great progress from that snowy day of the PBS interview in MT many years ago. Keep up the good work and wonderful stories. Best wishes to you and Jill!

Susan

July 22, 2016

This is why I started buying from Wild Idea. I am a meat eater, but it disturbs me, how most of our meat is processed – the awful “lives,” the worse deaths. With Wild Idea, the bonus has been how much better the meat actually tastes.

Mary Jane Young

July 22, 2016

Being an avid animal lover of any kind of animaI, I have always enjoyed your tidbits of how you raise and care for your buffalo. All of the information and history of how your business got started has always been an inspiration to me and reminds me why I chose Wild Idea Buffalo for my family. Thank you so very much for all you do!

Janis Griffin

July 22, 2016

Thank you for sharing your harvesting procedures of these magnificent animals. I applaud your practices; am so grateful for the superior bison meat-the healthiest I’v come across. I was buying bison at Whole Foods; but discovered their bison was “grain finished”-UGH!!! Your bison is by far the very best out there.

Mark Holloway

July 22, 2016

Great reading, very informative!

robert maccargar

July 22, 2016

Bill, you never cease to gain my respect!!

Chris Jensen

July 22, 2016

I read your original book where you described the rationale for this method of harvest. I wondered recently whether you still used the rifle shot to drop single animals. The description in this article resolved my curiosity and explained how you had changed to provide more harvest with a team of dedicated people, two trucks, and a staff cutting the carcass into the delicious products.

Nancy

July 22, 2016

Thank you for sharing how your bison are killed and butchered; no other meat provider has done this for obvious reasons. Your transparency is just another reason to support your efforts. As a cancer victor, I appreciate the danger of cortisol; thank you for caring about the animals you raise and the well being of your customers.

Leslie K. Yoder

July 22, 2016

Wonderful piece, Jill—both the writing and photographs. Thanks for the inside look at the important work you all do!

GMA

July 22, 2016

We were invited to observe the process. I am happy to report theveryat the animals were calm before the kill and treated with respect after. We applaud the care that goes into step.

Kathy Antonen

July 22, 2016

Yes. Yes.
Well done all around.

Jeff Peterson

July 22, 2016

Every thing you have discuss sounds good. The one thing that struck me odd was the picture of the shooting of the buffalo from the cab of the truck from the driver seat especially with the practice smudging of running your hands and even the riffle through the sage smoke to remove negative energy and to purify. Something about taking your shot from there seems to have negative energy and not so purify in spirit not only to the buffalo but to the native americans as well. Why not go the extra mile and take the shot in a more traditional approach in spirit and be on the ground, even have your horse with you not your truck. Just saying, something to think about.

Bonnie Joy

July 22, 2016

Thank you for writing this article and sharing pictorially. The respect you have for your animals, both in how you treat them in life and through the death process, is the reason I purchase your products. God bless you all!

Linda Huhn, Minneapolis

July 22, 2016

Jill,

Good photos, good writing, good statement of values. I’m moved to tears. Thank you and Dan and everyone for showing the world the best way.

Leland Scott

July 22, 2016

Thanks for sharing, it’s great you use such care. We really enjoy your products very much.

Donna Vorce

July 22, 2016

The ONLY commercial meat I will purchase and consume. Dan & Co are doing virtually everything right. Thanks.

Bruce Green

July 22, 2016

Love reading your reports and updates. You folks are awesome! Have about convinced my wife that we need to place our first order.???

Michelle

July 22, 2016

Loved reading about how the meat makes it to the store. Thank you for documenting this!

Markus Erk

July 22, 2016

Great story and photos Jill. Keep up the great work!

Kenny Dockery

July 22, 2016

The last sentence in your article is the single biggest reason that I have been a customer for many years. You should be rather proud of what you are doing and how you are doing it.

annie

July 22, 2016

So respectful, thankful, compassionate. I appreciate everything you do with regards to your buffalo herd. I will gladly pay the extra cost to know these buffalo are loved in life and in death.

Bob Mahoney

July 22, 2016

About a year and a half ago I spent a better part of the day with Colton, Jerry and the rest of the harvesting crew while they were harvesting from a herd of bison just north of Bowman, N.D. It is a very smooth efficient operation.

Eric Levy

July 22, 2016

As a buffalo liver consumer, I really liked your respect for healthy feed & raising the animal in the manner that you do. Also reminds me of the movie: Man in the Wilderness, where Zack Bass reaches in a grabs the heart or liver, and eats it raw. I think that where I got my taste for quality meat, fresh air and respecting the Native American Indian (Human) Spirit.

Gail

July 22, 2016

This is why. I was ranch raised. My first anatomy lesson was when I was 4 and watching my dad harvest a steer from our Central Valley rangeland … I’m 67 there did used to be California range land.
So much has changed in our food supply since then. And in our societal awareness of where it comes from and what is happening to our land.
It is your stewardship of our land and respect for the great prairie buffalo that keeps me investing in your endeavor.
Thank you!

Karen Filter

July 22, 2016

Very well executed. The calmness and instant of it is faster and painless than even a natural death

Maricela from Texas

July 22, 2016

Harvested humanely with respect and thankfulness to the animal and G d who created him. Thank you. The best healthiest meat I’ve ever eaten.

Paul Knowles

July 22, 2016

Thank you Jill. So perceptive on your part to educate us consumers and so well done. The respect I have for Wild Idea is surpassed by nothing else, especially in a business aspect.

Jill O'Brien

July 22, 2016

Thank you all for your interest (and opening up the e-mail), your support, and your sustainable great taste! We promise, promise, promise to always uphold these standards. We simply would not have it any other way.

Pauli Uricchio

July 22, 2016

How graceful & beautifully described. We are thankful for these beautiful animals ……

Pete Schaus

July 22, 2016

I have to say that I applaud your choice of shooting from the cab — having essentially a bench rest to make sure of a clean and instantaneously killing shot, showing the greatest respect for the animal. We should all be so lucky!

Also can’t say enough about your product; you all rock!

Gary Kaiser

July 22, 2016

Thank you for the dignity and honor that you bring to the harvest. The Native American spiritual traditions give added respect to the harvest process and the product. You are doing this SO RIGHT in so many ways.

Frances Lynn

July 22, 2016

Thank you for sharing this Process with the public as many form the wrong opinion as I learned from attending a Native Alaskan Seal Harvest on Saint Paul Island in the early 1990’s which isnt usually allowed but learned how much respect was given to the taking of the animals which were also Bachelors and the skill involved to cause the least amount of pain being an animal lover I wasn’t expecting to come away with quite the impression I did and was grateful for the honor of the experience and a deeper appreciation of the true Gratitude still given to the taking of life for the need of food, thank you again for sharing.
G

Aaron Nytroe

July 23, 2016

Just wanted to shout out a thanks to everyone at Wild Idea. A few years ago I was lucky enough to take a three day tour of Wild Idea, even got a spectacular meal made by Jill! I saw the cutting rooms, coolers, offices, trucks and of course the harvest. What I observed of all people at Wild Idea was that every action, every decision, every process match their values. It’s truly awesome when a meat company can make a go at it as a business and honor the cycle of life.

Ray Vosilla

July 23, 2016

Great work. It is good to know that there are still people out there that are not selfish and only worried about profit. The entire meat industry should follow your example and people would be a lot healthier.
KIMBERLY

July 23, 2016

This is why I continue to buy your products. Thank you for all you do.

robert prosser

July 23, 2016

I live in CA. Where can I purchase you product?
bp

Cindy

July 23, 2016

Thank you so much for these photos and information. Everyone needs to know where their food comes from.

Carol Blackwell

July 23, 2016

Thank you so much for this wonderful post. I have always wondered about the procedure for harvesting, knew it would be done humanely but preferred not to think about it. This article is beautiful, is rich with ceremony and just as it should be. All of you at Wild Idea know how to do things right, and your buffalo products are absolutely wonderful. Keep up the good work, and your informative blogs that bring the prairie to enrich our lives.

Laura

July 24, 2016

First let me say I love your product and haven’t been disappointed in anything I’ve purchased. Thank you for sharing this
I was so impressed when I first read about the way you harvest. Thiis is so much more detailed an explanation of the process. To think that you will forgo the number of animals you want to harvest if it means unduly stressing the herd!
I try to stress the importance of grass fed/grass finished and why I made that change. I always share the info about your bison and the steps you’ve taken to raise and harvest in the most natural way possible! Thank you…

LOIS

July 24, 2016

Look at THAT picture…of the sky and the animal….one with GOD! There…I’m NOT ashamed that I would offend someone with the “G” word. The pictorial view and the step by step narration of the process is absolutely beautiful and to know this process of “harvesting” with no stress, keeps me coming back and purchasing more and more. There is no better tasting red meat than your buffalo meat. BTW….I wear my t-shirt proudly! :)

Vern

July 24, 2016

It’s taken me a lot of years to learn that every dollar I let go is a game changer on some level. . .my personal finances, certainly, the local economic impact of each of us, and, ultimately, the trends in evolving supply and demand of a free market enterprise system such as we enjoy in our country. Wild Idea meat and promo products are the standard that helps me to gauge what in God’s name I’m spending the rest of my resources on. There is none finer. The eternal meat.

Steve Glenn

July 24, 2016

Just finished having some Tenderloin Steaks on the B-B-Q from my latest order. Fantastic as always but I do have to give some credit to the chef – Me! The explanation of your harvest techniques and rituals was super interesting and only added to the reasons that your steaks, chops, roasts, etc are just of the best quality. Continue on my friends!!

Gary

July 24, 2016

A Ho!

Michael O'Brien

July 24, 2016

What Laurie said. Could not have said it better.

Lee Taylor

July 24, 2016

Personally, I am a vegetarian, but my dog is not. He has food sensitivities and the vet suggested a raw diet. So in order to provide this for him, I had to find not only a flesh that he can eat, but a humane way of killing the animals. This is by far the best I have found. And my boy loves it.

Jim Rudolph

July 24, 2016

I have a connection with your company and with the bison. I like open doors and transparency. We need more like you.

Bruce Green up

July 24, 2016

Sorry. I tried to add two “smiley faces”. They were translated as question marks which I did not intend. There is NO question re the greatness of Lincoln’s family!

Bob Watland

July 24, 2016

Loved your report and pics. This is why I buy your burgers and jerky. Keep up the good work. God bless and have a great day.

Jill Hammond

July 24, 2016

Wild Idea is the epitome of honesty and “humanity”. Tonight’s dinner is your shanks, slowly cooked.

Reverend Tom Carr

July 24, 2016

This is a great witness to the way it should and can be. Thank you.

Paul Graff

July 24, 2016

I was privileged to witness this entire process when we visited with you last year. This is an extremely accurate depiction of what I saw. And I saw every part of it. Thank you so jmuch for what you do.

Paul Graff

July 24, 2016

By the way, I was the sound mixer on a film crew. We stayed with you. Even tho the footage from Wild Idea didn’t make the finished film, it was my personal favorite shoot. Of all that I witnessed over seven weeks of filming and 16 states, you’re the pinnacle of humanely raised meat that people can buy. And so much more. Your entire philosophy of preserving the land is spot on, IMO.

Roxanne Fox

July 26, 2016

Thank you Wild Idea for all you do to provide me with this nourishment. I greatly understand your respect for the whole process and am educated by this insight into the workings of the business end.

Wayne frederick

July 26, 2016

It has been a pleasure to have worked with this crew and the others before it, along side dan and Jerry. To watch this company grow and take the care and respect for the pte oyate so that the gap of balancing buisness and culture has been bridged. What once was a dream to harvest the buffalo humainly is now a reality.. Pilamayo

Janet

July 27, 2016

Thank you for your beautiful, respectful words and images. I love your buffalo meat and everything about your ethic regarding the animals and the land. Wishing you continued success. I just finished reading Buffalo for the Broken Heart today. Loved it.

Larry Roberts

August 02, 2016

Your philosophy and practices are consistent with everything I know about good stewardship of our earth and natural resources. Before our visit and tour of your ranch on our return trip to our home in Alaska a couple of late springs ago we were already big “appreciators” of your life’s work and meat. As I write this message we have some ground buff simmering in an Italian sauce for our evening meal with spaghetti squash. We will again salute you all this evening as we raise a glass of fine red in your honor.

Sanford Paling

August 07, 2016

As sustainable food practices continue to shift closer to the norm, Wild Idea Buffalo Co. earns bragging rights for being one of the country’s first and only commercial ranches to offer humanely harvested meat from entirely grass-fed, free-roaming buffalo.

Tate Johnson

August 12, 2016

I am thoroughly impressed with your entire operation. I can’t imagine seeing this level of transparency from the “normal” producers. I really appreciate the respect you have for the land and the animals. Job well done. #bigfan Tate Johnson

Jerry

August 13, 2016

I love your willingness to share this wonderfully different approach to harvesting a great meat product. Delicious, nutritious, responsible, and respectful. Great work!

Daria Drury

August 21, 2016

I stopped being a customer of grocery store beef years ago and have been an exclusive customer of grass-fed, sustainable beef and bison since then. I appreciate you and what you do for the animals that provide food for us. Thank you – I am now your customer.

Jim Wild

September 02, 2016

Yvon Chouinard says, when faced with any situation always increase the quality. You have increased the quality of the earth, the animal and its spirit and, as a customer, the eating experience.

Kenneth James

September 09, 2016

Thank you for this information and more so for the thought that went into this process. There are many ways to get from Grazing to Freezer, you have definitely chosen a good one. Thank you! I voted with my wallet and ordered as well. Your books are inspiring. Glad to see this “Wild Idea!” paying it’s way! Get Some!

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