We are having a wonderful autumn on the Northern Great Plains. The temperature has dipped below freezing only a couple nights and the days have been balmy with light southerly winds. For the last two days the gaggling sound of sand hill cranes has drifted down from thousands of feet above. They are laughing at those of us who do not fly south. Last year the cranes looked down on hundreds of our buffalo, black against three feet of snow.
Eighteen years ago they looked down on only a couple dozen buffalo, a beat-up pickup truck, and a small group of friends who figured out how to field harvest the first crop of purely grass-fed/grass-finished Wild Idea buffalo. That beginning herd had helped bring a level of bio-diversity to our tiny ranch, and with this process we did not contribute to the expansion of corn farming across the Great Plains, and the five buffalo we harvested in our pastures that first year did not have to spend the last months of their lives standing in the squalor of a feedlot. We had the carcasses processed at a local meat plant and we sold the meat to mostly family and friends. Eighteen years ago there was no model for grass-fed, field-harvested buffalo. Until that autumn, all commercially sold, buffalo meat came out of feedlots where the animals were forced to eat grain and other by-products of industrial agriculture. They were all hauled to slaughter plants to be killed and processed without dignity. Eighteen years ago, the Wild Idea was something brand new.
That first year our operation impacted the thousand acres of our little ranch and whatever prairie would have been plowed up to grow enough corn to fatten those five harvested buffalo in a feed lot. It was a wholly insignificant, postage size piece of the Great Plains but this year we impacted over three hundred and fifty thousand acres.
This year the animals were harvested from our pastures, the pastures of Lakota herds, and the herds of other like-minded buffalo producers. Every buffalo was certified grass-fed and field harvested. The beat-up pickup truck has been replaced by a semi-truck and a harvest trailer manned by four Wild Idea employees. The carcasses are cut, packaged and frozen in our own plant by artisan butchers. Our hot dogs, sausage, and jerky are prepared and smoked by our trained charcuterie specialist. The building in Rapid City, South Dakota sizzles with activity. The mobile harvester unloads carcasses at one freight dock and FedEx trucks load boxes at another dock. An informative website – with creative recipes and first class photography – hums away behind it all.
Jill and I would like to take credit for making healthy, honorable buffalo meat available to the American public but we can’t. A lot of the credit goes to the workers at Wild Idea who believe in letting buffalo remain buffalo. But most of the credit goes to the customers of Wild Idea Buffalo Co. who have demanded that their meat be raised and handled, from birth to death, with the same honesty and deep respect we have for the landscape and the other animals that live there.
We thank you for your support and promise to continue to work and fight to supply you with a delicious red meat that does no damage to our environment or the people who consume it.