By, Jill O'Brien
We often get the question, “Do all of the animals you harvest come from your ranch?” The answer is no, but the ranchers that we source from have the same standards in animal husbandry, and manage their rangeland for conservation and ecological biodiversity.
We currently work with 15 ranching partners. They include privately-owned herds, tribal herds, and a conservation herd. And, as always, our mobile abattoir (slaughterhouse) travels to the designated ranch for every harvest. We harvest in South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana.
To do conservation work on a scale that will make a difference, you need others. We're very honored to be working with such passionate producers. We’ll be introducing these folks to you over the months ahead. Here’s our first profile in the series.
The Conata Ranch:
About 35 miles from the Cheyenne River Ranch, a ranch sits in the center of the Conata Basin, just south of Badlands National Park. It is owned by Carla Meyer and Vin Ryan. Carla and Vin were longtime WIB customers and years ago, after reading Dan’s book, Buffalo for the Broken Heart, they came out for a visit. They wanted to help with our mission of prairie restoration and conservation.
Fast-forward to 2012 when they became ranch owners. Vin stated, “When I was 18, I worked at the Grand Teton National Park. It was my first introduction to buffalo. The beauty of the animals and their relationship to the environment stayed with me. I never get tired of watching them. "It has also given them great pleasure to see how the reintroduction of buffalo on their ranch has contributed to the return of other wild life.
The Conata Ranch is managed by Doug Albertson. Doug is a local South Dakotan who has always loved animals and the outdoors. He has a degree in wildlife and forestry management, and his working background includes a stretch in the Peace Corps, wildlife biologist for the Badlands National Park, and ranch manager for the Nature Conservancy. During my visit, Doug pointed out the fence-line contrast between the buffalo pasture and the neighboring pasture due to the bisons grazing patterns and explained how that has also helped with erosion.
Indeed the Conata Ranch is a beautiful place with its diverse landscapes and stunning vistas. Doug said, “We have 31,000 acres for our 650 head of bison. We manage bison numbers based on the grassland health, and currently it’s been droughty.”
Doug works alongside their foreman, Dusty Smith, another South Dakotan who grew up around ranches, helping out his grandpa and neighbors. Dusty lives on the Conata Ranch too, with his wife Megan, daughter Kyla, and son Lane.
Dusty said that, "Going from working with cows to bison was like starting over from square one." But he enjoys the work and feels the work is important. ”Hopefully what we're doing will leave things a little better, so my kids can enjoy what’s here now—years later too.”
Although living in the middle of nowhere has its challenges with kids and school, Megan stated that she loves it. “It’s such a great place to raise a family; to be in nature and to show the kids all the wildlife, sunsets and sunrises. It’s so peaceful.”
Seven-year-old Kyla adds, “I like it too. I like the baby buffalo and riding in the truck to feed hay. But, my favorite thing to do is to go fishing in the pond with my Dad.”