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August 29, 2018

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Revolution

Most of us can agree that our world is in crisis. It seems impossible that politicians can ignore, in addition to many other problems: a warming climate, shifts in weather patterns, a huge decline in species diversity in just our lifetimes, the loss of carbon in our soil, soaring cancer rates, an obesity epidemic, and rampant diabetes. I became aware of this pending crisis in 1970, the year that I graduated from college. I sought shelter in South Dakota, where disaster appeared to be holding off and where “conservation” was not yet a controversial term. Even then I knew that the soil, and the grass of the Great Plains were far more valuable than dollar bills. I was just a kid, but I knew that I had a duty to fight for the other species with whom we share the earth.

The problems were epic and the solutions would be difficult to execute, but the causes were easy to trace. In part or wholly, the abuses and shortcomings of modern industrial agriculture were to blame. The swing from grass-based protein to grain-based production was, and still is, at the root of most of the issues that threaten our existence.

Bison Herd

For the last twenty-five years I have been trying to fight back against the damage wrought by this shift by raising near-wild buffalo. For the 14 years before that I began the quest for truly grass-fed animals and healthy grasslands. I was an endangered species biologist working first for the state of SD and then for The Peregrine Fund based at Cornell University. The peregrine falcon was placed on the endangered species list in 1970 and, in an effort to bolster their tiny wild population, I was one of the people hired to take captive-bred chicks to remote release sites on the cliffs along the Rocky Mountain Front. I oversaw the people who watched over these young birds, helping them learn to fly and hunt. The work was mostly in the spring and summertime, so I had the winters to feed a few beef cattle and learn to write books. It took until 1999 for the falcons to be taken off of the endangered species list but, long before that, I knew that the job of reintroducing falcons into the wild was nearly at an end. We were successful in bringing the falcons back, but we’d worked ourselves out of our jobs. I needed to find another way to express my passion for conservation.

The crisis of the peregrine falcon was brought on mostly by the agricultural use of DDT. The ground-nesting birds of the Great Plains were the peregrine’s food source and the origin of the DDT that killed them. Big ag, of course, refused to admit any culpability and getting DDT banned in the U.S. and reestablishing the falcons in their old haunts was a huge fight that cost many millions of dollars. In the time I spent traveling up and down the Great Plains, I came to realize that single species conservation was almost impossible without working to protect all the species that shared a habitat.

The Great Plains has been my home for 50 years and I have come to see that industrial agriculture, with its chemicals, monocultures of corn and beans, have replaced the species-rich grasslands, and its acquisitive and consumptive ways, has been threatening my own habitat for decades. The peregrine falcon’s crisis may have temporarily passed, but every other creature on the Great Plains was still at great risk. Since I was nearly out of a job, I decided to put my efforts into the conservation of the Great Plains themselves.     

You don’t have to think long about repairing the torn fabric of the Great Plains before you come to the specie that held that fabric together for thousands of years, the buffalo. At about the same time that the peregrine falcon came off the endangered species list, I decided to sell my tiny cattle herd, and I bring a dozen baby buffalo to our ranch on the fringe of the Black Hills.

I was not interested in manhandling the Great Plains to produce more saleable products but in doing what I could to make it like it was when Europeans first laid their eyes on it. Our little ranch business began over twenty years ago with a mission to raise buffalo on nothing but grass and to slaughter them in the most humane and honorable way possible – in the pastures where they were born and lived, surrounded by their herd mates.

In those early days, when I was twenty years younger, I built the fence, drove the semi, shot and skinned the buffalo, and saw to it that they were delivered in good shape to the cut and wrap plant that was processing our meat. My wife did all the advertising and dealt directly with the customers.

That first year we harvested six animals. A few years later, our daughter graduated from college and came to join us. That was the first time I’d seen an Excel spreadsheet. Since then I’ve seen way too many. Now we have our own cut and wrap plant, a sales staff, and a shipping department. We have 23 in-house employees (five of whom are family members) and we now harvest nearly 900 buffalo per year. We are far from rich, but we’re making payroll every two weeks and haven’t missed a meal yet. The species diversity on our ranch is however rich, and the grass is thick, and I can hunt grouse every fall or just sit on the deck and hear nothing but the sound of birds. That is about all I aspire to these days. And most of the time it is enough.

Sharptail Grouse

We have no intentions of turning our family business into an industry. We do not ascribe to the popular theory that bigger is always better and companies must grow or die. Wild Idea Buffalo Company will never be a corporation with a board of directors and stockholders to please. There will never be an IPO. Industrial agriculture and corporations are not the friend of grass-fed operations or conservation in general. We will not be seduced by the same people and the systems that caused the crisis, we have spent our lives fighting. There will never be a grand pay-out when we are absorbed by a large corporation. We don’t long to retire to a tropical paradise. Our healthy little ranch IS a paradise.

So, if we are not after the money, what are we doing? We’re doing our best to see that the animals we eat are the animals that evolution originally made them to be. We don’t forget the other creatures that have a claim on the land, and we don’t forget the kids.

Our family and the people who will follow us on our piece of the Great Plains is what our work is all about. After 50 years of struggle, I’m particularly moved to know that my own children are carrying the fight forward. Jill and I are very lucky to have sensible, hardworking kids. Jilian runs the business, and you’ll find her at the office early most days. Colton shoulders the jobs I used to do, and I have to admit that he’s better at them than I ever was. There is another generation of grand kids coming up right behind them. I don’t guess that I’ll live forever. The kids are the fuel for my passion.

But, there is another reason we’re on the land: Sometimes great changes are born from or bolstered by small groups of people with a better idea, and if this sensible land movement is one of those times, I want to be part of it.

Consider one of the monumental turns that the world took in the last half of the eighteenth century, when common people, like us, gathered in Colonial America to discuss a break from their homelands and ancient way of governing the world through monarchy and hereditary class distinction. In the years leading up to our Declaration of Independence, America, and indeed many people in other parts of the world, recognized the fatal error in organizing governments on the lines of heredity and class. The world was sizzling with the electricity of change. I feel similar electricity. I feel it in America’s agricultural lands and in the kitchen of the nation.

One of those common men who felt the sizzling of eighteenth-century America was Thomas Paine. He expressed the energy of those heady days eloquently in his pamphlet, “Common Sense.” In the appendix to that plea for revolution, he said this: “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” He believed that serious revolution was in the wind, and so do I. Though he might have wished that change would come quickly, the fact is that the change took centuries. The change that we seek will not come fast either. Let’s hope that it does not take centuries because we probably don’t have that much time.

Now, perhaps more than ever, it is critical that we stand together, as Thomas Paine challenged his comrades to do. He promised the love and thanks of man and woman. Our reward will be the love and thanks of our children, grandchildren, and all the generations to come.


Comments

Doug Studer

August 29, 2018

We have to stand with the planet. Answers to so many of our challenges can be found in the ancient wisdom of Nature. If only we could check our species arrogance long enough to look listen and learn from mentors that have been at this far far longer that we have.

Claude Immer

August 29, 2018

Great !you are just what the humanity needs ! but…

Maureen

August 29, 2018

Thank you so much Dan, you and your amazing family are a great inspiration and source of optimism for the future. Wild Idea helps me to maintain my health and well being, I can’t imagine living without access your bison meat.
knowing how the bison live and are harvested is essential information.

Christopher Collins

August 29, 2018

I could list hundreds if not thousands of people who should read this and understand how incredibly right this entire message is and how one man can really care for this once great country and make a differnce in how some peopl think or should I say fail to think and care. I hate doom and gloom but right now I have seen this country slip away because of the ignorance of people . I am a veteran combat marine who served in Nam and came home to eventually learn that my fight for this country was not over and it was not in any foreign land but right here. I sincerely appreciate this commentary and its contents cannot be denied. Excellent all the way around

Bob Mahoney

August 29, 2018

Well put Dan, I believe in your Wild Idea philosophy and what you are doing I wouldn’t change anything, keep up the good work

Richard Pavlisko

August 29, 2018

Thank you. All of you.

John ingram

August 29, 2018

Thank you for your mutual love for our planet, its living creatures and our future.

Thomas C Jensen

August 29, 2018

Dan, Jill, family, and all the WIB team: Thank you. You are leading from the front. Inspiring and supporting fellow citizens hoping to do right by creation. You are a gift to the planet.

Tom, Sarah, Sam, Henry, Carter.

David Bauer

August 29, 2018

Amen. And thank you for providing me with a source of animal protein I feel good about eating

Tanah whitemore

August 29, 2018

Thank you Dan, for saying sooo passionately what we here at the Sacred Ground Buffalo Preserve in Montana hold dear and support as well. You must know you have inspired me many times to keep going, to keep listening, learning for a better more informed world for us and the generations to follow. I am an optimist and a stronger one because of people like you and your family. Thank you.

Kirsten Collins

August 29, 2018

i’m in. i am 100% in.

Suzanne M Kessler

August 29, 2018

You have so eloquently shared your thoughts. Know that you speak for more of us than you realize. You, your family and all those who work with you are wished continued patience, courage and optimism.

Tony Luscombe

August 29, 2018

Wasteyelo, as our Lakota friends would say! It means “very good!” Keep up the good work! It is why my wife and I buy your meat and we encourage our friends to do the same. You provide a way for anyone who shares your passion to participate in the conservation of the Great Plains and its diversity!

Tony Luscombe

August 29, 2018

Wasteyelo, as our Lakota friends would say! It means “very good!” Keep up the good work! It is why my wife and I buy your meat and we encourage our friends to do the same. You provide a way for anyone who shares your passion to participate in the conservation of the Great Plains and its diversity!

Linda Clark

August 29, 2018

Your essay will be forwarded far and wide. I hope it will provide enough impetus to get more of those who read it to buy your wonderful meat and do their part in the conservation of the Great Plains. It is only my finances that limit my orders but I look forward to soon enjoying a bison chuck roast again. Amazing how much more meat there is still after a slow roasting—not like a beef chuck roast that shrinks so drastically when all the corn-fed fat is cooked off! Thanks for your work and your way with words.

Siggy Palmer

August 29, 2018

I believe in the ripple effect: that the words you speak and the integrity of your life – of all of our lives – are the energy that will be the tipping point toward change on our planet. Current events have made it crystal clear that we will topple as a nation – as humanity – unless we find and value what holds us together…unless we get back to the soil and the roots and air that we all share. Thank you for using your gift to make a stand, to be the voice, and for living in a way that shares that light in such an inspirational and healing manner.

Pamela M Corcoran

August 29, 2018

I am so grateful for the work you and your family do, and for your dedication to sharing your knowledge with others.

Sherry DeBoer

August 29, 2018

Thank you for your insight and wisdom. Thanks to you and your family’s commitment and dedication to the next generations. Thank you for sharing this with us—your way of life is an inspiration.

Alan Anderson

August 29, 2018

Thanks Dan and family! Your words and actions continue to inspire me to keep active in advocating for action on climate change. It is so easy to get discouraged.

Ellen Olander

August 29, 2018

Thank you for your eloquent words, your tireless work on the behalf of all of us. I hope for the very best for you, your family, your hopes & dreams to fix this mess we have created.

Blake O'Quinn

August 29, 2018

our challenge also encompasses better policy which shouldn’t allow disaster capitalism the tools for environmental harm to continue. we need responsible capitalism, we must insist on “green” capitalism. healing policy will do much to heal the planet as time runs shorter and shorter for this necessary change of attitude/ gratitude.

thanks, dan, for the special words, the beautiful land and inspiring hard work for what we all cherish like you and Jill and family do. excellent pictures, Jill, as they capture the sensations of living upon the plains perfectly. beautiful family.

Holly Hopper

August 29, 2018

Thanks to you and your entire “family”, for all your hardwork, inspiration, and dedication to making this planet a better place to live! Our earth is the only one we’ve got,we don’t get another and I deeply appreciate not just eating your delicious Buffalo meat, but all the components that go along with it!!

Alison Merrill

August 29, 2018

Loved reading this: succint, moving, sincere… Thanks for all you and your family do. I’m with you! I tell all my busloads of French tourists about your ranch and especially your book— it’s been translated, so it’s on my list of recommended reading for them.

Cheves Leland

August 29, 2018

Wonderfully stated. Thank you for opening up a whole new world to those of us unfamiliar with your world – and for bringing it back and inspiring others to do the same wherever we are. I will share this with others who I hope will continue or take up the burden we all share of re-creating a healthy, self-sustaining and vigorous planet. Take care. My goal is to make it to SD and see the wonders you and your family And team are making.

C.Michael Wharton

August 29, 2018

Can’t wait to meet you all if possible in S.D. Ever since I first read “Buffalo for the Broken Heart” i have been a disciple to your way of thinking about the world. Now I just came across the copy of “The Rites of Autumn” my wife gave to me for Christmas 1988. At the time I was an apprentice falconer to Tom and Peggy Cullen , and they used to bring Harris hawks for us to fly after my (much smarter} pheasants on our little patch in Ulster County, NY. Several tears ago, I tried to visit the Black-footed ferret breeding facility in Wyoming (?) on one of our drives across America without success – then I had read that they were being reintroduced in S.D.-and now I find out it is on your Ranch.( I used to hunt rabbits as a boy in England with a pair of ferrets). We are hoping to visit our second son in Omaha at the beginning of October , and wondered if anything will be going on in the ferret world and on your ranch at that time . Our son’s father-in-law is from Lead,S.D. – brother to the late Senator Dunn , who I hope saw things from your side of the fence ! Always enjoy your essays – and would love to hear from you. With best wishes to your growing clan , Michael Wharton.

Brenda Curwick

August 29, 2018

Thank you a 1000s times over for all you have and continue to do. In trying to eat lectin free and get healthier your buffalo meat is pure protein with out all the crap they use in a feed lot. Plus your humane way of processing the animals makes my heart feel good! Keep up the great work!!! THANKS

Audrey Cullen

August 30, 2018

Dan and family – thanks for all you do to restore the prairie, provide habitat for all sorts of beings (from microbes to bison!), providing great, respectfully harvested meat and apparently a decent amount of jobs to folks out there. Thanks for following your heart, having the passion and courage (maybe an ounce of Irish strubborness as well!) to start the ripples of change. Many thanks to you and yours.

Denise Munger

August 30, 2018

Love getting your emails and reading them. Wish there were more people that cared about the land, animals and soul and heart of the earth. Thank you , your family and caring staff for making and doing what yous do to make the heart of the land, buffalo and many other things thrive. Alot of pride and soul.

David. Mason Carter

August 30, 2018

KEEP THE GOOD WORK UP

James Snipes

August 30, 2018

Wonderful article the more of this life that use up. The I realize we need to get back to basics of life. We use to much and give back to little thanks for how you guys run your operation.

raymond vosilla

August 30, 2018

thank you and your family for fighting for our grand and great grandkids for a healthy future.we cant’t let the rich kill our planet for profits.
Philip Newlin

August 30, 2018

Excellent writing and a solid argument for sustainable ranch practices. I am inspired by your work and your ethically run company. I agree with your views and that the more people working towards this goal, the better our society will be. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you do, and want you to know that you have lifelong customers for me and my family.

Leanne Frank

August 30, 2018

Dan, people like you and your family are making a difference. I am so grateful for what you’re doing.

Kaye Hunt

August 30, 2018

Thank you, one and all, for all that you are doing. I love your products; they are incomparable, but I love most of all why you started this business.

Craig Spencer

August 30, 2018

Dan, Your words and actions continue to be an inspiration for me and my students. Thank you.

Dr. Betsy Hesser

September 01, 2018

As a resident of Wyoming who sometimes wakes to buffalo gnawing on my porch furniture or just ambling through, I would like to thank you for your essay. I get to live in a place that is still wild and would dearly love to keep it that way. I admire that you are trying to make your way in this world while protecting what is precious and supporting a family that will hopefully carry on that tradition. Bravo!

Claude Immer

September 01, 2018

Great !you are just what the humanity needs ! but…

Jerry and Norma Reynolds

September 01, 2018

How wonderful and encouraging to have people like you who speak to the heart of what we have believed and felt for several years. We find it encouraging to see Americans finally waking up to reading ingredients on packages and opting away from chemicals and GMO products. To see small enclaves in stores with “Natural” written over the area grow to stores with aisles labeled Non-GMO and “all natural” on the packaging. Finally we see Monsanto and other conglomerates feeling the bite so badly that they – we fully believe – will soon be a thing of the past. Big Ag as well as Big Pharma will go by the wayside and we think this is happening at an increasing pace. I grew up on a farm in the South and though we never used it, DDT was being sprayed over cotton crops. It is amazing we survived to tell it. As you say – we MUST become more aware of the entire environment around us and stop the Anglo mentality that is like a bull in a china shop. Our ancestors landed on these shores and the centuries of greed began in this land. We want to be two of those from that ancestry that helps to see that tide turned. Thank you for ALL you are doing!!

Tom Carr

September 01, 2018

Thank you.

Vernon Cross

September 02, 2018

Clean air free of high altitude chemical trails, clean water, now being touted as “raw water,” in places which still have it springing relatively free from heavy industrial run-off, vital soil as you surely know best how to nurture it, and sustainable energy sources plugging along free from the prejudices of greed and avarice. . .rocket-less science in awe of celestial vistas not bent on conquering space, but revering it. It rankles that it took me 65 years to realize these simple wonderful preferences free from my own will to compromise them. You help tremendously my getting over it. Go O’brien clan!

Karen Filter

September 03, 2018

Many of us share your views on the world in general. Amidst the horrendous numbers of wildfires occurring these days comes the knowing that fire can actually rejuvenate the forests and grasslands that burn. Somehow we can eventually enjoy new growth, natural growth and new territory to support wildlife as they, too, recover. Thanks Dan for letting the buffalo roam far to regrow the beautiful plains of your ranch!

Gigi

September 03, 2018

So good to read your thoughts Dan! Your entire life represents the miracle of nature happening at your ranch and the WID business. Do keep mor in touch with us all :)

Anne Walters

September 08, 2018

I learned about Wild Idea by purchasing a few items at a farmer’s market in Minneapolis years ago, including Buffalo for the Broken Heart. Your efforts have inspired me since, and I am always moved by your hope. Your customers stand with you. Thanks for your gentle voice and firm conviction, and for the most excellent food! Your family is a blessing.

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