The Cost of Buffalo Meat

About a month ago, we raised our buffalo meat prices. The costs are driven by supply and demand which affects the market price for buffalo set by the USDA, and also other inflationary costs associated with raising an animal and ending up with a consumer ready - packaged product.

We heard from some of you on this price increase and we also had the opportunity to speak with some of you further, explaining that our price increase was absolutely necessary. We wanted to offer all those interested in knowing the costs of Wild Idea’s buffalo meat, the same transparency. 

The current USDA price for bison meat on the rail (an animal carcass) is $4.80 per pound. This price is based on grain-finished animals, as there are not enough grass animals to have a USDA data baseline. We add a sliding percentage to the USDA price based on animal weight and because of our higher criteria standards, which include; 100% pasture grass-fed/grass-finished, land stewardship through holistic ranch management, and protection of species.


To further understand the costs, it is also important to understand the salable meat of an animal. We typically harvest animals that are between two and three years of age and the weight breaks down to the following:

A 1,000-pound animal = a 500-pound carcass, which = a yield about 340 pounds of salable meat. Of that salable product, 240 pounds of it becomes ground meat. Comparatively you get 6 to 8 pounds of tenderloin, and around 20 pounds of ribeye per animal.

Our insistence of a humane field harvest also requires a separate crew of four to five workers and includes, a truck driver, sharp shooter, and butchers. The carcasses are then transported back to our plant, where a team of artisan meat cutters, sausage makers, and packagers turn those carcasses into consumer-ready, meat products.  Once the product is in the package, there are still two other departments between the product and the consumer; our sales and shipping teams. Plus, there are the expenses necessary to run a business.

Anyone who has ever been in the food industry knows that it is one of the lowest margin businesses in the world. And, even though we consumers spend  20+% less on food than what we did 70 years ago, we ironically still have strong opinions about it. We also get excited when food is cheap: “Five for a dollar!” “Eight bucks a pound!” “Buy one get one free!” We keep our focus on the upfront cost, without looking at the back-end costs of; prairie plow up, species loss, unhealthy soil and water, unhealthy animals, unhealthy food, and so on. The IOU is coming, and someone will have to pay.

Still, it is difficult to wrap our minds around food costs. Recently we received this question, “I just don’t get it, if you don’t have all of those inputs of additional feeds and corn, or, trucking to slaughter facilities, or hauling food to the animals, and your animals are just walking around eating grass, why is your meat more expensive?” Fair enough question. First, the feeds are subsidized by you the taxpayer. Second, for all the reasons mentioned above. And third, you must consider the land health and the land cost. Dan states, “When I bought my first ranch in South Dakota in 1970, the cost of land was $270.00 an acre. When I bought the first chunk of ground on our current ranch it was $400.00 an acre and now land is going for over $1,000.00 an acre. On the Great Plains mixed grass prairies, it takes about 35 acres per buffalo.  The only way to bring back the buffalo is to grow our land base. For me this is about conserving and protecting a threatened ecosystem. We simply can’t afford to lose our prairies.”

We should also be reminded that 90% of the buffalo meat that is raised for our food supply is finished in the cattle feedlot system. To compare these two different end products is like comparing apples to oranges. And, not just in taste, but also in the trickle down affects it has on the health of the land, water, animals, our food supply, and us.

At Wild Idea we take your comments and complaints very seriously and always try to make it right by you, as we know you have taken the time to sustainably source your food and that you have paid a fair price for the product.

We are very aware that we have a product that is not cheap and we are listening to you. Although a price increase was absolutely needed to keep our company going, we are trying to figure out how we can offer you a break without it breaking us.

We do occasionally offer bundles with free shipping and discounts when we can. So - if you have moved away from us due to price, we hope you stay connected - as there may be an offer that works for you. 

Our ground buffalo meat products are super user friendly and a must have staple that can be turned into so many delicious & healthy meals.

Please know that we will continue to do our best for you in every way, including pricing. We truly appreciate your support, not just for our company, but also for caring where and how your food is raised. Together, we can make a difference, one bite at a time.  Thank you.

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  • I certainly would not quibble with the arguments you make to justify the prices you charge for your products. I find them compelling. But I wish to focus particularly on the hugely important work you are doing in land conservation. My guess is that there’s an economist somewhere who can assign a value for this work to each pound of buffalo you sell. I do not pretend to have this competence, but I have witnessed first hand what happens when this work is not done. During the quarter century I lived in SD, the price of wheat rose high enough a number of times to tempt West River ranchers to tear up their land to plant it. A couple of times, there was a nasty convergence between the price of wheat and drought (West River – the area west of the Missouri River – is semi-arid to begin with). I recall seeing the ditches on either side of two lane highways filled to the brim with soil blown there from the drought-stricken and torn up land. Even failing such dramatic circumstances, in this area, it is not difficult to spot gullies cut into the ground where native grasses are missing. In short, the conservation work you do is, in my opinion, invaluable.

    Robert Hiatt
  • Thank you for your transparency, concern for the land and the animals on it. I know more about the meat I buy from you than any other food I consume. For all of these reasons your buffalo is now the only meat I eat in my home

    David Bauer
  • I work in the water industry, and we are experiencing similar discontent around the costs of water. One only has to tour a single water treatment plant to recognize the enormity of inputs that go into making water fit to drink. Food is the same. Unfortunately we have come to think of food in terms of the dollar amount, rather than the quality. And, it takes a lot to create a quality product. Other producers can go cheaper, because they cut corners, and a decline in our health has resulted. I will continue to support Wild Idea because the quality is unequalled and the humane treatment of animals trumps all for me. We’re proud to tell our friends and family where our food comes from.Thank you for doing what you do.

    Willadee Hitchcock
  • Thanks so much for the explanation. I will continue to buy your meat – for so many reasons.

    Loey Lukens
  • Hi Dan and Jill,
    Thank you for this explanation. It is difficult to explain the real cost of eating read meat if it is grown holistically, in a world that is only thinking on how to get the most for your buck not thinking hard enough what it takes to grow it responsibly. Whoever said that growing our food is cheap. I rather spend my money eating ‘clean’ food and stay away from the healthindustrie. The above statistic provided shows clearly where we are headed.
    To me Wildidea is the only supplier I know that does what it takes to consider the big picture and operates holistically. To me industrial agriculture such as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations(CAFO) is the most destructive to natural resources and people. Mass production of food has not served us well and we need to rethink and act on the way we grow our food. The movement is growing as people become more aware of eating local and organic, but we still don’t have the critical mass and I hope it will not be too late.
    I will stick with Wildidea because there is no other game in town
    Thanks Dan and Jill

    Angela Anderson
  • Great article of explanation of meat prices. I for one am willing to pay the price of your meat. We live in Central Oregon where there are three bison ranches within driving distance of us. One of them is trying to do it right, not sure about the other two. However, the taste of the meat that I’ve gotten locally is not even comparable to the amazing taste of Wild Idea meat. I so appreciate your transparency in all your blogs about the ranch, from beginning to end. I could buy bison locally but I purposely order from you because I know the quality is superior. Thank you for all your hard work of taking the care of the land and the bison back to where it originated. Also, as you mentioned, you often have sales that help cut down on cost. That is how I buy the majority of all the meat I buy from Wild Idea Buffalo Co. A big “thank you” to all your staff.

    Jeannette Hall
  • Thank you for the transparency, I support your cost increase. And even though I am not by any means well off, I believe that food, especially meat should be raised in a healthy sustainable environment and have always been willing to pay the money. I respect
    And honor all the farmers and ranchers who follow this practice


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