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, Dallas Steen checks the sights on his rifle one last time to assure accuracy.


The crew is ready to go and the inspector has given the green light to start the harvest. Without words the crew gathers. Dallas 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 Dallas 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.

Wild idea Bison Herd

Dallas 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. Dallas is looking for a two to three-year-old animal, around 900 to 1,000 pounds.

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

Dallas 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. 

Buffalo Field harvest

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

Buffalo Harvest

Humane buffalo Field HarvestThe animal drops instantly to the ground where it was grazing. Dallas moves the truck forward to the dead animal as the other buffalo slowly move away. The inspector inspects the animal before a slit near the heart is made 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 very popular with our customers.

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.

On 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.

Lone Buffalo

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.


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  • I love the liver, so I am very grateful that you are able to provide that. Thank you.

    Katherine Starace
  • Thank you for sharing this. It brought us to tears to see such care and consideration for the sacred value of each life. We weep so often for the millions of animals that meet grisly, horrible deaths, and wish immensely that everyone in America cared as much.
    Thanks again; God bless.

    Katee Stahl
  • Thank you for the great explanation of your harvesting method. We will share the article. We recommend your product to friends and relatives and share your books with them. We are trying to eat less meat as we learn more about the sad treatment of the animals. So thank you for providing humanely produced and harvested fine meats that we can enjoy.

    David and Pamela Palmer
  • This is awesome. I had fresh deer heart for breakfast this past Thursday. We plant for them, and work hard at making sure they’re healthy and strong. I thank them for the life giving sustenance they provide.

    Vincent Miller
  • Hi Jill, thanks for your answer about hides etc, interesting ; I really hope to come and see you this year, middle or end of June ; I will contact you when I am sure to come ; cross fingers !

  • I’m a Native subsistence hunter. I really appreciate your care, your methods, your respect for the four-legged people who provide us with sustenance. I am also curious to know what caliber rifle is used to take the selected animal.

    Larry Heady
  • I used to transport thousands of Buffalo from Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and a few other states as well. All went to 2 different slaughter houses. The animals were so wound up it was dangerous to unload. That said I greatly appreciate how you harvest. The animal is a Majestic beast and deserve the respect. Thank you and God Bless.

    James Englehart
  • Thank you for being transparent, and honoring the animal. This makes me love Wild Idea Buffalo even more! The thought and care your team provide for not only the bison, but prairie lands, is deeply appreciated! I especially enjoy the educational information shared!

  • I hope that all these folks leaving comments buy your bison meat. I do and it is the best! I wish you could lose the truck for a shooting base but understand the sure shot it offers. Perhaps crossed sticks on the ground could do the same thing.
    Your entire operation is steeped in respect for the animal and the spirit of authenticity. the cost are greater but the results are the greatest. It shows in the pictures when the selected animal is shot and falls that the others keep nearby without a sense of shock or fear. I will keep buying and someday will hope to visit your ranch.

    two dog
  • Great article. I learned a lot about your process.

    Eirik Heikes
  • I’m not even sure what to say, but THANK YOU. Thank you for being who you are, with sharing this detail with us, for being so considerate and conscientious about Nature and our responsibility to Her. Even my vegan friends have given the “I guess they’re okay” seal of approval, which is actually saying quite a bit!

    Anthony Earthen
  • Thank you for what you do, from smudging, to patience, herd respect, and to wanting to share with the end-consumers of this meat. It is hard to see images of the chosen animal going down. I am a vegan-at-heart who needs to eat differently for health reasons. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! So glad I found you!

    Susan Green
  • Having been lucky enough to harvest a Bison myself several years ago I can fully appreciate the effort and team coordination required to do what you do so well. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your description of your harvest and in fact was “transported” to the prairie as one of the “team” while reading it. Keep up your extraordinary dedication to providing the highest quality Bison beef. I have been a customer of Wild Idea for over 3 years now and have never been disappointed in the quality of the steaks, chops and “specials”. Thank you from my friends and family and my Bar-B-Q!

    Steve Glenn
  • Love this company! I’ve never had a bad piece of meat from you, always the best!

  • Ok, you’ve brought tears to my eyes on this fine morning as I now get to feel what it’s like to be 64. Will you still need me. . .will you still feed me?

    Vernon Cross

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