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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.

Smudging

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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130 comments

  • You had me at “smudging”.

    Keith
  • I know there is nothing nuance to my comment, but felt the need to reiterate everyone else’s statements anyway. I believe the treatment and health of these animals during there life and death is paramount. Its great to see the procedures your company implements. I’m happy to pay the pass through cost of the additional expenses you guys incur by using these methods of healthy living and harvesting. As long as you continue these practices you will have my business.

    Thomas Prendergast
  • I get your emails. I look at your list of meats available. Is there any place in Missouri that it can be purchased? I have ate beef tongue all my life and love it. I have never had the chance to taste buffalo tongue. Some day I hope to.

    Charles Springs
  • It’s nice to know your company cares. All the benefits are too numerous to count… and your product is the best tasting meat on the planet. Thank you for all you do!

    Dale
  • Thank you for right living and right dying. I am sure there is a place prepared for people like you in the buffalo fields of heaven. I do not eat much meat, but hope to place an order soon to experience the taste of food processed in this way, a way that allows all creation to exist and pass away with dignity. Thank you. ( I might even call this comfort food😊)

    Jenny
  • Thank you for taking time to explain and to photograph the story of “where our food comes from”. it is good to know that the animals are harvested in such a humane way without fear and with,as you put it, with dignity. Every life is important and knowing the animals are treated well while growing up and also when harvested makes us never want to purchase bison from any other source. What you do at Wild Idea Buffalo is unique to the market and so very special. Thank you!

    Jerry and Norma Reynolds
  • This is why we continue to purchase from you. It’s important to know your farmer and your rancher, and we appreciate that you let us know your process.

    Willadee Hitchcock
  • This type of behavior should be practiced by the cow farms instead the CAFOS. Please read a book titled Chemical Warfare on America to learn how we are being poisoned and what to avoid. Book available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

    Adam
  • And that is exactly why I am a committed customer.

    Pamela
  • Your humane treatment and veneration of the majestic Buffalo is the whole reason I purchased your product in the first place, after reading Dan’s wonderful book. The quality and taste is the reason I continue to buy; it is unmatched. Thank you to all involved for what you are doing! You are making a difference in this world, which is something we all should strive to do.

    Kaye Hunt
  • Mark – Thank you for your support and your questions. We mark products sold out. Price is driven by the market price for grass-fed bison, which supply and demand have impact. We increase our herd only when we can increase our land mass. Our buffalo numbers have to be kept in harmony with what the land can handle.

    Wild Idea Buffalo Co.
  • Thank you so much for your transparency.

    Dawn Tirschel
  • I read the article and read a lot of the comments but did not read all the comments due to so many. I never saw my question but maybe you have answered this question in the comments or in a past post – but what happens when more customers demand your products do you just say sold out, start to increase the herd, raise the prices (supply and demand) etc…

    Thank you for your products.

    Mark Priest
  • I am reading a great book: Bison and People on the North American Great Plains, edited by Geoff Cunfer and Bill Waiser.
    They discuss the historical hunting on the Northern Plains and discuss the major bison food product, pemmican; a combination of dried pounded bison meat and melted bison fat. What do you do with the bison fats from your animals? Do you make a pemmican product? Can you discuss this in a future blog posting? I would also be interested in your Native American employees views on this historical food. Thank you.

    Rich Daileader
  • Thank you for your service and reverence for the Life on this Planet.

    Marisa

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