Meet Our Sourcing Partners

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.

Conata Ranch
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.

Vin & Carla Ryan

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. 

Conata Basin RanchThe 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.

Doug AlbertsonIndeed 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.”

Conata RanchDoug 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 nowyears 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.”

Conata Basin RanchSeven-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.”

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  • I remember the first day Mr. O’Neil showed up at salt camp bison ranch I was snappy he understood my struggles as I’ve had a few bad transactions with other bison buyers and didn’t like how they treated my mother and myself due to the fact we are women Mr. O’Neil was kind and I’ve really enjoyed visiting with him and appreciate how he understood the greatness in Native Americans raising a native animal on native land all natural grass fed animals and I really enjoyed working with wild idea they take the time to understand ?

    Wendy Mealer
  • Great article. I’ll bet it was tough getting quotes out of Doug. The quintessential strong, quiet type. He has a strong background and lots of knowledge if you can get it out of him. Vin and Carla are great people, too.

    Brian Kenner
  • I did not know that this “wild idea” had spread so far! Sourcing partners is sound business sense, and it’s wonderful that you’ve gotten like-minded ranchers on board with the way you raise and harvest buffalo and care for the land. Please extend my thanks to all the partners on board!

    Monica Van der Vieren
  • Thank you for the series you’ve begun about your sourcing partners. It’s wonderful to see how conservation and humane treatment can pay their way, all the while offering other ranchers and businesses an income-producing opportunity.

    We’ve known Carla and Vin since 1984. Not only are they successful business people, they’re also innovative conservationists. It’s also gratifying to learn about the ranch hands and their families. We know the crucial role of spouses in such endeavors, and looking to the future, it’s gratifying to know that Megan and Dusty are passing their values on to their children. And Doug’s background is vital, demonstrating that the philosophy of the Wild Idea is based both on science and rugged experience in the field. Thank you for all that you’re doing.

    Kay and Keith Lewis

    Kay and Keith Lewis
  • Nancy: Thank you for your questions. We do offer winter hides and they are for sale on our website:

    We also work with a few companies in regards to finished skulls with the “caps”/horns as well as the hide for leather goods. If we are not able to use/work with a specific part of the buffalo we give it back to the land.

    Very best from the prairie!

    Wild Idea Buffalo
  • For Carolyn: don’t be distressed. Harvest – gather a natural product. For Nancy: there was a time when Wild Idea sold bison hide robes for $1100. I wanted one but terry cloth was better for the budget

  • Another great article Jill. Thanks for keeping us all up to date on the happenings out there. It feels good to see the grasslands (or those portions of it) in such capable hands.

    Alan Anderson
  • I’m curious: what happens to that wonderful hide, the horns, the hooves, the sinews, etc.? The Native Americans used every part of the bison, mainly because the bison were their one-stop-shop for not only meat, but also clothing, tools, etc. We don’t necessarily need all the bison parts any more, but the hide, for example, makes stunning leather… :D

    Are you working with any partners along those lines? :)

  • There aren’t many true heroes in this world but Dan O’Brien is one of them with the energy and courage to do the right things.

    David M. Zebuhr
  • I enjoy reading all you all’s writings about the behind the scenes at Wild Idea and seeing photographs of all the folks involved. I have been a customer of Wild Idea’s for almost a year now. We enjoy the great service. I have recently read all of Dan, books and actually doing a small exhibit at the public library about Dan’s writings and South Dakota. All of that aside I was distressed to read that you the verb ‘harvest’ in rega’d to the slaughter of your Buffalo’s for food. I would hope you are not trying to sugar coat the realities of WHT happens to bring food to our tables. We are in need to be aware what it takes to get out food so we can really be realistic about the process. The verb ‘harvest’ should ony be used with grains, vegetable and fruit otherwise it is easy to lose sight of all you all are doing to provide healthy meat to us and make us remember it is a life and we should respect it.

    carolyn siscoe
  • I didn’t know that you worked with so many folks! This whole thing is so great!!

    Anne Clare
  • After reading Buffalo for the Broken Heart, we have added visiting Wild Idea Buffalo and one of the participating ranches to our Bucket List. We are from Northeast Ohio and with degrees in Environmental Education and Natural Resource Management we are committed to sustainable lifestyles and moving away from meat sources that do not support the natural cycles and ecosystems. We are members of our local Countryside Conservancy in the area between Cleveland and Akron, supporting local farmers by purchasing locally raised and organic produce as well as getting our eggs, etc. from appropriate members of the Conservancy. We have been buying buffalo from a farm near Ravenna, Ohio, but after reading about your approach, I am not questioning the rest of this person’s operation. You can be sure I will be asking tough questions when we go to the weekly farmer’s market on Saturday. Thank you for your vision and persistence in following through on that vision and dream. Given that we are birders and I am a ecologist and naturalist by trade you will be sure I will be in touch in the future for some sort of up-close and personal. Thanks for all you are doing!

    Jan Naher-Snowden

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