Let the buffalo roam to restore the prairies – and provide a better burger at Fourth of July cookouts.
By Dan O’Brien
America’s birthday might seem an odd time to promote sustainability. After all, it is the quintessential summer holiday and there is nothing environmentally friendly about sending fireworks up into the sky.
I believe the Fourth is still a perfect time for cookouts with steaks and hot dogs but it doesn’t have to be limited to just cuts of beef cattle. We developed our buffalo beef model based on helping the environment and also recognizing the importance of one of America’s greatest resources.
From Cattle To Buffalo
Fifteen years ago I was a struggling cattle farmer who had run up against a string of tough winters and one of the inevitable downturns in the business. I was spending a lot of money raising cows to a certain point and then shipping them off to the feedlot where they would get fattened up and butchered. I was part of the problem by turning a naturally bio-diverse landscape in South Dakota into a monoculture, destroying thousands of species in the process.
A visit to a friend’s buffalo herd led me to believe there was a better way of providing high quality meat to the public.
If you had visited my South Dakota ranch in the 1800s you would have seen buffalo roaming everywhere. Even though the herds became extinct because of excessive hunting and human expansion, this is their natural habitat. Truth be told, this is not a cow’s natural territory and they are out of place here.
Restoring The Land Naturally
My “wild idea” was to bring buffalo back to this land. Buffalo help restore the land they graze to greater biodiversity. There are no fossil fuels used to plant and fertilize crops, and no trucks moving feed and animals to feedlots. We harvest the buffalo with dignity in the pastures they graze.
Our Wild Idea bison graze much like their ancestors, eating nothing but the grass beneath their feet. The Great Plain’s nutrient dense native grasses produce a delicious, healthy red meat, rich in omega 3s. Buffalo is one of the few red meats recommended by the American Heart Association because it is very low in total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.
By caring for the land and giving the buffalo room to roam, the prairie is nurtured back to health. Grasses, forbs, and flowers flourish, providing a sustainable eco-system for all creatures great and small. We are now affiliated with other like-minded ranchers, including Native American ranchers and Nature Conservancy herds, positively impacting over 150,000 acres of grasslands.
Progress On Healthier Meat
The United States is a great, beautiful country -- and a true testament to the power of democracy. That’s why I wonder how Americans will react to the latest news that the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to require labels for meat that is mechanically tenderized, which can force a disease agent like E. coli deep inside, where cooking doesn't necessarily kill it.
Are we truly reaching the tipping point for justified outrage over our food system?
This Independence Day, it’s important to celebrate as Americans always have with parades, fireworks and cookouts. I just urge us all to take a second to also think of America’s pioneers – the folks that came before us. A buffalo steak, raised 100 percent on grass, is probably how they enjoyed the holiday.
Doesn’t sound like anything could be more American than that!
About the Author:
Dan O’Brien is the owner and head rancher of Wild Idea Buffalo, located in South Dakota between the beautiful Black Hills and the Badlands National Park.