When I lived out west, one of the treats I really loved was getting bison burgers. I liked the flavor and texture. This was well before I taught myself much about food. I was drawn to bison because it felt “western” and “exotic.” Later, as I was educating myself about meat, bison came up a lot. It is a leaner animal, and usually ranged, so it is eating grass, what it is meant to eat. When we looked into obtaining bison, we found two major problems. First, and foremost, no one raised bison locally, and second, even the far away places we did find it, it was cost prohibitive. Luckily, as more people look to get involved with food production, more opportunities arise for consumers to purchase things like bison being raised closer to home.
Enter Shane Robbins, owner of Buck Wild Bison.
I had the opportunity to speak with Shane at the Collingswood Farmer’s Market a couple of weeks ago. The very thing that drove me to write a book about eating better is what drove Shane to get involved with farming — he loves to eat. The reason he chose to start raising bison was multi-faceted. He became interested in the animal upon learning how close they came to extinction. When one considers that the bison once roamed this country so thickly that a story was passed down about a settler and his family who took three days to pass through a single herd, it is mind-boggling to think that they could have been wiped out. Shane learned about ranchers’ efforts to save and repopulate bison herds and wanted to be a part of it.
Because bison are an indigenous species, they are naturally adapted to North American living conditions and live “wild” in ways that other species cannot. Almost every domesticated food animal in the common American diet came from somewhere else, mostly from Europe along with the people who were settling here. The big exception is the turkey, but what we eat has little resemblance to that splendid wild bird that is experiencing a huge resurgence in Southern New Jersey. But when that wild bird was prolific along the coast, prior to the 1600’s, it had buffalo for company. The herds were not as large as those out west, and as the population increased, the buffalo population decreased.
What does all of this mean for Shane? It means that bison are adapted. They don’t get sick like other food animals. They don’t require much more than weekly inspection. Unlike cows, they calve on their own with no problems. The caution is this: they are still wild, a little on the shy-side, can run 40 mph, and can jump a 5′ fence. For the moment, that fence is in Pennsylvania, where Shane is leasing land from a “surrogate” farmer, who keeps an eye on things when he can’t be there. Long term, though, Shane hopes to get a farm in New Jersey and bring things a little closer to home.
The bison are processed at Smucker’s in Mt. Joy, PA, where they are dry-aged for 21 days and then custom cut. Shane brings a large variety to the market including burgers, roasts, sausage. The day that I spoke with him, he was sold out of just about everything.
Why should you try bison? It is a lean meat, with a nice beefy flavor. Bison is easier to cook than grass-fed beef, which tends to dry out if you aren’t careful. The Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio is much better than that of conventional beef and is heavy on CLA’s (good for your joints). It has fewer calories than grass-fed beef (about 20% fewer) and conventional beef (about 35% fewer).