By Samantha Hawkins
One afternoon spent on the family run Northern Buffalo Ranch and you feel like a part of the family.
A diverse family, the Andersens, Doug and Maureen, and their children Kristian, Mark and Natalie got their start in logging and initially only raised buffalo as a hobby.
Doug and Maureen purchased their first buffalo in 1980 from Durham Ranch in Wyoming and by the mid 80s had a herd of 200.
Kristian recalls, “People would laugh, we had 200 head of buffalo on our land and had never eaten a single one, we just liked to look at them.”
One hundred and seventy five of those 200 buffalo were eventually sold to the Canadian Bison Association in Alberta in 1986 where most were then shipped to Vancouver for the ‘86 Expo to feed the masses as buffalo burgers.
With the decline of logging in the area, in 2010 the Andersens branched out and began doing more with the herd roaming free on their 880 acre property in Dryden.
As buffalo are fairly self-sufficient the majority of the outside work done is repairing and maintaining fencing, and occasionally bringing a rambunctious bull or two back home. Doug says that the buffalo know where home is and they can find their way back on their own, but it’s the time they’re roaming free that concerns them.
“They’re wild animals,” Maureen reminds everyone, “You can never forget that.”
With the average bull weighing 2,600 pounds it takes an experienced hand to manage a herd.
The buffalo’s naturally thick coat allows them to withstand the harshest climates and as they are natural foragers, they require little by way of food. A salt block here and there and some locally grown Timothy in the winter and these large animals grow naturally to become some of the healthiest meat available.
Thanks to the Cloverbelt Local Food Co-Op more and more people are having the opportunity to try this ‘heart healthy’ meat option which Mark says has been a real benefit to Northern Buffalo Ranch and has added many more customers to their core group.
“Its akin to shopping at the supermarket, the same people will buy steaks one week and the next will get a roast or some burger depending on what they want, so its been really good for us.”
This new influx of customers has allowed the Andersens to work comfortably at increasing their herd numbers, currently at 80 with a goal of reaching 200.
With the average buffalo mating at two years of age, having a gestation period between 270 and 280 days and giving birth to only one calf per year it is slow, but positive growth.
Northern Buffalo Ranch never feedlots their herd prior to slaughter and all of their animals are antibiotic and steroid free, adding to the list of healthy reasons to eat local bison.
Bison itself is non allergenic, higher in protein and iron, and lower in cholesterol and fat than other meat, having a mere 2.8 percent fat, compared to 27.9 percent in beef. This can make it difficult to cook if you’re not used to preparing bison, but the Andersens include recipes with every order to help customers get the most out of their meals and with Mark also being a professional chef, they have some pretty amazing recipes.
On top of buffalo farming and logging Maureen also breeds champion Alaskan Malamutes. One buffalo female was bottle fed by Maureen and Natalie as a calf and now prefers the company of the dogs over that of the herd. Lucky as they came to call her is very friendly, and will even go so far as to try to get into the Andersens home.
The Andersens do have a very inviting home and are a wonderful family caring for remarkable animals. Their sustainable and safe farming practices are helping to bring good quality, healthy food to local tables.
View their website at www.keikewabic.com to see the many sides of the Andersen family or shop online at www.cloverbeltlocalfoodcoop.com to try some bison for yourself.