No other animal embodies the great strength and determination of this country more than the noble and majestic American Bison, symbolizing at once our best and worst instincts. It is the only contemporary species of mammal that is singularly indigenous to the North American continent. As is befitting of this status, it is also the largest and most powerful. And because it was the spiritual symbol and reality of life for Native Americans, it is the only animal ever intentionally targeted for extinction by the politics of man. Admirably, it is also the first animal ever saved from extinction by virtue of man's intervention.

The pre-European herd size approximated 60,000,000 animals, with a single herd reported by Col. Richard Dodge in 1871 to measure 50 miles long by 25 miles across. They have been part of the American landscape in one form or another for over 300,000 years. Yet, within the span of only 100 years, either for profit or as an intentional political action to force Native Americans off their lands, the bison population was slaughtered to the point of extinction. There were fewer than 900 animals left alive in 1894 when, in response to pressure by independent conservationists, President Grover Cleveland signed into law a bill forbidding the killing of bison under threat of a $1,000 fine or imprisonment - a very significant penalty for that time.

In 1905, the American Bison Society was formed to save the bison and to protect rangeland for the animals. Through the efforts of many dedicated people, mostly working independently of each other, today there are 275,000 bison in the United States, 91% of which are located in private herds. Bison are no longer endangered. Quite to the contrary, bison are back, and they may just provide the opportunity for both tobacco and livestock farmers to save their farms from the fate the bison once faced.
 
In this increasingly health conscious society, bison meat is unbelievably healthy (TIME Magazine, July 19, 1999 and READER'S DIGEST, July 2001), and it offers many advantages over beef. It is richer in flavor without being gamy; it contains 35% more protein per ounce; it has shorter muscle fibers and is therefore more tender; it contains more iron and folic acid which is particularly important to women; it possesses better distribution of amino acids for more complete protein availability; it is free of the hormones, artificial growth stimulants and sub-therapeutic drugs prevalent in beef; and most important, it is much lower in calories, cholesterol and fat than beef, pork, skinless chicken or even fish.
According to the USDA:
3.5 OZ SERVING CALORIES FAT CHOLESTEROL
BISON 120 2.4g 40mg
FISH 125 3.4g 59mg
CHICKEN (skinless) 190 7.4g 89mg
BEEF 211 9.3g 86mg
PORK 212 9.7g 86mg
It is no exaggeration that Native Americans used everything on a bison, right down to the "grunt", and that is nearly so today. Depending upon condition, a bleached bison skull sells for $150 - $500; if it has been painted by a Native American artist with an interesting western landscape it may bring $2,500 or more. A tanned hide will cost you $850 - $1,500, and a mounted head runs $1,500 - $5,000. You can get two frozen 10 oz filet mignon steaks shipped to you door for only $57.95.
 
On the other hand, you can buy bison tenderloins from Hidden Hollow Preserve for $20/lb, rib-eye steaks for $14/lb and bison burger for $3.50/lb. And it should be noted that because bison contains 35 % more protein than beef and is 98% fat free, that $4/lb for bison equates to $2.25/lb compared to beef burger containing 8% fat selling for $2.99/lb.
 
Most animals are bought and sold at bison auctions sponsored by regional organizations. The average price paid for bison of all ages spiraled up rapidly until last year. In 1983 it was $379. In 1987 it more than doubled to $851. By 1993 it exceeded $1,500 and in 1998, it topped $2,600. Indeed, while reflecting the best quality the industry has to offer, the average price paid for a bison sold at the National Bison Association Gold Trophy Show and Sale in January 1999 exceeded $6,520.
 
Prices dropped in 1999 and then stabilized during the last year. Depending upon their quality, six-month-old heifer calves can still bring $500. Bull calves will bring $1.00/lb live weight. A good three-year-old bull destined to be a herd sire can bring $5,000 - $10,000, although the record is $101,500 and that bull is here in Kentucky.
 
What's more, bison may live and breed into their 40's and they require very little care. They are the only land animal that doesn't get cancer. They seldom if ever have calving problems. They can only metabolize up to 12% protein, and they eat 1/3 less than cattle, so you can run three bison on the same land currently occupied by two bovines. Their grazing patterns are much less destructive than cattle. They do not require either grain or high quality hay. While they can develop a fat layer between muscle and hide, their meat will not marble irrespective of what they are fed. They are exceptionally intelligent, have excellent memories and their senses of sight, smell and hearing are extraordinary.
Fencing requirements are not onerous, although handling facilities must be extremely strong and designed for the incredible strength of these animals. We routinely keep them where we want them inside perimeter fence with nothing but a single white poly wire - as long as they can see it and nothing is pressing them, they will honor fence. If/when calves go through a fence you do not want it so impenetrable that the mothers cannot "grunt" them back across - otherwise she will put the fence/gate down to get to the calf. If this happens, remember the old - and accurate saying - "You can drive a bison anywhere IT wants to go" - so don't try - simply open the gate, get a pail of feed and lead them back home. The neighbors might get excited, but it works!
While we do recognize the undeniable truth that the future of the bison is dependant upon it's success as a marketable product, and we do offer bison meat and related products at Hidden Hollow Preserve, most of all we raise them just because we love them and respect them as unique symbols of this country and as testimony of the best and worst qualities of mankind who alternately attempted to exterminate them and then saved them from extinction.

At Hidden Hollow Preserve, you will find two dozen mature cows and two mature bulls year round; they represent the only remaining herd in the world to be completely DNA tested for purity. Twenty-four tiny strawberry blonde balls of fur weighing only about 35-40 lbs are born each May to cows that are at least three years old. An expectant cow usually goes off by herself to calve, accompanied by and protected by a couple of other mature members of the herd which may be cows, heifers or younger bulls. All remains of the birth are immediately consumed by the cow or her accompanying protectors in order to leave no clue for predators. The calf is up and toddling after the cow within a very short time, and the cow usually brings the calf down to the pasture beside the house to show it off to us a couple of days later, although she is still very protective of it.
The entire herd acts as one. If threatened, the mature members will herd all calves into the center of a circle and then they will form an arc or a circle facing out toward the perceived intruder(s) - sharp horns ready and waiting to defend. Not even a grizzly bear would attempt to attack a mature bison - it would be suicide. As the weeks go by, the herd becomes more relaxed with the calves and the little ones become very playful and very entertaining - except to their mothers who tire of their antics.
 
The herd is a matriarchal society with one mature cow guiding all herd movement and there is a pecking order from top to bottom. For example the number 6 cow in the pecking order will always give way to the number 1,2,3,4 or 5 cow, but never to the number 7. The calf of a particular cow is extended her order in the hierarchy, although no calf under three months of age is pushed away from the food trough regardless of its mother's stature. The entire herd protects all calves.
Of course, every once in a while there is a "renegotiation" of the pecking order and it is amazing to watch. Without apparent or at least observed precipitation, the entire mature cow class will begin an incredible dance, commenced by pronging around the pasture, bouncing straight up in the air on all four feet. Then they pair off and race from one end of the pasture to the other, then choose another partner and prong and race off again - while the calves gather in neutral corners to watch and the bulls run around trying to figure out what is going on. It is truly an amazing thing to observe. I have enjoyed it several times, but I have never had the video camera in hand to record the event.
 
They are generally very tolerant of humans crossing their pastures as long as they are given sufficient space and calves are not threatened or they are not approached too closely during the mating season, when 200 yards is about the limit without risking having a mature bull tell you to leave - their request for you to leave is unmistakable and you will want to be close to a fence as they can do 45 mph, and they can do it on the second step. They are very tolerant of the ATV and allow it to come to within three or four feet without concern.
In late fall, we face the one day a year when we must "work" the herd. This means we must catch them in the corral which is constructed of highway guardrails 7 ft tall and attached to 6" steel "I" beams three feet in the ground and anchored in concrete. Then we have to move them around into special Powder River Bison Handling Equipment designed to hold them so that they cannot hurt either themselves or us, where they are manually checked for overall health, given wormer, annual shots, medication if necessary, new ear tags for the new calves and then tested for Brucellosis and TB if they are going to be sold out of state. Following their shots, they are either released once again to the pasture or held inside the corral for test checking three days later and then shipment to an auction where, hopefully, they will be sold to new breeding programs elsewhere.
 
Needless to say, they do not like to be captured. This is when you find out just how wild their instincts remain. Patience and quiet are the order of the day. If you panic, they will too. If you take your time, you will eventually get to the end of the day without injury and will not have to worry about it for another year. You can go back to watching these amazing creatures grazing lazily in your pasture.
BISON vs CATTLE

Bison live and breed into their 40's and they require very little care. They are the only land animal that doesn't get cancer. They seldom if ever have calving problems. They can only metabolize up to 12% protein, and they eat 1/3 less than cattle, so you can run three bison on the same land currently occupied by two bovines. They do not require either grain or high quality hay and it only requires about two round bales of hay to get each bison through a normal winter in Kentucky. During the summer months when the temperature reaches 90-100 degrees F., cattle will consume 30-40 gallons of water daily, while a bison will only consume 8-10 gallons. They are exceptionally intelligent, have excellent memories and their senses of sight, smell and hearing are extraordinary.

Bison are suited to harsh winters on the plains and bison ranchers rarely lose any of their herd to the elements. Cattle, however, are not native to North America, and it shows in their survival rates. Bison are indigenous and are in harmony with their environment. Bison have seven times more hair follicles than beef animals. Water cannot penetrate the bison's thick, woolly winter coats and snow simply piles up on top of their thick, insulated coats. Bison will face directly into a storm with their massive heads and dense coats protecting them as snow drifts behind them. Bison have enormous lungs and wind pipes and they blow heated air out of their nostrils, which keeps their breathing passages from freezing and prevents suffocation. Bison use their beards and horns to brush away snow from the grass underneath and, given enough range, they require no additional feed in the winter.

In winter the bison's metabolism slows down, allowing them to stay warmer while consuming less, while the cattle's metabolism speeds up requiring them to eat more in order to survive. During the memorable snowstorm of 1949, thousands of cattle perished due to cold and suffocation from the snow. Almost half a century later, the harsh winter of 1996/1997 took a toll on cattle. Blizzards in North and South Dakota caused an estimated 395,000 cattle to perish. Only one bison died, and that was because it strayed onto a highway and was struck by a tractor-trailer.

On cattle ranches, beef hooves create problems. Their hooves are flat and round, which can establish ruts and kill grasses. Rain has trouble percolating through the packed soil. Cattle also tend to bunch up in one spot in the pasture and leave behind an area that is overgrazed and overrun. The ruts they create are almost impossible to reverse. Bison create the opposite effect as they tend to graze in family groups spread out over a much greater area; uneven land is leveled out as they break down rough areas. The bison aerate, nurture, and fertilize the ground, demonstrating an animal supremely adapted to its natural habitat.
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This page has been last updated: Monday, January 27, 2003