Tuesday, September 1, 2009  
   Volume 79 - Issue 35 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
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Quote of the Week
“When we first decided to get married, we never planned on going for any marathon or endurance record. We just wanted to be together.”
- Larry Erickson  
- on 65 years of marriage 


Looking Back - John KinnearRecently I walked kitty corner across a quarter section of Aunt Helen’s farm with my great grandson Austin in tow. We were on prime Saskatchewan prairie lands, north of Swift Current, heading east about a mile towards her son Murray Haroldson’s farm where one of two herds of bison were grazing.
As we meandered between the recently cut windrows of that hayfield in the dusty  summer’s evening  heat, waves of grasshoppers spread out in a noisy fan ahead of us.  Walking and talking, I explained to this curious seven year old a bit of the painful prehistory of the plains bison and how that historical accounts suggest there were 60 million bison in 1800, and that by 1899 there were less than 1000 bison left. It was hard for this little boy to get his mind around the idea that we would deliberately allow, through man’s reckless greed, such a thing to happen and that something as seemingly obscure as a breech loading rifle could wreak such awful havoc. “Why Great Grandpa would people do something like that?”
As we approached to within three hundred yards or so of the herd some of the orange coloured this year’s calves were discernable and I warned Austin then that we would probably not get much closer. Sure enough, we noticed that the thirty eight animals in the group began studying us and moving together into a single mass. When we closed to two hundred yards the safety zone had been breached and they tore off in the opposite direction.
Bison have very strong herd instincts and will react to danger as a group. They also have a strong sense of self-preservation, and will either flee or fight. The unfortunate man south of Pincher Creek a few weeks back ran into a bison bull (probably in rut) that opted for the latter.  What people don’t realize is that bison can outrun a horse and turn on a dime; they are good jumpers, kickers, and swimmers; they are strong (about four times stronger than beef cows); and they are not tame! According to Murray these guys can have a wicked stubborn streak and there is a saying that goes: “You can get a bison to go anywhere he wants to go.”
Later that evening at Murray’s farm we shared a meal with this hard working farm family A family trying to bring in a wide mix of crops like oats, barley, rye and peas amidst unpredictable and uncooperative weather while maintaining their two bison herds. No small feat! The meal was bison burgers and bison steak with fresh garden potatoes and carrots and was extraordinarily good. I was struck by the wonderful flavour and pureness of the meat of these ancient denizens of the prairies and had to know more about them.
It seems that Murray’s father Ken had had a dream many years ago to bring bison back to his land. So in 1995, just a few years before he died, he bought five bison calves and gave them to his three sons to start the legacy that exists today. It is to my mind a highly worthwhile effort and one that others need to understand the significance of.
The list of why to raise bison I was given included such items as: you don’t need artificial shelters (barn’s etc.), they can have long productive lives, the cows calve on their own and they are extremely hardy animals that are very disease resistant.  If you are looking for a flavourful, low fat, high protein product untainted by chemicals and antibiotics, that is natural, safe and healthy then bison is the one for you.  Other than deworming bison need no other support. They are very efficient feed utilizers and can extract five to thirteen percent more nutrients from low quality foods than cattle can.
These guys are built to handle the heat or the extreme cold.  When is the last time you saw a cow dig through the snow to find feed? Bison can thrive on most American landscapes and their ability to convert lower-protein forages into energy more efficiently than cattle allows them to do well on most types of pasture.  Today, bison ranching plays an important role in the preservation of the last remnants of native grassland habitat on the prairies by providing an economically viable alternative to cultivation.
Besides preserving the islands of natural grassland that have survived agricultural settlement, bison ranching encourages the return of farmed land to grassland. And that’s a good thing! Over the past three decades, hundreds of Canadian grain and oil seed farmers have entered the bison industry and for most, the decision to raise bison involves taking large tracts of land out of mono-crop cultivation and seeding a permanent cover of grass. Cousin Murray has converted yet another two quarter sections of land to pasture this year.
 The practice of converting formerly cultivated crop land to pasture land produces important environmental and economic benefits.  Permanent grass cover prevents soil erosion and eliminates the need for pesticides and herbicides. Pasture management does not require expensive cultivation and harvesting equipment like air seeders and combines.  A farm that shifts from grain and oil seed production to bison substantially reduces its consumption of fossil fuels which are required to run farm machinery and are the source for the nitrogen fertilizer needed to grow crops on today’s nutrient depleted farm lands. It just all makes so much sense doesn’t it?
With a population approaching 200,000 breeding bison cows in Canada, the bison industry can take credit for the return of an amazingly vast expanse of formerly farmed land to pasture. Bison ranching makes sense environmentally, economically and health-wise. We exported two million kilograms of bison last year. I’d say it’s catching on, wouldn’t you?
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John Kinnear Archives

   Volume 79 - Issue 35 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
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