CN reps visit commercial bison ranch
The Cherokee Nation is contemplating commercially raising bison like these standing in the ranch of Gerald Parsons in Stratford, Okla. ROGER GRAHAM/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
STRATFORD, Okla. – Cherokee Nation representatives recently visited a bison ranch operated by veterinarian and chairman of the North American Bison Registry to determine what is needed to commercially raise bison.
Personnel from CN Natural Resources, Tribal Council, Real Estate Services and the administration’s executive team toured the ranch of Gerald Parsons on July 20. Parsons showed CN officials the Yellowstone-type bison that is available and could benefit the tribe’s economy. Officials also looked at the fencing and facilities needed to raise a bison herd.
“I tried to educate them to give them an idea of what they would be getting into and what they’re dealing with when they are dealing with bison,” said Parsons, who is also the international director of the Canadian Bison Association and serves as a committee chair for the National Bison Association.
Parsons said if he were to personally address the Tribal Council about operating a commercial bison farm, he would tell them about the good feeling he has raising an animal that has been in North America since before the last ice age and survived the “kill offs” of the 1800s and other man-made difficulties that nearly made the bison extinct.
“The other big benefit is the industry itself. The meat industry has just gone wild. You can’t raise enough of them. Right now we are so deficient in bison that the (bison meat) prices just keep going up,” he said.
Parson added that a bison rancher is able to graze 1-1/2 bison per beef cow.
“So it doesn’t take the space and grass like beef, yet they are going to produce you more income,” he said.
The Tribal Council will soon consider whether to invest in a bison ranch that would need to be constructed from the ground up somewhere in the tribe’s jurisdiction.
To start, the CN is eligible to receive a donation of 80 head of bison from Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. The bison are available only to Native American tribes, said Natural Resources Director Pat Gwin.
He added that the bison, which retail for $3,500 apiece, must be raised for commercial use only.
Gwin said raising and selling bison for meat is “lucrative” in today’s market, and bison byproducts like the hide can also be sold, but the CN must be sure they can handle a bison enterprise before it commits to accepting a herd.
“The main reason we were here today was to acquaint ourselves with the animals. We need to make sure that we’re 100 percent ready to receive, maintain and market those animals the day that we receive them,” he said.
Gwin said he also wanted to see the perimeter fencing system used for the bison and the bison holding facilities used on Parsons’ ranch.
“A bison project is going to be an agricultural production project, and it’s going to require at least bi-annual handling of the animals, which means we are really going to have to be able to confine those animals and work around them safely. We’re dealing with 2,000-pound animals that aren’t necessarily domesticated,” he said.
Gwen added that the visit was also to study costs associated with investing in a bison ranch to make sure it would be financially feasible for the Nation. He said it would take two to three years before the CN would begin seeing returns on its investment in a bison ranch.
For a successful economic venture, the CN would have to grow the herd three to four times the size of the 80 head received.
“We got a really good visual image that it is being done in Oklahoma. We do know as an economic venture it is feasible and it is profitable,” Gwin said. “I think it’s a good idea to look into. Obviously we are going to have to make sure the dollars and cents part of the equation really balances out.”
He said many people believe bison only lived west of the Mississippi River. However, a free-ranging herd once roamed from New York to the Carolinas and was important to the Cherokee people and culture.