Bison Rancher at Tall Grass Bison
Promise City, Iowa
Bob worked as a ranger in Yellowstone Park for many years observing and learning about the natural behavior of bison. He came to care deeply for these nationally symbolic animals. He now raises bison as family units who have close-knit relationships and graze on grass. He tries to recreate the conditions bison would have lived under when they were hunted by the Native Americans. He has worked with Native American Bison raisers, and presented at the Intertribal Bison Operation.
What is your earliest food memory?
Food, to me, is really important. I think I understand it a little more because I was on the farm. And everything we did on the farm was coming to us. Best of all was when we go down the railroad tracks, and we collected wild strawberries. We’d go down there, and we’d get into the raspberry bushes. We collected from nature and, the social aspect of gathering something from the wild meant even more. I knew our beef was really good eating, but the social part of it with everybody harvesting and collecting, those are the things I’ll never forget.
If you could be any vegetable, what would you be?
Watercress. Watercress is fresh, clean, water. And it’s got movement to it.
What’s wrong with meat (and more broadly, with food) today in the U.S.?
The meat industry demands consistency in meat products and young animals for meat. The business is controlled by 12-15 producers who buy from smaller producers, and their demands dictate the way producers raise their animals. Animals are not treated as individuals, and people have an attitude of superiority over animals. Any time you’re going to kill something, whether humans or animals, you diminish them. In war we thought our enemies were subhuman. If you think of the animal as being part of an extended family structure your attitude towards them changes. Superiority over animals keeps people from raising them the right way. The system that we have is just getting into more of a confinement, larger feedlots, sixteen-eighteen thousand. And the guy on the ground, the guy that’s with the cow and the calf, he doesn’t like to see it that way, but he doesn’t have any options.
What is the solution?
I would never want to raise buffalo as cattle, so, we didn’t even think about that. We just wanted to raise them so that we could see all the vitality, and the spirit that these animals had that I could see in Yellowstone. And it worked. If we have knowledgeable customers, if we have knowledgeable consumers, and the public out there that says “Hey, this is going to be something that’s worth it. It’s a lot less stress on that animal, doesn’t have the lactic acid, doesn’t have the cortisol, it’s a fresher, cleaner taste.” And I think the people then will buy it, and every rancher out there will endorse it.