It’s the time of year when we field harvest some of our buffalo and I invariably get the question, “I know you love them, so how can you live with them and still kill them?” Those are honest questions and here’s my best answer.
“Because everything dies. Every thing.”
As a biologist, as well as for me philosophically, it’s not the fact that things die that we should focus on – after all, every one of us will do that – it’s the quality of life and the quality of death that matters. Because we do love our buffalo. And we do care about them. And we do eat them. Those are not mutually exclusive ideas. In fact, they are the basis of life around us. We all eat living things.
To us, that means that our bison are treated with gentleness and respect and honor. They are never penned and fattened, but are allowed to roam wherever they want on the almost one square mile they call home. It means that calves are never separated from their mothers, that there is no pain of castration, dehorning, branding, squeeze chutes, or electric prods – often a part of “traditional” livestock raising. It means that we can live on a ranch that is home to other wildlife including predators, where we can encourage native vegetation rather than introduced plants, and basically run the ranch in an environmentally friendly manner, all while living with that most amazing of creatures – the buffalo.
Yes, there is a cost to that, in both time and money. It means that we have to spend hours trying to coax a buff onto a trailer instead of forcing it, that there is never a semi-truck crowded full of our bison and trucked long distances to a central feedlot and slaughterhouse with it’s horrors, and it means marketing the meat ourselves, wholesale, one animal at a time, instead of in large commercial quantities. But it also means that when death does come to our buffs, it is done instantaneously, painlessly, and without bringing fear. And most of all, it means that each bison is treated as an individual with emotions and feelings that deserve respect. I wish we all had it so good.