Monday, January 28, 2013

Montana bison ranch sees resurgence in consumers craving lean, local meat

Moving in on foot isn’t a good idea, so Troy Westre fires up a John Deere four-wheeler, loads the grass pellets and heads across the snow, cutting the herd of bison as if it were easy. Along the way, he keeps a watch on the bulls who are watching him and that sack of tasty pellets. These aren’t cattle roaming around, Westre notes. Rather, they’re 2,000-pound animals, fast in spurts and often unpredictable. “There’ve been times they’ve come at me on a full run,” said Westre, co-owner of Bitterroot Bison Co. near Lolo. “I’ve made it to the gate just in time. I’ve had my close calls for sure.” So goes the life of a bison rancher, and Westre should know. He’s been ranching bison for 13 years, rolling out hay on cold winter mornings, separating the bulls and running irrigation lines for summer grass. After back surgery in 2009, Westre merged operations with his surgeon, Christopher Mack, on land Mack owns on the Bitterroot River. They’ve been growing their outfit ever since, keeping an eye on the market and the public’s growing demand for lean, local bison meat. “We’re seeing the supply-and-demand thing right now,” Westre said. “There’s not enough bison for the demand of the people. They’re getting more health conscious. They want to eat local and they want to know where the animals are grown.” Westre and the nation’s bison ranchers received unexpected but welcome publicity last Monday. Before a national audience, President Barack Obama dined on hickory-grilled bison with red potato horseradish cake and wild huckleberry reduction sauce as part of his second-term inauguration festivities...more

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