Summer at Timber Valley Bison
Greetings and thank you for your interest in Timber Valley Bison!
We got our first bison on June 10, 2021, so it's already been two years. A lot has happened in that time. Much work (we like this kind of work), new experiences, farm flops and new bison. All very worth it to us and we hope you enjoy them as well.
Currently we have 10 bison on the ranch and three pastures. There were 17 bison at the beginning of the year; however, since we knew we needed to work on pasture improvement and increase forage available, we sold four of last year's calves (learned how wean and separate calves - another story!) to a close neighbor who is raising them as a food source. We also cared for three females over the winter for this neighbor and they moved to their new home this spring. One of them had a calf on July 4th so they are now experiencing the joy of those first calves! They named him Andi. It's very neat as a producer to see more people raising bison and awareness of this amazing animal.
Plains bison are from the plains of the Midwest and as such are no stranger to heat, summer storms and predators. They can pretty much take care of themselves. But, they can't protect themselves from flies. Bison like flies about as much as people do, but they can't get away from them easily and flies cause stress and issues like pink eye and other diseases. Flies especially congregate around the bison eyes because they like the moisture produced by their irritation. Yuck! It's hard to get rid of the flies, yet there are things we do. A couple are putting garlic (natural fly repellent) in their minerals and using an oiler (oil and fly repellent) to help get some protection on their faces. We also use diatomaceous earth, which is a powder made of ground shell, and put that in their wallows (the places they lay and roll). That coats them and kills flies. We try to keep things as natural as possible while caring for our furry friends.
This fall we plan to put down lime and grass seed to help strengthen the pastures. We had a call just this morning with a Holistic Management consultant and he was talking about getting to know our weeds better, increasing soil health through grazing pressure and grazing planning. Not sure if we'll be experts anytime soon, but I've heard other producers say life-long learning is the ticket. We started with no experience and sometimes I wish I had some;). We've talked to many farmers and are learning that way too. Farmers who have been doing so for generations have a deal of experience and knowledge. It might look easy, but it's not. It's easy to take our food supply for granted, however a lot of work goes into it, especially for smaller farms/ranches/dairies. Thank a farmer if you see one!
Pics: Left-fencing party for the 3rd pasture. Middle-mom and baby. Right-hanging out on a nice day!
Just when we think we know what's going on, the bison surprise us!! This is a great story...
Tuesday, November 1st, I was at work stocking cat food and I got a text from my mom saying, "did you know you have a new bison baby?"
Me: "Uh no. Are you sure?" (In my head, I'm thinking there's no way there's a baby bison out there. She must've seen a deer or something and her imagination is going wild.)
Mom: "Absolutely. Could hardly walk. We were in the sand box and they were coming up the alley."
Me: "Well that's a surprise!" (I'm now thinking if the baby was with the herd and a momma, maybe it's for real ;)
Mom: "I guess so."
Me: "Curious to see who's it is." (Because none of ours should be calving for another 2 months!)
Mom: "Yes, I couldn't say. She saw us and turned around."
At this point I was pretty excited and couldn't wait to get off work and go home and check! It was near the end of my shift so didn't have to wait long.
I walked all around out there in the lower pasture, around the perimeter more precisely. Bison moms don't like company. I couldn't see a baby anywhere and I thought it's just a mistake and there isn't one. Then! I notice a female who's hanging out away from the herd and as I creep closer I see a little brown lump lying on the ground. Is it breathing? It certainly came early - at least one to two months. I kept trying to get a little closer to see some breathing movements, but couldn't tell.
About this point my husband got home and walked down. He had a different vantage point and could see the calf's side moving up and down...up and down. What a relief!
Two days later and the calf is doing well. It's a small one and sleeping a lot, but we're so thankful they made it and brought our numbers up to 17 bison! I also found out later that it was our daughter, McKenna, who was playing in the sandbox and started saying "baby." My mom wasn't sure what she was talking about until she started looking around. Way to go McKenna, it's always fun to be the first one to spot a new calf.
The Bison Days of Summer
Mid-July is upon us and the calves are growing like weeds! Lady, our first calf, has horns that are 2-3" long already. At around 3-months old the calves will start to turn darker brown and develop their hump. Lady was born mid-April (13th?) and should be approaching those changes. We will miss our cinnamon calves; but, there will be more next year! That's a happy thought:)
The calves will stay with their mommas for now and not be weaned or separated. We'd like to keep things as natural as possible; however, when a cow (female bison who's calved) has a new calf and a yearling that wants to hang around as well, the yearling can drive the calf away and they can't nurse. Human children aren't the only ones who can have a hard time adjusting to a new baby! If we run into issues there, we may have to separate the yearlings. Which means more fencing!
Seems there's always fencing to do, or repairs. In June, we added a second pasture for rotational grazing. The first night they were in it they broke some wires and went back to their original one. We thought, oh boy, how are we gonna keep 'em down there? Our mentor, Peter Cook of Cook's Bison, suggesting leaving all the gates open for a few days and letting them explore. After a couple days, we closed the gates while they were down there and they've stayed since.
The herd will be coming back up to the upper pasture within a week. Parasites, which are the biggest issue for bison, have a 21 day life cycle and rotating the bison will help us not have to worm them as much if they're not getting infected. Ideally, we need a third pasture for rotation. Anyone wanna come help! We've gotten smarter and faster through experience, so it's not so bad.
Back in March, a stray dog came through and killed 21 of my chickens. That was a bummer. So, we didn't have eggs available anymore. Turned out to be an ok break. Built the flock back up and currently, we have 8 hens, 4 pullets, 2 chicks and rooster of various breeds. Nine different ones, I think. I've officially turned into a chicken lady;)
Have a great summer!
p.s. we're at the Battle Creek Farmers Market most Wednesdays. Check Facebook for any days we may miss.
Bison, An Amazing Comeback
Hello fellow bison enthusiasts!!
Recently, I wrote an article for a local paper, the Reminder, in Hastings. I'm not sure if it's been published yet, but thought I'd share it here so you can become a local historian and champion of bison!!
"Believe it or not, there are at least 15 to 20 bison ranches in Michigan, with herds ranging in size from five to 300. Some of us see bison in movies or if we take a trip out west to a national park or the zoo; however, when my husband and I started a bison ranch north of Battle Creek on M-66 last year, we heard from a lot of people that when driving by they did a double-take because they thought they saw a bison while driving to work! They did. Since starting the ranch, I’ve also heard from some of our neighbors in the area with kids. When driving by they count the bison and do “buff checks.” It’s great to build community around our national mammal and help people learn more about them. Truly, it’s a blessing to have them here because at one point in history they were almost extinct.
Bison are native to the Great Plains of the Midwest and used to number in the millions, grazing across states. (That would be an amazing sight!) The Indians, who lived among them, respected the bison and only hunted what they needed. Then, in the 1800’s, with westward expansion and the railroad, thousands were killed a year for decades. 1870 saw two million killed. By 1890, there were only 325 bison left on the Great Plains and 25 (1). This great animal would not make it to the 20th century without conservation efforts.
In the early 1900’s, ranchers began to raise bison and those private herds accounted for most of the population growth and reintroduction. Also, Yellowstone began conservation efforts and built a herd of around 1,300 by 1954. Fast-forward to 2022 and the national bison population is around 500,000 (2). This is in part due to organizations like the National Bison Association, who have a goal of 1 million bison (3). One of their slogans is to “Eat Bison to Save Bison.” Only by becoming popular again will the bison population and industry thrive. According to the NBA, bison are also Regenerative by Nature©.
Out on the Great Plains, the bison were a keystone of the environment and ecosystem. Their hooves acted then and now like a first-rate garden tool in that they break up the soil as they graze, pushing in seeds, manure, and old plant material. Thus, they eat, walk, till and fertilize, which is great for grasslands, prairies and local pastures.
Bison are part of our heritage, our ecosystems and hopefully our future!"
1. Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife (January 1965). "The American Buffalo".
Hope you enjoyed the read and find it encouraging in uncertain times.
Happy December! Hard to believe Christmas is only a few weeks away and then the new year. The new year will bring bison meat to the freezers of Timber Valley Bison. Come and get it! It's an exciting next step for us. Also, bittersweet because bison are such amazing animals and it's hard to let them go.
At the entry of our house we have a closed in porch area that is becoming our country store. Over the last few months I've picked up some vintage farmhouse furniture and decor to make it fun. For now, we have our eggs for sale and shortly meat. Not too long down the road, I'd like to add some local products such as maple syrup, honey, unique crafts and more. If you make something you'd like to sell in our store please let me know. One of the goals of this ranch is to support the community and collaborate with other farmers.
Our processing date is January 10, 2022 so Jordan and I have been watching you-tube videos by the Bearded Butchers to learn all about meat cuts and the difference between beef and bison. One of the things we learned is cattle are not native to North America and have many, many different breeds due to commercialization. Bison, however, are native and there are only two breeds: Plains and Wood. The plains bison are native to the North American mid-west and the wood bison are found in Canada primarily.
Bison also have a great come back story from being almost extinct in the late 1800's due to over-hunting. Over the last few decades ranches around the country have helped increase the population by raising bison and selling the meat. The National Bison Association says to "Eat Bison to Save Bison!" Their goal is get bison numbers in the states back up to 1,000,000. If you like history and an encouraging read, check out bison history.
People always ask us what's right - buffalo or bison? The term 'buffalo' is widely used and often interchangeable for 'bison', but technically buffalo or water buffalo are from Africa and look quite different.
In other news, Jordan and I are are headed to Cook's Bison Ranch tomorrow for their annual round up. Once a year producers herd up the bison and send them through their handling equipment to get weights, tag new bison, check gender and treat wounds. It's called 'working the bison' and the one time a year producers really get up close to see how they're doing. The local, large animal vet is usually present. It's a fun time and a great way for newbies to learn better practices, tips, and make new connections:)
If you'd like to come visit the ranch and meet the bison, please let us know!
Life's been busy at Timber Valley Ranch. When we talked to other farmers and ranchers about the lifestyle they often said there's never enough money and always something to do! We can affirm that now personally; however, getting to watch them run through the pasture together is worth it.
On August 10th our next three bison, all yearling bulls, were delivered. It's been tricky to decide who should be Meatball, Billie and Wooly Hamish. About the time we decide who should be who, it becomes hard to tell them apart other than their ear tag numbers. Not so with the first three - the two year old bull, Big Z, is much larger than the new yearlings.
Bison have a social structure and hierarchy as herd animals, thus when the new bulls arrived we were curious how they would meet & greet our current residents. Male bison compete fiercely for females and territory, so if you put a mature bull in with a dominant, older bull they could kill each other. Fortunately, the yearling bulls we added are not mature yet and won't start a turf war with Big Z. No need to add that to our learning curve!
When the yearlings bulls were released to the main pasture I wish I had gotten a video. It was the bison version of East meets West. The original three stood at the East end of the pasture watching and the new three stood at the West end, both on a rise in the land. It could've been an epic stand off, but they slowly walked toward each other and finally Thora and Merkel, our females who couldn't wait any longer, ran to meet them! It was very interesting to watch. After the initial meeting, there was some chasing, running, and light head butting, but nothing serious. They still lay down in separate groups at times, yet close to each other. In time they should fully integrate (we think).
We had a fiasco with the chickens back in July and lost 11 of them to a fox or coyote. Such is life. However, I did get an automatic door for the coop so if we forget to close the ramp they are safe and sound with a door on a timer. Bless the people who invent such things!
On July 2nd we got our first eggs! They were small and some so thin they broke, but at this point we're getting about a dozen a day and they're piling up in the fridge. They are for sale. Today, my daughter, who is almost two, helped me clean and carton about four dozen. There was only one casualty on the kitchen floor. Oops! We had fun though.
If you'd like to learn more about bison and their behavior you can check out the National Bison Association online.
Hello! If you're new here my family has started a bison ranch. Who knew we would ever do something like this!?! God did. Sunday night we got a special delivery from Cook's Ranch in Indiana!!! Meet Big Z, Thora and a 2nd female yet to be named. Big Z is our bull and he's two years old. Thora and the other heifer are also two and we hope they will have calves in the spring of 22' (calves are really cute and we'll post lots of pics). Later this summer, we will introduce you to Meatball, Billie and Wooly Hamish, who currently live in North Dakota. They are yearling bulls.
The ranch is roughly 94 acres and eight of it are fenced for our new residents.
In other news, one of our chickens turned out to be a rooster, which happens, and his name is Chanteclair. He recently learned to crow and is still perfecting his talents, but he loves to lead the ladies up to our driveway in the evening to hang out. Ranch life is great! A good bit of work, but rewarding.
Email me at email@example.com if you have questions or would like to visit. Until next time... enjoy the summer and being able to go places again!
.We've done some clearing, cutting and burning of small trees and brush. Started putting in fence posts and are almost done. Yay! Next is putting in T-posts and running the wire. Our next few weekends will be occupied... thankful we're getting some good exercise.
We picked our bull bison from Cook's Ranch in Wolcottville, IN. The owner, Peter Cook, used to be the president of the National Bison Association and he got a couple from a producer in North Dakota for us to pick from. He is pictured on the main website page and his name is Azariah, for our son we lost as a preemie.
The rest of the herd will hopefully be arriving late May or Early June. We have a couple heifers (young females) coming and a couple bull calves.
If you have questions or would like more information please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.