The Great Plains bison is the largest terrestrial mammal in North America, and one of the largest wild cattle in the world
The history of East Central Alberta is closely linked to that of the North American Buffalo, or Bison.
Roamed from Canada to Mexico, spanning the plains and the mountains. Once bison population was estimated at 60 million.
Bison were big part of Métis culture, providing them with food, shelter, clothing and spiritual inspiration. Bison hunting on horseback developed into a sport for them.
Several factors, including disease brought on by stress, led to the decimation of the massive buffalo herds.
The trade in buffalo hides, robes and tongues resulted in widespread hunting and waste. Governments encouraged the elimination of buffalo herds in order to starve Plains and Plateau peoples and make their removal to the reserves easier.
Slow Food has promoted Bison to the Ark program because;
The flavour profile of the original wild, range-fed bison is harder to find, as native grasses and fescues are replaced with cultivated commercial forage and some bison are being finished in feed lots and fed grain
The genetic integrity of bison has been compromised. Inbreeding has led to leg problems, while some have been bred with cattle to produce sterile cattalos.
Because of this Slow Food intends to ensure three rules regarding bison they are; Genetic purity, meaning breeding occurs naturally and not implanted and that they are not bred with cattle. Secondly that they are grass fed, finished on grass and have access to native grasses. Lastly traceability, that each animal is slaughtered and processed individually and that the meat from that animal is not ground or mixed with the meat of other animals
Is Anyone Doing Anything?
The Great Plains Buffalo/Bison Association has been developed to promote ranchers and farmers raising bison without changing their genetics or improper breeding.
“ To preserve the true nature, vitality and genetic diversity of the Great Plains Buffalo/Bison.”
“ To promote the raising and feeding of buffalo on grass pastures and promote principles of sound grassland management.” “To promote more natural, sustainable management practices which respect and take into account the wild nature of buffalo. ”
Membership to GPBA includes monthly newsletter, and an invitation to cross country meetings to speak with like minded people. Support the bison.
Many farmers are beginning to look into bison farming as the product becomes more in demand by restaurants and the general public.